How to Make an American Fashion Brand (No Sewing Required!)


A brand? Of clothing? But Ms. Arrobio couldn’t sew.

Ms. Gerona’s response: “‘It’s all good. We have all those systems in place to incubate people like yourself so you can focus on what you can do. And what you can do is build a brand: have a vision of who your girl is, what she likes to do, what she likes to post about. That’s what makes a brand now.’”

Within a month, Ms. Arrobio backed out of the Zara gig and signed a different set of papers.

So goes the origin story of LPA, a year-old clothing line that has been taken up with enthusiasm by many in Hollywood and beyond who are perhaps weary of the official fashion calendar’s incessant drumbeat, and its prices.

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An LPA studded leather jacket.

Credit
Jake Michaels for The New York Times

The clothes aren’t masterpieces of tailoring — something Ms. Arrobio, 30, is the first to admit. With prices mostly in the two or three figures, her studded leather jackets and slinky slip dresses look not unlike what stuffs the racks at H&M and Forever 21.

But while corporate boardrooms the world over strive to reverse-engineer an aura of feminist independence for their brands, Ms. Arrobio’s is genuine. And it has attracted a number of vocal, high-profile fans, including Lena Dunham, who may succumb to big designer names like Prada or Giambattista Valli for red-carpet appearances but wore a black halter neck LPA dress for a recent Hollywood Reporter cover.

“I wanted something that said, ‘I know and own my power,’ and LPA says that to me,” Ms. Dunham wrote in an email, adding that Ms. Arrobio “understands women’s bodies, the playful spirit of businesswomen now, and what makes us feel sexy and seen.”

The Kardashians, Violet Benson and Ms. Ratajkowski also consistently champion LPA clothes in public. And taking a page from a playbook of pop creation that was written by Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, among others, in the 1960s, Ms. Arrobio often brings these muses together for alcohol-soaked photo shoots and raucous parties, like the one she is giving on Saturday at a mansion in the Hollywood Hills to celebrate LPA’s anniversary.

The invitation, a 33-second video that spliced scenes from the 1958 Sophia Loren film “Houseboat” with electronic rap music, noted the party’s end time: sunrise. Ms. Arrobio is hosting with key members of her “tribe”: Emily Weiss, the founder of the beauty product line Glossier; and Stephanie Shepherd, the C.O.O. of Kardashian West Brands.

“We’re from the camp where it’s about supporting other women,” said the model Erin Wasson (at 35, she is a veritable tribal elder). “You don’t climb the mountain alone because you get to the top and it’s no fun. I’d rather climb the mountain with my girlfriends and get to the top and have a party.”

Recent luxury brand-tagging by Louise Linton, the actress and wife of the secretary of the Treasury, on Instagram may have drawn unsupportive snarls from the sisterhood, but Ms. Arrobio treads over the platform more lightly. There are highlights of jet-setting, yes (sunbathing on a boat in Greece), but also odes to vulnerability (an F. Scott Fitzgerald passage about how it’s never too late to start over).

“She’s very frank and really joyful,” said Ms. Weiss, of Glossier. “She really lives life. She feels her feelings. You kind of get the whole range of human emotion with her, which I think is inspiring.”

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Ms. Arrobio, left, and Emily Ratajkowski at a party to celebrate the start of LPA.

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BFA

She added, “You can tell she’s not sitting around thinking about market research and target demographics.”

Ms. Arrobio has people for that. As one of 13 labels under the umbrella of Revolve and Alliance Apparel, a fashion design and production house based in downtown Los Angeles, LPA shares auxiliary staff — accountants, fit specialists, I.T. whizzes — with other brands. The clothes are made mostly in India, in a factory vetted by the house for ethical practices.

Because of her technical deficiencies — “I can’t make a pattern to save my life,” Ms. Arrobio said — she has a right-hand man, the designer Tim Nguyen.

On a recent Monday, Mr. Nguyen, his hair in a floppy bun, came over to his boss with three swaths of floral-print polyester blend. “This one, I’m like, obsessed with,” he said, holding up a tan cloth patterned with hibiscus blossoms.

“That one is sweet,” said Ms. Arrobio, who sometimes paints patterns in watercolor. She had landed from a visit to Turkey 12 hours ago but looked chic and well rested after a morning call to a “spiritual adviser” in New York, albeit more 5-to-9 than 9-to-5, in a black spaghetti strap slip dress from LPA’s first collection.

Her bulldog, Ciro, panted excitedly at her feet, and she bent down to nuzzle his neck. “I got him from an ex-boyfriend and then he dumped me so now I have a bastard child,” she said.

Another important staff member is Theresa Anderson, a fit technician with whom Ms. Arrobio worked at Reformation. “Often, girls write to me and say, ‘I bought this onesie and the fit was perfect’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how to do any of that, it’s literally all Theresa.’”

Hearing this, Ms. Anderson laughed politely.

