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Designer Trina Turk tries on some jewelry

The Los Angeles designer expands from prints and clothing staples, inspired by vintage designs, to jewelry.

February 14, 2010|Booth Moore
  • VINTAGE: Trina Turk wears her snake chain cabochon necklace.
VINTAGE: Trina Turk wears her snake chain cabochon necklace. (Trina Turk )

It's hard to believe that Los Angeles designer Trina Turk has only been in business 15 years. Her playful, modernist print clothing line is such a part of the Southern California landscape — from the desert to the sea — that you would think it had been longer.

Turk's easy, breezy dresses and tunics, crisp pants and blazers are such staples at department and specialty stores that she says she's weathered the economic downturn surprisingly well. In fact, she recently launched a new product category — jewelry — based on a lifelong love of vintage pieces by Georg Jensen, David Andersen, Hans Hansen and others.

"I've been collecting vintage jewelry for years, going to flea markets and thrift stores," she said on a recent afternoon at her downtown showroom, which was designed by Barbara Bestor, with striking 1960s era Romeo Reyna tapestries. "We've always used vintage jewelry in shoots and wholesalers always wanted to buy the pieces."

Turk designs home accessories, collaborates with Schumacher on indoor-outdoor fabrics, and has bedding in the works for next spring. She has also added beach and tote bags, and is expanding her swimwear offerings, following the opening of her seventh boutique, in Bal Harbour, Fla., in December. But the jewelry is what's taking off now — snake chain necklaces with cabochons suspended from a horseshoe pendant ($248), crystal-encrusted cocktail rings that look like rock candy ($98) and bold gold cuffs with cutout block patterns ($178). Everything has four layers of gold brass plating to prevent any chipping, she says, and it is all made in L.A.

Although the collection has been on the drawing board for a couple of years, it's fortuitous that she's launching it now that statement necklaces and rings continue to dominate fashion spreads. But jewelry is only a fraction of the output of the $45-million company. Turk designs 10 collections a year at her Alhambra offices, each with a new set of prints (that's 45 to 50 original prints a year). It makes sense considering where she started out, designing for the colorful surf-wear brand Ocean Pacific. Some of the prints are entirely original, such as the "Whimsy" feather print, which Turk reworked from a pattern she found on a "cheesy vintage polyester dress." Others she buys from places such as the Design Library in upstate New York, a resource for vintage and antique prints. For the warmer months coming up, expect to see gauze jumpsuits, batik jumpers and digital kaleidoscopic-print kurtas inspired by such things as Julia Chapman's book "Gypset Style" and a getaway in Capri.

Still, the designer never strays far from the midcentury resort look that is captured so well in her Palm Springs boutique, nestled in a building designed by Albert Frey, with her first home design store next door.

It's the same look that has inspired interior designer Jonathan Adler and clothing designer Tory Burch. But Turk doesn't worry that the aesthetic has been played out.

"Only a small percentage of America knows about it," she says. "As much as we in L.A. are immersed in a colorful world, it's really very beige out there. Just look at the sheet and upholstery colors at Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn."

With a look that's so instantly recognizable, it's a wonder Turk hasn't been approached to do a lower-priced line with Target or H&M. She says she would consider it but wonders whether the price points would be too similar to those in her own line. (Most of her pieces cost less than $350.) In the meantime, she is going to continue to wave the flag for L.A. design.

What will she do to celebrate her 15-year anniversary? There probably will be a special commemorative print. And she's toying with having a runway show or party at her West 3rd Street boutique or at her showroom.

"Going to New York would probably be great for the business," Turk says, "but I would feel like a traitor."

booth.moore@latimes.com

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