Photos by Raul Vega

“Our clothes are very utilitarian, creative and, I like to think, inspire conversation,” says Beth Ann Whittaker, the co-owner and co-designer, along with Laura S. Howe, of Matrushka Construction, named after the Russian nesting dolls. “We are really into the mystique of the Russian constructionist influence,” says Howe, a former L.A. fine-art starlet (“I had a moment”). Matrushka is a new happening/clothing store that’s so experiential and inexpensive it defies the basic concept of shopping, leaving one to wonder how long this refreshing Silver Lake shop can stay as is.

“We make things that are one of a kind,” explains Howe, whose mother is a Marxist philosophy professor turned Methodist minister and whose grandmother sewed parachutes during World War II. “I can make like 10 things a day. It’s no big deal. We can alter them — we can do it while you’re here.” Besides one-of-a-kind clothing items, the Matrushka girls offer monthly art openings, regular T-shirt construction nights (you design your own T-shirt for about $8), and an impressive selection of books, including Silver Lake local Michael Rochlin’s hand-bound, self-published nonfiction work about L.A.’s Eastside. “We are pro-literate,” explains the bespectacled Howe, who notes the books also give guys something to do while the ladies shop.

Fresh sewn daily: Laura
S. Howe (left) is in a
cotton seersucker suit
that she designed, and
Beth Ann Whittaker
wears a rayon wrap
dress of her own design.

Less than eight months old in its current incarnation (Whittaker had it on her own for about six months, but it wasn’t until Howe signed on as a partner that the whole thing clicked), Matrushka also serves as a platform to propagate its owners’ self-professed “bleeding-heart liberal/proletariat” politics. For example, during the Iraq war, the window was plastered with traffic-stopping “Stop Bush” art.

“We use the analogy of a bakery,” says Whittaker, who got her B.A. in English lit at UCLA and later worked at Book Soup. “Everything is changing along with our inspiration — it shows in what we sell. It’s fun ’cause people come in every week, and it’s a whole new stock of stuff.”

“But, you have to keep up with production,” adds Howe, who also built Matrushka’s countertops and display racks. “On a good day, like yesterday, 20 things might leave the store, and it’s like, ‘Whoa, it’s empty.’”

Ela wears a cotton top
with lace trim and a
cotton skirt with lace
trim and a jersey waist
by Beth Ann Whittaker.

Keeping the store stocked is becoming a real issue. On a recent Saturday actress-DJ Shannyn Sossamon spent an hour chatting with a friend on a bench outside after picking up a tank top decorated with a red-stitched bird, while Nicole Chavez, the set costumer for the new Fox drama The O.C., played dress-up inside. “I come here every weekend,” says Chavez, who ultimately left with five items, including a green juicy-fruit stripped terrycloth halter dress and a new wave–inspired peasant skirt.

“Everyone at work always comments on my clothes. It’s great. No one else has them, and it’s so inexpensive,” continues Chavez, who lives nearby and adds that her “bustier” Westside sister has started shopping here as well.

Nikki is in a cotton
skirt with piping and
a cotton seersucker tank
with cotton trim by
Beth Ann Whittaker.

In a further act of creativity and conservation, Whittaker and Howe also sew their own shopping bags/purses from fabric scraps and silk-screen their own tags. “They say things like ‘Love Somebody,’ ‘Stop Bush’ and ‘Plant a Tree,’” notes Howe, who recently silk-screened trees on a slew of dresses, tops and skirts after a weeklong Sequoia seed-collecting trip in the Sierra Nevada.

The two have even opted to stay out of the traditional sizing game: Matrushka’s tags simply say, “Size Is Relative.” “For me the sizing thing is absurdist,” says Howe, standing up behind the counter to eye her domain. “It doesn’t really matter. If it’s gonna make you feel bad ’cause it says ‘large’ or it’s gonna make you feel better because it says ‘extra-super small’ . . . If the thing fits, wear it.”

Ela Unverdi is in a
cotton cap-sleeve blouse
and denim flare pants by
Laura S. Howe.

Hair and makeup by Nikki Providence; all jewelry by Araceli Silva

Matrushka Construction, 3528 W. Sunset Blvd., (323) 665-4513;; next T-shirt construction night is October 10.

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