“If you don’t know how to do it, get the person who’s better than you to do it,” Ms. Arrobio said.

Born and raised in Pasadena, Calif., the youngest of five, she learned early to assemble a support system, describing herself as a terrible student with late-diagnosed attention deficit disorder. She assumed she would attend the University of Southern California like her father, a professional football player turned dentist (her mother worked as his office manager).

When that didn’t happen, she applied to Parsons School of Design in New York — Phil Spector, a regular at a Pasadena steakhouse where she had been a hostess, telephoned a recommendation — and got an apartment on the Lower East Side.

New York City transformed Ms. Arrobio from a Catholic schoolgirl with a spray tan and hair extensions to a tattooed regular at the bar Max Fish. She began to hang out with a crowd that included Audrey Gelman, a founder of the social club the Wing, the designers Jon Buscemi and Aaron Bondaroff, and Ms. Wasson, the model.

“She talked back, she had a lot to say, she was opinionated, she was kind of brash,” Ms. Wasson said. “She was full of vim and vinegar. She came out of the gate hot.”

After four years at Parsons, four classes shy of graduating, Ms. Arrobio left abruptly and went to work for Kelly Cutrone, the fashion publicist and erstwhile reality-show star. There had been financial trouble at home, and school suddenly seemed expensive and unnecessary. She learned how to cast models and give parties. She started a blog, Fighting the War Against Blowing It, with jaded posts like: “I went to Coachella … blah blah blah … like totes cool people were there … blah blah blah. Jeremy Scott wore buttless pants at Elvis’ house.”

She became friends with Yael Aflalo, the founder of Reformation who had recently opened a shop on the Lower East Side and needed, as Ms. Arrobio put it, “a little fashion girl with all the tattoos to give her some street cred.” It was there that she met Ms. Ratajkowski, a regular at the store and now a fervent LPA supporter who said simply in an email that her friend is “great at understanding what cool women want to wear now. Always sexy but always easy and comfortable.”

Ms. Arrobio is but one in a growing number leveraging social networks to make fashion brands. Every few months, Iris Alonzo and Carolina Crespo, alumnae of American Apparel, ask people they admire — the model Adwoa Aboah, the photographer Jean Pigozzi — to describe one item that’s missing from their closet, then they make it for Everybody.World, their made-in-Los Angeles line.

Self-described BFFs Natasha Oakley and Devin Brugman turned their joint Instagram account A Bikini a Day, which showcases exactly what its name describes, into swimwear and active wear lines beloved by their buddies on and off social media (they sometimes send Ms. Arrobio suits; she gives them feedback).

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Ms. Arrobio and her bulldog, Ciro.

Credit
Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Runway presentations are not Ms. Arrobio’s thing. “It’s so much money, it’s a waste of my time,” she said. “Once people see it on the runway, it’s old news.”

In its first year, LPA did approximately $5 million in sales, according to Revolve. By comparison, Zara’s annual sales, according to Forbes, were $17.2 billion. Of course, revenue is an important goal. “It’s great to have feelings about what’s going to sell, but ultimately numbers don’t lie,” Ms. Gerona said. “Revolve is an incredibly data-driven company, and we train all of our designers and creative directors like this: ‘Here’s what really moved, here’s what some of the misses were.’”

But along with wanting to make money, Ms. Arrobio wants to be a role model, envisioning herself as a sort of older-sister figure to her customers.

“There are two ways to build a brand,” she said. “To get things on the most popular girls in the world, or to get things on girls that are relatable. For me to be able to do both is the most important thing. That’s where the struggle lies, sometimes. There is power in numbers with the influencer thing, but I also want to be responsible for my influence and what I’m telling girls.”

She had left her office to get iced coffee at a cafe around the corner; Ciro came with, on a leash. A male passer-by took her in and observed, “You’ve got a ‘don’t talk to me’ dog.”

“For a reason!” she shot back with a tight smile.

LPA doesn’t advertise in Vogue or on television; the 93,000 followers of the brand’s Instagram account see images of women wearing LPA in the real world, sometimes eating pasta. For a coming magazine ad, Ms. Arrobio stifled an impulse to make a collage of model photos and instead drafted a page of text that read: “We want you to feel beautiful.” She threw in one of her favorite expletives and LPA’s website address.

“The editor said, ‘We really want a photo,’ and I said, ‘Then don’t use it.’” She shrugged. “I don’t think LPA will change anything for high fashion. Gucci, Dolce, Isabel Marant, they are entities. They aren’t going to go anywhere. But hopefully, people like me are paving the way to have this be the standard of what girls expect, which is depth and value.”

At her feet, Ciro was napping. Ms. Arrobio took a long sip of her coffee. “We’re all looking at the same stuff,” she said. “We’re all gathering information from the same places. Everyone is doing an off-the-shoulder ruffle top. Who do you want to say you bought that from?”

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