Virginia Ayala is one of those women you look at. Not with one of those “Are you on TV?” stares, but with the subtle second glances you give certain striking women. Her face is naked, without makeup, and her hair is wild with long curls; she has the smile of someone who is at peace with herself. Maybe you’ve passed her outside the bimonthly Soul Sessions night at Chinatown’s Grand Star, where she sometimes spreads a scarlet mat under the twinkling lights and sells her revived-retro De La Luna Designs — vintage purses and boots and jackets with stop-in-your-tracks appliqués of blooms and birds and butterflies. Or maybe you saw her at a booth on the festival circuit — among the families at the Lotus Festival, the music fans at Sunset Junction or the art lovers at the Abbot Kinney Festival.
For the past two years Ayala, 29, has been peddling her boho-chic goods like a nomad, at a different spot from day to day. But as more and more people discover her designs, she heads out less frequently and lets others sell her lovelies. During Fashion Week in October, she launched her boot and jacket lines with a show at Crash Mansion, and she has set up an online boutique and a network of various clothing and gift shops, including six in L.A., that now carry her designs.
“She’s one of our top sellers,” says Michelle Corros, the bright and chatty co-owner of Flock Shop, the Chinatown boutique that offers a wide selection of Ayala’s clothes and accessories. Corros first met Ayala outside the Grand Star nightclub, which she owns with her husband, and was impressed with the young designer’s commitment to her work.
The idea of homemade appliqués is simple, but Ayala puts a lot of care into choosing the original articles of clothing suitable for a second life, and has a good eye for making the old seem fresh. Aware of many of the absurdities of our consumer-driven society, she uses recycled fabrics for embellishing everything from shoes to business-card holders, with an aim toward sustainable fashion. Vibrant koi decorate wallets, and floral patterns bloom on the sides of boots. And, of course, she uses representations of moon cycles for her De La Luna line, for which she came up with the motto Bringing earth to life through design.
Yes, the designer is very much a free spirit. “I’m really into recycling dresses and skirts,” she says. “Like your favorite dress that you had from the 1960s that has some cool design — I take that image and recycle it onto a bag. It adds more of a one-of-a-kind touch.”
Ayala didn’t go to design school because, she says, it was too structured. She has a strong sense of wanderlust that has her constantly leaving L.A. to spend time with her boyfriend, caravan her goods or just release her restless energy. And when she’s not snipping away with scissors, marketing her craft or spending time outdoors with said boyfriend, you’ll find her working her day job .?.?. as a lifeguard. She’s been one for the past 10 years, and spent five years coaching a swim team. Ayala’s parents even hoped, at one time, that she would become pool manager.
“I told them that’s not my pride,” she says. “I want to be artistic.”
Once Ayala showed her family that she had the energy and drive to follow through with her business, her parents started believing in her commitment. Now her family members are her biggest supporters, and her studio is her mother’s house.
“There’s fabric everywhere,” she laughs.
But as confident as Ayala was with her family, she was hesitant before taking the big step of debuting her boot and jacket lines during Fashion Week. It helped that she showed her collection away from the official Mercedes-Benz Smashbox stages and instead joined the art-and-music happening Within: The Urban Woman Experience at Crash Mansion. Guests were frisked and patted down when they entered, but inside, live rap boomed loudly as the crowd of Botox-free women, young hip-hoppers, clusters of families and the fashion savvy gathered at the runway. Ayala vamped up her usually earthy fashions, contrasting hand-painted, electric blue, silver and gold boots with floral accents. Vintage leather jackets with Japanese icons and the signature floral designs rocked the stage. “That’s hot!” whistles and cheers rang out. Ayala surfaced at the end of the show and kicked up a wide smile. No one could look away.
?De La Luna Designs are available at Avita, 8213 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 852-3200, www.avitastyle.com; Flock Shop, 943 N. Broadway #103, Chinatown, (213) 229-9090, www.flockshopla.com; Imix Book Store, 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd., L.A., (323) 257-2512, www.imixbooks.com; Mesh and Lace, 3208 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 667 1732; Nahui Ohlin, 1511 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 202-6550, www.myspace.com/nahuiohlin; Nobody Jones Boutique, 4703 Crenshaw Blvd., L.A., (323) 291-7177, www.nobodyjones.com; and online boutique at www.delalunadesigns.com.