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The Fashionable Set

Kate Evans and Anh-Minh Le | March 8, 2017 | Lifestyle Story Shopping

Meet the locals helping to reshape Silicon Valley style. And, yes, there’s more to it than t-shirts and wearable tech. Think timeless fine jewelry with a modern edge, handcrafted and hyperfunctional handbags, premium men’s denim and more.

Work Wardrobe Reimagined
With Argent, the world of women’s workwear has a new champion. Sali Christeson, based locally, spent years in the corporate sphere and was frustrated by the lackluster options for workplace attire. Realizing that she was hardly alone—and the impact clothing can have on one’s confidence and career—she sprang into action. “There was an opportunity to solve this problem,” she says, “to be bold, to push the envelope, to visually inspire women.”

In 2015, she left her job at Cisco and partnered with New York-based Eleanor Turner, who, at the time, was working in design at J.Crew. Argent represents their shared vision: tailored looks with clever details such as an ID loop in the waistband of pants and skirts. “It’s really about the functionality of the clothes,” says Turner. “It’s not just design for design’s sake.” The line’s solid pieces mix easily with its patterned garments. And in the case of the reversible blazer ($378) and matching pants ($248), you get both: plaid on one side and gray on the other. The bi-stretch fabric is imported from Portugal, and production takes place in New York.

Thanks to pop-up boutiques on corporate campuses across the Bay Area—including Google, Accenture and Cisco—tech execs as well as politicians have become devotees. While the label’s website is its main retail channel, the collection is currently available at a shop in the atrium of San Francisco’s One Market building (open weekdays, 9am-6pm, as well as by appointment). An event with Salesforce is in the planning stages and will broach a broader discussion about women in the workplace. “We want to leverage the brand to change the conversation,” says Christeson. “We want to connect clients to the tools they need for success.”

Easy Does It
Facing a personal setback, Karen Klein turned it into a triumph—for herself as well as other women in search of comfort-driven apparel that still feels polished. About a decade ago, shortly after the birth of her first child, a car accident left her bedridden for an entire year, unable to exercise or lose the baby weight. “I began to feel pretty down about my weight issues and couldn’t find anything to wear,” she recalls. As she lay in bed, the fashion-industry veteran—Klein has worked at European brands such as Pierre Balmain, Marks & Spencer and Ted Baker—began imagining a clothing collection “that would help women feel better about their body-image issues.”

In 2008, she established her eponymous label. “We make clothes for all body types and sizes, with bold and edgy shapes and intelligent cuts,” she says. The company’s headquarters and design studio are in Los Altos, and fabrication is done in San Francisco. The spring 2017 assemblage, which is characterized by abstract prints and modern silhouettes, recently arrived in stores and in the Karen Klein online shop.

Klein’s most popular pieces include the straight wide ($82) and wide symmetrical ($135) tops, both designed for sizes 0 through 12. This fall, she is taking the one-size concept a step further, with a line that fits sizes 0 through 16, and emphasizes versatility. “The collection will feature many styles that can be worn wrapped or draped over basics,
as well as fabrics with a good amount of stretch,” she says. It will also include collaborations with other designers; among them, P. Taylor Clothing, NRK by Anarkh and Ozka Cashmere House.

Feelin’ Fine
Fine jewelry needn’t be fusty. So says designer Bridget King, whose approach 
to classical materials—pearls and diamonds, for instance—yields fun and fresh adornments. Take her sliced diamond array, which showcases cross-sections of the gem. “You pair the organic slices with refined pavé diamonds, and it looks really amazing,” she says. King’s signature Icon line features teardrop earrings ($700 to $8,400) that can be worn individually or layered with one another for a multitude of looks. The Pearl Jam range includes pearl earrings with diamond-encrusted settings that are reversible ($1,800 to $2,200); there are white stones on one side and black on the other.

