“At the heart of our brand is a very strong woman,” said Rodney Jones on a 7:30am phone call. He didn’t realize he was actually answering an even more pressing question—how do you survive the LA fashion scene? (The answer: You wake up early.)
To celebrate Fashion Week in LA, IVY hosted a Runway Night with William Bradley, as designers Brad Parnell and Rodney Jones showcased their Fall/Winter 2016 Collection. Over 250 IVY members gathered with VIPs and press at the Skybar at Mondrian for the exclusive presentation, which showed a strong departure from the more romantic clothes William Bradley showed a year ago. By contrast, this collection radiated minimalism, accented with touches of forest green and clay-soil orange.
“We decided to pare it down, and wipe the slate clean,” said Parnell, referring to his approach. Since transplanting to LA from Tuscaloosa, William Bradley has received nods from some of LA’s top tastemakers. Their headstrong, confident aesthetic has been called “the hands-down heart-string-pluck” by the LA Times, and Women’s Wear Daily writes that their vibe “strikes a chord.”
Brad and Rodney sat down with IVY Magazine to talk about building a fashion line and what it takes for two Alabama boys to find success in Los Angeles.
How would define the William Bradley line?
Rodney: We’re designing for a woman with strength. She’s very confident; she’s very sure of herself, the woman that everyone wants to be. The woman who catches your attention when you walk into the room. She’s not really having to do anything to get that attention.
She just exists.
R: Exactly, she lives, and she goes about her life. People just admire her, and maybe she doesn’t even realize that people are admiring her from afar. She’s walking down the street—and you wonder, did she just come off a runway? She’s always very polished and very chic without having to do much at all.
There are so many different tiers of fashion. How do you feel about the relationship between art—high art, high fashion, high couture—and practical fashion that has to be produced for women to wear?
Brad: I think that you always want to start with something that is wearable. People are very practical right now; they want to know that what they’re buying they’re gong to be able to use. I feel like you also have to have the moments where people can dream as well, to keep it interesting.
If you only design something that’s super practical, it’s going to be boring. If you only design something that’s art, it’s not going to be wearable. I feel like it’s taking the two and mixing them in a way that’s wearable, but the designer still gets to have fun and push his ideas on people. And maybe in a subtle way, we’re pushing fashion forward through the use of those new ideas, while at the same time respecting the customer, respecting her needs, and giving her something she can wear on a day-to-day basis.
What room is there for fashion in art anymore? How do you have room to be an artist in such a busy scene?
R: I don’t believe in purely functional clothing. With any artist, we think a lot about function and form. The goal is to make something completely functional, that’s also a beautiful piece.
Us sharing a common goal of creating a beautiful and engaging experience for our customer definitely keeps us motivated. In L.A., it takes a long time to get anywhere as far as traffic goes. After being out here very quickly, you learn how to make the most of your time. We do a of phone calls from the car. We have to schedule appropriately. As far as our manufacturing, that’s all done in Los Angeles, which is something that we’re very proud of. That allows us to be very hands-on to make sure that every stitch that goes in is true to the function and form of the garment.
As two entrepreneur-artists working in a creative space, what advice do you have for other entrepreneur artists?
B: Be prepared. [Laughs]
From a design side, you have to have thick skin and do what it is that you believe in because at the end of the day if you don’t believe in it, it’s never going to touch anyone in any way.
R: Obviously, there are situations where you just have to figure it out. It’s definitely sometimes the scariest, but it’s also just the most rewarding thing that you can think of. Especially if you’re growing up an artist and you’re thrown into a more business side of any industry, you kind of have to figure it out for yourself.
The important thing is to surround your self with mentors and seek out the advice of other people who have gone through this. We’ve both learned a lot by asking questions.
What is the process for carving out a sense of identity in such a busy fashion scene?
R: As creatives, we start out with a lot of ideas, and we have to figure out how they fit together. We’re very drawn to minimalism. Then we infuse it with mini-refinements to elevate it. Just for our own working process, Brad is definitely the creative one—he’s going through sketches and sketches and sketches daily. He’ll wake up and have a concept for a season that’s two shows away or two lines away, and we work through it and we edit and edit and edit. I think that’s a big part of this process, editing.
You started in Alabama. How do you think southern culture or the aesthetic of the south at all plays in your work?
B: Maybe on a deeper level the south has a small influence on who are as people more so than the clothes. I see it most perhaps in the color palette and cognitive thinking—just how we think about the women we design for—maybe in some way that comes from the south.
What is it like to transition from Alabama to a hectic L.A. fashion scene?
B: I did my internship out here when I was in college and then swore I was never coming back. [laughs] Then a year and a half after I graduated, we decided to move back. This is where Rodney has always wanted to live. And I hated it for a little while, but now I love it. I feel like the opportunities we’ve had since we’ve gotten here have been ridiculous, compared to back home. There’s no way we could have grown or done as much as we’ve been able to do since we’ve gotten here.
R: For sure I was one driving us to move here, but I’ve always seen L.A. as this place that’s really cultivating creativity. Moving here, we were able to explore creativity on a deeper level.
There are so many types of people in L.A., and everyone is doing their own thing. We’re all working together essentially. I feel like it’s okay for everyone to be on their own little path here. You’re not trying to fit into a mold, which I feel like we had to do much more in Alabama.
What other designers inspire you?
B: I gravitate a lot to Phillip Lim—I always look forward to seeing what he’s doing. I think that he approaches fashion in much the same way I do.
At face value, his work just seems like normal clothes, but then when you look at it closer, it’s always in the details that make it interesting. He always says that what he likes to do is to have fashion but with a sense of madness. I think that’s great because he can kind of let himself go and not actually think about the end result for a few minutes. If you constantly always think so logically, it’s going to be uninteresting.
His idea of madness—it always draws me in because I feel like there is that 5% of the time that you just let go and create something that isn’t so normal. [laughs]
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