Last fall, when we left New York and came out to Los Angeles for our ‘trial run’ to see how the shoe fit, we were excited to see that we hadn’t yet missed LA’s rendition of Fashion Week, a longtime personal favorite time of ours in NYC. But we were a bit crestfallen when we actually looked into the events and public reception of Fashion Week LA. What’s become a boisterous, massive, citywide street-walking affair in New York, with everyone from tiny boutiques to mainstream retailers participating seemed, in Los Angeles, to be spotty at best, kind of sadly, haughtily copycat-ish at worst. As we’ve found in other instances though, it was more a case of us attempting to draw nonexistent parallels between New York + Los Angeles, two cities that each shine all the brighter for their differences rather than in spite of them.
But, that said, this experience did lead to us discovering some Los Angeles-based talent in the fashion field, most notably, womenswear brand Wren and the company’s founder + creative director, Melissa Coker. With its casual, whimsically elegant attitude, her label’s quickly become one of our favorites (you can see Katie sporting her Kimono Dress here + in our recent write-up on our outdoor studio setup).
We took some time to chat with Coker about the inspiration behind Wren, the secret of asking, and her award-winning, insanely viral campaign video, “First Kiss” (below), in which filmmaker Tatia Pilieva capture the oft awkwardly beautiful moments of 20 strangers kissing for the first time. Cutest fashion campaign promo ever. Watch + read on.
raven + crow: So, first off, how + when did Wren get its start?
Melissa Coker: Wren was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles.
Succinct and too the point. I like it. You were in the fashion magazine world previously though, right? Did Wren’s creation coincide with that massive shift the publishing industry experienced in the mid- to late-2000s at all? Or were you just ready to leave that line of work?
I got an unexpected call from a head hunter inquiring if I would be interested in becoming a trend forecaster. It was a fortuitous, unexpected, and totally wonderful shift to the apparel side of the fashion business.
Is it as dramatically cut-throat as The Devil Wears Prada would have us believe?
I think it depends on what title you were at, but at Vogue there usually was someone crying in the bathroom!
Damn! Have you always had an interest in fashion and design then?
Even as a kid I was interested in fashion and interior design magazines—I used to make collages of the things I found that were inspiring to me.
Proto-vision boards! And the company name—where does that come from? Fellow bird-lover? Or is it more a link between the movement of flight and elegant forms in the designs?
It is based on a character from a Charles Dicken’s novel—Jenny Wren. I believe Paul McCartney also wrote a song about this character.
So the internet tells me. It also tells me Jenny Wren was a dolls’ dressmaker and a lover of “flowers, bird song, numbers of blessed, white-clad children”. Pretty cool namesake.
Now, I know you’ve done a lot of collaborations over the years. What do you like about bringing your work together with other designers and existing brands?
I love exploring other categories that are outside of our wheelhouse—whether that be shoes or bags or jewelry or what have you. It’s also an interesting way to test what our customers think about us offering something to them that we haven’t before. Our latest collaboration is a little different—we teamed up with Langley Fox to create a graphic tee to benefit No Kill Los Angeles animal shelters (right). They have received a great response and are available in our store now.
Yeah, totally love those. Kitty Stardust for president.
So, this is something that took some effort to grasp when we came out form New York, but how would you describe Los Angeles fashion?
I think it is certainly more casual overall. More effortless at best and more tragic at worst.
Hah. Well put. How does the fashion scene differ from NYC’s, in your view?
NYC’s is more pervasive—New York is almost like a two industry town with fashion and finance. Whereas LA is really all about film, and fashion as a scene is so much more focused and more interconnected.
I was going to ask ‘Do you ever miss New York’, but I think everyone’s who’s spent any time there misses it eventually, regardless of how they feel about the city as a whole now. So, what do you miss about New York then?
I miss the feel of a city—Los Angeles doesn’t feel like one most of the time.
Totally get that. In good ways and bad. What would you say inspires your designs, in general or with some specific examples?
I’m mostly inspired by friends and girls I see on the street. Wren collaborates with many of the girls I find most inspiring from Langley to Alexa Chung to Tennessee Thomas to Tavi and the like.
You keep good company.
We’ve talked to a lot of independent designers who were really hurt by the economic downturn and resulting shift in the economic landscape for them, from Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy to the gals at Curator up in SF to all our friends who used to have shops or lines in New York but had to call it quits for one reason or another. How did you get your business on the other side of that?
Wren was founded right in the midst of the recession. It was a weird blessing in a way. From day one we had to be lean and efficient.
And how did you grow it from a one-person show…to a company that teams up with the likes of Target?
I think the best advice I ever got was the simplest—just ask. You’ll be surprised how often people say yes. That’s really been a cornerstone of the success of our outside projects and growth,
We saw you just won the Grand Clio for your Fall 2014 campaign film, “First Kiss” (above), and you hit something like 70 million hits in two weeks with it on YouTube. Congratulations—that is truly kinda insane! Really really cute video too and…kinda just hard to turn away from. Where did the concept come from for that?
We’ve always made videos that aim to be cool and content-driven rather than feel like a commercial without artistic merit that is a hard sell—buy-me-now type thing. “First Kiss” was a bit different in that we wanted to make something that was shareable that was driven by connection and emotional and engaging content.
Well fucking well-done. Looking through your other films, we saw another you did with Joanna Newsome. We absolutely love her music. How did you line that up?
I met her through a friend and asked if she wanted to work together on a project together—happily, she said yes.
Again with the just ask. And obviously not into the run-of-the-mill, models standing around and walking catwalks in your designs campaign films. What are the origins of this more cinematic, creative take on showing off your designs.
I just don’t get why there are hundreds of people doing the same thing at the same time. We are all competing for the very limited attention of a very limited group of people, whether they are our consumers or members of the media, etc. When you are small and don’t have well-padded marketing budgets, I think one does themselves a disservice if they don’t aim to do things outside of the box, in a new and interesting sort of way.
Totally agree. Not to trend negative, but Los Angeles has often been classified as an artless place void of any significant culture, especially in years past. What’s made you start Wren here and have it remain LA-based?
LA has a wonderful production center in downtown Los Angeles. It’s alive and well and thriving and I have always felt so grateful to work with the amazingly talented sewers and craftsmen that I have had the good fortune to meet.
What’s you favorite thing about Los Angeles then?
The diversity, professionally, of the people that I am happy to call my friends. It seems that all my friends in NY are either involved in art or fashion.
Right—those boring professions. More importantly though—best tacos in LA?
Whoa—I don’t know how much I’d find as a vegan at a place described on Google Maps as a “tiny taco stand known for Mexican meats” but I admire both your outta left-field-ness and your gusto. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
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