Scott Studenberg and John Targon of Baja East fame seem intent on making clothes for every event a woman (or man) might encounter. From taking swim laps to prepping for a black tie gala to every avenue in between, their evolving street glam wares toe the line between lavishly ornate with sequined and crystalized pieces and fashion’s dirty word, “comfort”. Started in 2013, the duo have pushed their agenda of “loose luxury” to the brink, conjuring up a well-traveled feeling with their relaxed fit collections that always have a touch of unexpected fun. Ahead of their Valentine’s Day showing for Fall 2017 later tonight, Models.com sat down with the designers to discuss how they first started their business, their ideas on the “ambisex” mood of their collections, and just what “loose luxury” entails. With exclusive images by Alexander Saladrigas featuring Baja East muse Soo Joo Park, we take an in-depth look into their current collection below!
Photographer – Alexander Saladrigas for Models.com
Art Direction – Dfernando Zaremba
Stylist – Jimi Urquiaga
Hair – Joey George (Streeters New York) | Makeup – Homa Safar using Armani | Nails – Martha Fekete (Bryan Bantry)
Model – Soo Joo Park | Producer – Jazmin Alvarez
You two have had this continuous concept of loose luxury. Take us behind that idea and what first brought it on.
Scott Studenberg: John and I worked in luxury for a really long time. I was at Lanvin for years and he was at Givenchy and Céline. We worked on a sales rep team and worked with all of the retailers for distribution, marketing, merchandising, and strategy. So we saw all these different facets of the business. We worked with the design teams on products we needed for our markets, which was North and South America. What we would do day to day a lot of times was be on the road traveling from store to store, seeing the other brands, what are the prices, where do they make it, what are they offering. Not only for clothing, but for shoes, bags, everything. Luxury is a really loose word, and we saw this void for what we thought as kind of loose luxury, this kind of “what are they wearing on the plane? When they’re going to their house in Aspen?” That’s how we started it. This kind of core idea.
John Targon: For us it was the whole idea of building out a lifestyle and it was a lifestyle that wasn’t out there at the time. It wasn’t fitted cocktail dresses or ladies-who-lunch attire. It was all the things that people were doing outside of that. We wanted to build out a lifestyle that was genderless, when we started especially. Let’s say there were 25 pieces in our collection, every single piece went on a guy and a girl. Down to every fabrication and everything that we’ve sourced, it was always meant to be comfort.
Scott: We felt like, if you’re comfortable, you’re gonna feel more sexy. You’re not gonna feel real sexy if you’re in something where you can’t breathe in.
John: And it’s still about having fun. You know a lot of people hear the word luxury and think “I can’t buy it. It’s too expensive.” It has to look a certain way, maybe sterile or stiff and we just wanted it to feel much more approachable.
And what your reasoning behind that approachability? Why focus on that for your woman or man?
Scott: When we started looking at the product that we wanted to create together, one of the things was we wear our samples out. John and I would go back and forth for a year when we had our old jobs while we were developing and thinking of how we were going to sell and market. We realized girls were like “oh my god, I love that” and guys were like, “oh my god that’s so cool”, and we were like why do we need to just be another woman’s brand or just be another men’s brand? Why can’t we see what happens and offer it to everyone? Because a lot of the shapes from our first collection, which has become the core twelve seasons later, were ambisex.
John: The other thing is this whole idea about approachability. The core of what we did, what we set up to be our brand is wanted to have a true DNA that was unique to us. That came through our font and the language we came to play with messaging. Our “B E” that we started out with T shirts actually said “loose lux” which should have been “drug rug” because we started off with the Baja shape that people call drug rug. We knew that we wanted to build out this base, and we have swim, T shirts and things and we knew that everyone could buy into. So, it was still being approachable and starting to message with our font and creating this lifestyle across a lot of price points.
When did you guys first start designing? How did you guys sort of meet up and form your design team?
Scott: Well we met like 14 years ago, maybe more, at an Equinox abs class. So, we’ve been friends for a long time and then we worked kind of along side each other at other brands. We’d have similar travel schedules to Paris or LA or whatever, for awhile. John had the job before me, he literally told me what to say in the interview. I didn’t know what to say for sales. I was working at W magazine in production beforehand.
John: We started this with full time jobs. So about a year in, we started to create the messaging, the brand, mood boards, all of these things that brought it to life. This was also our first step to the full design side. We kind of went at it in a blank kind of way, but what we did rely on and what was helpful were just our friends and the people in the industry. That’s why we’re always the people to, if someone calls for a sourcing thing, or a manufacturing thing, we give it right back because we had no idea. This was our first time figuring out how the hell we’re going to make something. Even figuring where the materials came from, how you bought them, what they cost, coming up with a model. So it was all brand new for us.
Scott: In our first collection we used we were really obsessed with using really good fabrications. So the cashmere was the best Italian cashmere that you can use. And we used these textiles from Bali, that we found from a furniture designer literally from blankets that had been sitting on my couch for years. And we went to her and we were like where did you get these? We can not find them anywhere, which…
John: Became a sourcing nightmare!
