Jenni Kayne isn’t your typical fashion designer. Consider how she presented her latest collection, Fall 2017 Ready-to-Wear. Instead of braving the cold and crowds of New York Fashion Week in February, this California-based designer (she splits her time between Tahoe and Los Angeles) hosted a dinner at famed Venice eatery Gjelina. Kayne invited her chic gal pals—including actresses Mandy Moore and Minka Kelly—to join her for a simple, romantic meal, and they all wore pieces from Kayne’s upcoming collection. Moore opted for a cozy black-and-white turtleneck with velvet pants, while Kelly chose one of the collection’s lingerie-inspired little black dresses.
“The market is so saturated right now, and there are so many shows and presentations that the editors are just exhausted,” Kayne told Haute Living on a cool morning in mid-January. “It’s hard to…feel special, regardless of how beautiful your clothes are or what you’re doing. I found doing things that are more intimate has been more successful or more special. So we do a beautiful dinner where all of the guests are wearing looks from the collection. We have beautiful images in the lookbook. We have delicious food. And it’s a nice excuse to get a unique, eclectic, and great group of women together.”
This unorthodox presentation of Kayne’s new collection typifies her laid-back approach to fashion, and it reflects the designer’s commitment to her brand and a mature understanding of the industry. It’s a path that has worked well for her. After launching into the fashion business 14 years ago at the tender age of 19, last summer she opened her sixth boutique—at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto—and she’ll launch a seventh, at the Marin County Mart, in 2018. “I think my newest stores are always my favorite, but I think Palo Alto really is,” Kayne says of the space. “I think it is so beautiful. It’s the first store, because we were in the new section of the shopping mall, where we really built from the ground up. It’s special. It’s exactly like I wanted to see it, everything I envisioned, and a real expression of the brand.”
Photo Credit: Katrina Dickson
The Precarious Market
Although the market has become crowded and precarious in the past five years, Kayne, at just 33, has guided her clothing company to a niche where it has flourished. The pretty brunette launched her first collection in 2003 with funding from her father, Richard Kayne, founder of a prestigious Los Angeles investment firm that focuses on oil, gas, and energy. Growing up in Beverly Hills, Kayne, the oldest of three sisters, lived a charmed life. She attended Crossroads, a private K-12 creative school in Santa Monica and spent her winters skiing in Utah. After high school, she went to L.A.’s tony Otis College of Art and Design for a year, before dropping out to start her own clothing line.
From the beginning, celebrities supported her designs: Seats in the front row of her first show, held at The Standard, Downtown LA, were filled with the likes of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, actors Lisa Rinna and James Woods, and musician Billy Morrison. The leather and miniskirts of her first few collections in the early 2000s slowly morphed into the luxe pared-down separates that Kayne makes today. “I always say that everyone could see my growing pains. When I started my collection, I definitely had a vision for what I wanted to create, but I was young,” she says. “I really learned through working and experience and making mistakes. Now, almost 15 years later, it is much more a lifestyle brand and encompasses a lot more than just fashion, which I think really reflects my own personal growth. What your interests are or who you are when you’re 19 is obviously very different from when you are a little bit older, married, and have children.”
Photo Credit: Katrina Dickson
In 2006, she hosted her first show in New York—and married Hollywood real estate broker Richard Ehrlich. The following year, she opened her first stand-alone boutique, in West Hollywood. However, it wasn’t until 2013 when her d’Orsay flats became a cult sensation, beloved and worn by everyone from Vogue editors to It girls like Jessica Alba, that Kayne established herself as a here-to-stay fashion force. She has mastered a look that represents the covetable look of California-girl cool. It’s equal parts boho and Ralph Lauren, ideal for both city and country, understated yet upscale. Think cashmere V-neck sweaters, silk wrap dresses, cropped slim-fitting jeans, and trim military jackets. There are hats, ponchos, basket purses, and equestrian boots. Kayne makes clothes that she wants to wear, that women like her—young, affluent, and stylish mothers—want to wear.
“The way that I’ve evolved and stayed relevant is to really give women what they want. Really look at what my customer comes to me for,” she explains. “What do they need from Jenni Kayne? And to really make the collection ‘buy now, wear now.’ Everything is, not more tangible, but more instant. So really it’s important for me to have core styles and staples that live year-round and special products that come in seasonally but that are weather appropriate and not disposable.” She steers away from trends, instead choosing to make timeless pieces in a neutral palette that will last forever. It’s an aesthetic and vibe that women have gravitated toward.
For never having run a business before this one, Kayne is savvy and meticulous. She did what some young startup founders are afraid to do: She hired a president to run her company. “I feel like my company has grown and evolved as I have,” Kayne admits. “What has been really important for me is surrounding myself with partners who know more than I do or are better at something than I am in areas that I need. I have children and needed help as we were growing and wanted to scale, but I couldn’t do it all myself. I realized I needed to have someone amazing helping me run the company, so I hired a president three years ago. Knowing where the holes are or what your weaknesses are in the brand or the company and filling them with people who are super talented and become partners—that’s important to me,” she says.
Photo Credit: Katrina Dickson
Another thing that’s crucial to Kayne’s success? Having other creative outlets. The designer, who describes herself as an organization-obsessed textbook Virgo, regularly rides her horse, Saphi, and loves to cook, entertain, and craft. She believes in wellness and clean living. The natural beauty was one of the first L.A. designers to realize that her fashion brand could be transformed into something that showcases a natural extension of her life, so in 2011 she started the lifestyle blog Rip & Tan, named after her daughter, Ripley, and son, Tanner. Kayne herself—not someone from her 50-member team—writes the site and that, plus her early timing, puts her way ahead of the current trend where it feels as though every actress, singer, and blogger is trying to create a successful lifestyle brand. “I’m always the friend that everyone comes to when they’re looking for something, when they need advice on something or they’re not feeling well and need to know what natural things they can take. After years of being that resource, I really wanted to just put it down on paper,” Kayne says. “I also had my business at that time, and I wanted another creative outlet. It was just kind of for me. As the site grew, it became obvious that it deserved to be part of the brand, even if I wasn’t trying to monetize it, but just to get the message out there. I love it.”
Kayne interacts with her followers in her posts. For example, a recent article shares the inspiration for her Spring 2017 collection. “We looked to West Coast modernist architecture and the idea of warm minimalism when designing this collection,” she writes. “The line features clean silhouettes, natural colors, and soft fabrics. From cropped pants cut in delicate silk to deck shoes reimagined as wearable slides, every piece is designed to be simple, functional, and special.” A video of a model wearing the clothing in a beautiful garden accompanies the short story and is completely shoppable, meaning visitors can purchase any of the items pictured from the site. All of Kayne’s posts are shoppable—even those that feature a friend’s tips for assembling the perfect meat and cheese board. With topics ranging from skin-care advice to a recipe for fresh celery juice to tips on flower arranging, she is a modern Martha Stewart, but with a more relaxed California mentality.
Kayne doesn’t fuss over unnecessary details; instead, she focuses on balance. When asked how she defines her quintessential California lifestyle, she replies: “I think it’s an overall attitude of living well, balanced, and taking care of yourself, but it’s also really loving beautiful, nice things. I think maybe the difference between being on the East Coast and the West Coast is we do dress down a little bit more. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have great style. We’re wearing flats when they’re wearing heels. We’re going home from work, hopefully between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m. and not staying until 9:00 p.m. every night. Balance and living well are important, and that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice being successful. I actually think that can make you more efficient and successful.” For her, that thinking has worked miracles.