King’s foray into jewelry design dates back to her days as a student at UCLA, when she started selling inexpensive beaded wares to make enough money to cover her rent. (The alternative—living at home and commuting 1.5 hours each way—didn’t appeal to the 19-year-old.) After college, she moved to New York and worked in the fashion industry for a few years before decamping to Hong Kong for her husband’s job. While raising two kids, she resurrected her jewelry career, launching her eponymous company in 2003. As her style evolved, so did her designs—becoming more sophisticated. In 2010, she shifted her focus to fine jewelry.

Soon, more changes were in store for King: Her family relocated to the Peninsula about four years ago. Now settled in, King recently began devoting more time and attention to her business again. She has a trunk show scheduled for March 22 at Angela in Menlo Park. “The trunk shows give me a chance to talk to my clients, and they
 can tell me their needs,” she says. “Sometimes, that’s how a collection comes about.”

Carry On
That perfect handbag, one that is as fashionable as it is functional, can be elusive. Fortunately, Coral Chung and Wendy Wen, who met about four years ago at Stanford business school, set out to address this closet conundrum. Last fall, the pair—who previously held posts in tech, finance and fashion—debuted handbag brand SENREVE. The name is an amalgamation of the French words for “sense” and “dream.” “We both love luxury products that are elevated in design and quality,” says Chung. “But at the same time, as professionals with hectic lifestyles, we need products that are versatile and functional.”

While SENREVE is based in the Bay Area and New York, fabrication occurs in Tuscany, relying on Italian leather and master craftsmanship. The startup’s investors—and wearers—include Sunrun CEO and co-founder Lynn Jurich, BlueRun Ventures partner Cheryl Cheng and Social Capital partner Brigette Lau. The line’s six styles are at once refined and relaxed (read: great for everyday use). “We’re a very data-driven company,
and incorporated feedback from women throughout the design and development
 process,” Chung explains. “We interviewed, surveyed and held focus-group sessions
 with hundreds of women to determine which shapes, styles and colors were the best
 fit. We combined that with more qualitative conversations with industry experts like accessories editors of leading fashion magazines to get their perspectives as well.”

Chung refers to the bestselling Maestra ($895) as SENREVE’s “hero product.” It offers four bags in one—satchel, tote, crossbody and backpack—plus it accommodates a 13-inch laptop. This spring, the Mini Maestra (a scaled-down adaptation that
 still holds a full-size iPad) and a canvas-and-leather version will be introduced.

Good Jeans
Denim has come a long way in its centuries-old history—from a staple for cattle ranchers and miners to fodder for upscale makers. Nazym Paltachev’s Soul of Nomad is a newcomer to the latter. The local entrepreneur is anticipating that Valley tech titans, venture capitalists and jet-setters will be among those clamoring for his jeans ($425 to $525). Last fall, he introduced the brand with a trio of styles available in three washes. The denim is sourced from a mill in Italy, where the rose gold-hued hardware is custom made too. Every pair is “practically handcrafted” in Los Angeles, he notes.

About three years ago, Paltachev was working in investment banking while enrolled in the executive MBA program at Pepperdine University. He virtually lived aboard airplanes, traveling from Southern California to other U.S. cities, as well as Europe and Asia. During one flight, his seatmate lamented the lack of a “universal wardrobe that reflects Silicon Valley’s all-weeklong casual Friday style, but still looks refined, that’s still luxury,” Paltachev recounts of his lightbulb moment.

Paltachev hopes to offer customization soon, and denim is only the beginning for
 his startup design house. Next up are Italian-made leather luggage and travel accessories. Also in the pipeline are classic menswear items such as cashmere sweaters and sports coats—all produced in Italy, and launching as early as fall. While Soul of Nomad is sold exclusively on the company’s website right now, there are plans for a concierge service with a tricked-out Mercedes van that comes to the buyer. “We’re always trying to accommodate our client’s needs,” says Paltachev. “It’s not just about clothing. We want to give real value to people—to make them happy and give them one less thing to worry about.”

Originally published in the March/April issue of Silicon Valley

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