Scott: But that’s how we began, and we have kind of continued that into working with some of the best French fabric mills to develop really special prints and fabrications in our second season. Incorporating really plain things with cashmere, really beautiful leathers, and mixing them with like John said, T shirts, sweatshirts, swim…
All these places far off destinations seem to very much fall in line with the ethos of Baja East. Is traveling a very integral part of your brand?
Scott: Yeah, our brand is globally inspired for sure because John and I love traveling. The luxury client is always travelling. When you look at them when we go to trunk shows, we had just gotten back from Miami. Women, they go to St. Barts with their families. They go out to dinner, then they’re on the beach. They want to be looking good but then they also wanna be super comfortable on the plane ride there.
John: Yeah, and that’s what we had set out to do, this whole idea of travel that was very much into our core. Often it was the idea of travel, and maybe escape isn’t the right word, but when we were at our jobs we would always try to tack on maybe a few days in Mexico. And because you go from New York to Tulum to LA often, how could you have a wardrobe that translated into all of those places without having to pack a ton? So that really formed the idea of our travel essentials.
Would you say fabric development is the biggest thing that’s evolved in the collection?
Scott: We’ve layered in more feminine pieces.
John: Yes. I mean for our textiles we’ve just gotten smarter with sourcing from a cost perspective. Our adapting to a market and realizing who are customers are. I would say our sourcing got a little more “doable.” At one point we couldn’t have some things done. We now have the right suppliers, but textiles are always a very important part. And we design and develop all of our own prints. So, it’s the prints and the textiles that are always a strong foundation.
I saw that you guys were on the Amazon original series The Fashion Fund and were so charming! I think what I really took away from it was that you guys were really eager to understand the perspective from the mentors. What was the biggest thing that you guys took away from that experience as far as the business or development?
Scott: It definitely pushed us.
John: For sure. The focus was to look at our brand, but I think it was two-fold in a lot of ways. You know, you have these mentors who have such great experience and such a vast knowledge. And if we talk about someone like say an Andrew Rosen who runs Theory – we are not Theory, and we do not want to be Theory. We also setting a tone to a vision that is not understandable to everyone. Or able to be commercialized by them. So for us it rooted us in, to stay true to what we were doing, we never wanted to deviate from that. But it also said, “ok what can we focus on and how are we going to make this a business?” Two guys, with one full time employee.
Scott: And we were working from our apartment.
John: I think it also gave us a good amount of “fuck you” mentality in the sense that we don’t have to change our brand because we aren’t these other brands.
As young designers I can imagine even with your years of experience, coming into the fashion market as it is the current cycle seems so much more fast paced. How is it from your perspective and being able to still maintain a level of creativity from season to season. Do you find that the fashion calendar has given pressure?
Scott: We’ve been adapting. We started when we did Spring ‘14. We worked differently than other designers that we know in a sense that we had the support of the top 17 retailers in the world, or maybe more in the U.S. from day 1. So we started that way and went on a four season a year calendar. The industries change though, and the customers change. Over these past few years, what people see, they start wanting right now. But you can’t do a buy now of your entire collection.
John: Especially we cannot. I think one of the things we’re actually seeing is a lot of these clients don’t necessarily look at a lot of our shows. If you’re this person who is consuming, does love fashion, you’re somebody who is looking all of the time. I think it’s about the freshness of drops. They don’t care if this is cool or was in our show or not, if they see it and they like it and it’s new, there’s a reason to buy.
When it comes to muses and people who embody the Baja East spirit, what do you guys gravitate towards when it comes to celebrities or models or just people in the industry?
John: I think we kind of have these two sub sections. We’re very hands on we do trunk shows so we have these real men and women who come in and shop, and like we said they pack as if they’re going from Aspen to Miami to New York to London. These are our people. Overall, we consistently go back to music. Music as a core inspires our choices and how our mood is going in our shows. And it seems as though a lot of musicians and B level gravitate towards our brand.
Scott: I think it comes down to the people we see everyday, honestly. From day one it was like “what are our friends wearing?” That’s how we started it. And that’s also what inspired us because it’s what’s in front of you everyday.
As far as the brand, what is it that you guys would like to explore next?
Scott: Well we would need to bring on investors in order to do any of these types of things but, one would be to hire more employees. Then we can expand into accessories and strengthen our eCommerce, which in the past six months we’ve launched and have been doing well. Home accessories is something we’ve always talked about doing. We’ve always offered blankets and they always sell out. Also, looking at what are smart partnerships are like because we can’t do everything. We’ve been working with FILA recently on our different shoes and have been doing some cool stuff with them. We’re kind of continuing that for fall and seeing what we can do.
John: I think the next extensions are we know that we need a physical store somewhere and we very much believe our first would be in LA. Continuing this ethos and this idea of building out a lifestyle; that could be the surfboards that come in at one point where there are ten limited edition surfboards. Down to the more core things like beauty and fragrance and candles, you know. But we definitely need that environment to showcase our brand and image.