California Girl

Photos by Larry Hirshowitz

Bianca Branaman understands what L.A. designers do best: simple, body-conscious, casual. Pieces that allow us to feel true to ourselves, able to go anywhere, do anything.


The daughter of painter Robert Branaman, who illustrated Beat poetry books for City Lights, and debutant-turned-spiritual-seeker Susan Mack, whose father was a one-time lawyer for Richard Nixon, Branaman filters the heady ideals of her formative years into her simple designs. A product of California Dreamin’, Branaman was raised in Big Sur, San Francisco, Laurel Canyon and Manhattan where she lived at the historic Ansonia building, the same place that housed Plato’s Retreat. When she and her four siblings weren’t being home schooled, tending organic gardens or encouraged to paint on walls, they attended Catholic school. Their home was filled with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and artist Wally Berman, who’s been regarded as a muse behind Easy Rider .



 Celadon green tie dress

During the eight years Branaman modeled professionally, she spent a year living in Paris; but she says she didn’t come to understand couture until she started working as a shop girl upstairs at Ron Herman Melrose, where she became an expert in the female form.



“The main importance, for me, is accentuating the areas of a woman’s body which they feel sexy about: chest, upper torso, the curve of their back . . . And hiding the parts they’re insecure about: their butts, their thighs. I love the creative process and I love, love, love watching women try my stuff on and feeling sexy.”


Branaman, who credits her dad for developing her artistic instinct, designed an A-line skirt for herself while working at Ron Herman, which caught the eye of the store’s buyer. It soon became one of their hottest items. After a few seasons — and one hard winter — Branaman found the pressure of funding her own line too stressful and took another day job.


“I am a spring/summer designer,” she explains, eating watermelon in her coolly lit apartment-studio. “People don’t look to California for fall. They write those orders in New York or Paris. My strength is California living.”

Branaman’s current line of rayon/cotton/Lycra pieces came after she happened upon a fabric she describes as “so soft it’s addictive.”



 Left: backless sash dress;
right: halter/skirt combo over
loose, wide-legged pant

“I bought 1,000 yards of it. I was like ‘ Oh my god! I can make everything out of it.’ I bought them out. I schlepped it home and said, ‘Okay man, I am back in business!’”


Her first piece last spring, a tunic that could be worn as a skirt, top or dress, and others like it, started selling out of Ron Herman, Lisa Kline and Bergdorf Goodman in N.Y., attracting fans like Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lara Flynn Boyle and Courtney Cox Arquette.


“My inspiration always comes from what I want — let me just be comfortable and experience my day,” she says. “I had a life of extremes, which is probably why I seek balance.”



Bianca Branaman can be found at Ron Herman, 8100 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 323-651-4129; Blonde, 2430 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-396-9113; Native, 5915 Franklin Ave., Los Feliz, 323-962-7710.

Models: Michelle Mason (Otto Agency) and Molly Brumagin



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