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Women We Love: A Conversation with Kendall Conrad by Pamela Keogh

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As far as ARossGirl is concerned the contributions of women in society cannot be overstated. To me women embody strength, grace, intelligence, creativity, beauty, and so much more. When I launched ARossGirl I wanted to highlight women who have that certain something that sets them apart, a je ne sais quoi. And so it is with great pleasure that we debut a new series on ARossGirl, Women We Love, where, it is my hope, we can bring some of the women we admire to a wider audience.

For this series I asked my dear friend, writer, and journalist, Pamela Keogh, to conduct the interviews with me for Women We Love. Pamela is the brilliant author of the New York Times and international bestsellers Audrey Style, Jackie Style, Are You A Jackie or a Marilyn?, among other books. She is also a contributor to VanityFair.com.

To kickoff the inaugural Women We Love series, we are featuring a conversation with West Coast style-setter Kendall Conrad. A fourth generation Californian, she is the founder of Kendall Conrad Designs, the LA based luxury accessories brand that began with one perfect leather bag (that Kendall saw a need for, sketched out and had made), and has since expanded into small leather goods, jewelry, scarves, sandals and so much more. She and I have known one another for about a decade, and I have featured her work in countless shoots and red carpet events. On a personal note, she is responsible for introducing me to my future husband!

Kendall Conrad is one of those women you want — you hope, on your luckiest day – to have as a friend. She is, as Diana Vreeland so famously posited, “a life enhancer.” Grounded in nature, Kendall’s style is as open and accessible, and as beautifully memorable, as the West Coast itself. When you meet her and learn about her work, you’ll understand why.

Kendall recently launched a collaboration with Club Monaco. You can shop the pieces now in the ARossGirl Shop.

I hope you love the Women We Love!

xo ARossGirl

A Conversation with Kendall Conrad and Pamela Keogh

Here’s a question my friends and I often kick around — do you think style can be taught, or is in innate?

I think it can be taught – for sure, it can be taught.

You do?

Of course. But I do think there are people with innate style who are just born with it. But most people learn it.

Some people just have it – my eldest daughter – she’s 18 – she just has it and always puts herself together in a cool way. My youngest daughter is learning it. She always just had this flair, and it’s: “wow”!

Your father, Barnaby Conrad seems as if he was a fascinating man. A well-known portraitist, author, bullfighter, Hemingway aficionado and (if I can say) a real bon vivant.  

How did you get into bags and accessories and design — why aren’t you a bullfighter in Spain?

“Damnit! I know! I ask myself that! Why aren’t I a bullfighter in Spain?”

“Going to the corridas in Spain with my father as a child and seeing the events and the pageantry, the costumes — every single thing registered.   I always liked the ring in the bull’s nose, I always liked the tassel on the jacket. I loved the Bota bags, which were the bags that the men drank wine from and passed it on.

I loved the berets. Loved the slippers – loved the slippers! We even do an homage to that with our matador slippers. I loved the tights, the pants.

But then – you were a model…

Yes — I was a model and lived in Paris for years.

How does that not affect you?

I know, right? I don’t think you can live in Paris and not be influenced by style! And fashion and — it just got into my blood and became a part of my life and who I am.

 I love that your brand started with one bag – and now it’s just grown! You have an online presence, a collaboration with Club Monaco we’re all excited about, three stand alone stores — one on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, California, the Brentwood Country Mart, and in Montecito, California.

 I started with bags and then the next category became leather cuffs and then jewelry and then the shoes. And bags and wallets and case goods. The cuffs were a natural thing to make with bags, because you don’t want to waste the leather. We had material left over, and wanted to do something with it!

The jewelry evolved because I was custom making hardware for the bags… so I had a manufacturer who encouraged me. So it started very organically.

I know, I think that’s why people are drawn to your work… it’s you. You get a sense that there’s a real designer – an actual person – behind it. Not just some corporation making decisions.

The leather cuffs evolved into sandals. It’s all been a pretty natural progression.

How far do you think it can go?

It’s endless, as far as what can be made… right now our focus is accessories. It’s a pretty wide range. It’s challenging.

Accessories are something that’s been important to you – why do you think they matter?

I really like dressing in a uniform and I don’t really want to think about what I put on – I like to put on a very simple… like a solid, and then I usually like to accessorize because you can completely update and change your mood.

Every day can be different – depending on the shoes you choose!

And, I don’t know – I do my house the same way – the couches, the furniture — it’s a blank canvas and you bring in the flowers and the objet and you change it all up with the rugs and accessories.

So I guess that’s just the way I like to live.

Your jewelry, your cuffs and what you create are so sculptural. It’s so beautiful, it’s like — art that affects people’s life every day.

The jewelry almost becomes sculpture — so that can be a beautiful thing that sits on my desk.

My background is…I’m also a painter, so I like both! I like looking at paintings and I like creating jewelry!

Jewelry can have such a personal resonance. You might remember – “I wore those earrings when I met so and so…

What’s your creative process like? Your design process?

I start with a bigger idea and then I take away, take away, take away… just because that’s my style. It’s always a challenge, and I think I approach it from an art background, so it’s beautiful, and maybe cool looking — but then it’s got to function, too – that’s key!

You’re not chasing the dragon… it’s organic – it’s coming from your life and your place as an artist.

Right now, I have to say – I keep coming back to fringe – I’m just attracted to it – it’s fun to play with… it’s like hair! It’s super sexy!

It’s like a girl with really long hair – there’s something about fringe – sometimes women want long hair, and sometimes they want a bob! And – we make that, too.

So your designs really reflect your life.

Yeah — sometimes you feel like something really clean, and sometimes you feel like fringy!

I know you and your family live in Santa Barbara — what do you do for downtime?

A few things – I like to go on really long beach walks – that’s a big respite for me – I can talk on the phone, I can listen to books on tape, I can take my dog along.   If there’s a design or work problem, I can mull it over while walking in beautiful nature and getting some great exercise. So that’s a really big part of my life. I also really like yoga or just hanging out with my kids.

Sometimes I go on beach walks or hanging out with my kids, so that’s even better!

Yeah – I’m very beach-y. I go horseback riding as well. Just being out in nature.

Kendall, thank you for taking the time to speak with me – I really appreciate it. I think you gave us a little insight into your background and design process. We look forward to seeing your new work and – hopefully! — seeing you in NYC, too.