Stacy Kiehl’s design inspirations come from all over. Green shoes, chandeliers, ’20s flapper girls, Miu-Miu moccasins, pictures of ’70s food, the Buzzcocks, a plastic white lamb from Pic ‘N’ Save. “I take elements from everything — everyone does,” she says. “You absorb things you see subconsciously — someone’s house, a tree, anything. Music is good, too. It can motivate you to do what’s in your head, make it come out and make sense. But I don’t have a philosophy. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Though she may not be following a prescribed course, Kiehl does seem to know instinctively where to go next. Her Swiss-dot or candy-striped, Peter Pan–collared dresses evoke pretty, punk rock Mary Quants. Her 1950s smock tops, Busby Berkeley–ish multilayered wedding-cake dresses and streamline lightweight coats in vintage fabrics and trimmings have a distinctively sophisticated whimsy.
Annie wears a cotton blouse
and cotton skirt with velvet
trim; Satbhajan is in a cotton
dress with cotton trim.
“I like things to be simple,” she says. “A fabric that is simple, but there is a lot of detail sewingwise, or the fabric is weird and it’s just a basic dress.” Kiehl’s designs, as is her Koreatown apartment in a former 1930s hotel, are meditations in postmodern eclecticism. “I like order,” she explains. “Like, if everything could be all white and out of the way. But at the same time I like chaos and color and junk. Balancing that is a torture.”
Her closet is neat and includes a favorite Marc Jacobs heart blouse and a clear plastic Dior wrist cuff. In the corner is the artistic chaos of her shoe pile, which includes a pair of American Flag Keds that she got for $4 on eBay. “I dress really plain, so if you wear a messed-up shoe, people will know you’re a little weird,” says Kiehl, who will accessorize a look by blacking out a tooth with magic-shop tar.
Annie is in a cotton upholstery
fabric coat with rayon lining.
The L.A. native first learned to sew when she and her mom spent a year living in Hawaii. After graduating high school, she started college with the intent to go into toy design, but soon realized that wasn’t for her. Like many of her DIY contemporaries, she started by reworking her own clothes. One day a girl stopped Kiehl in Silver Lake, told her about a new store opening in the neighborhood and suggested she take her things there to sell. Since then, she’s expanded her eponymous line, making every garment herself. She averages some 20 pieces a month. What if she were to suddenly get a large order from, say, Fred Segal?
“I guess I would ask my friends who sew for a favor,” she says, admitting that she hasn’t in fact thought that far ahead. “See if they could help me out.”
Meditations in postmodern
eclecticism: Designer Stacy Kiehl