South Pasadena and Los Angeles, designers Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock met at 17 in their native California before shipping off to Parsons the New School of Design, where they were rejected from their school’s senior show in 2003, so they decided to give it a go on their own. Just Three weeks after graduation they began making the first Vena Cava collection. (The duo sewed twelve looks on their living room floor). In September 2003, they debuted the line. Their signature aesthetic takes a fresh spin on vintage mixed with an artsy palette and hand-drawn prints, with past collections inspired by japonismo and Egyptian history. Based in Brooklyn, the design duo was awarded an Ecco Domani in 2006, back-to-back Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund Award nominations followed in 2007 and 2008, and have established themselves within the industry of young designers with a steady retail following.
Reminiscing about their formative fashion years, remixed grunge on the soundtrack, and a ‘zine on every seat, Vena Cava designers Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock were saying “Viva the 1990s” with their fall 2011 collection. The ‘zine waxed nostalgic for Contempo Casuals, Judy’s, Andre Agassi’s mullet, pagers, Filofaxes and Kriss Kross.
And you could see the references to Contempo, Betsey Johnson, Donna Karan and others on the runway, in the black-and-white polka dot palazzo pants; square-neck jersey tube dress; off-the-shoulder tops; and leather jackets with supersized sleeves, which had the look of a flea market find.
For Fall ’11, Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai did what they do best — quirky ethnic touches, edgy cutouts, badass leather, silky fabrics, and dark, brooding hues. The Vena Cava aesthetic — off-kilter clothes for equally standout girls — remains the same, but new hemlines arose via mid-length skirts and fitted maxi dresses. And clearly designers are also into the decolletage for the upcoming season; off-shoulder tops revealed svelte arms and long necks, while bottom halves remained fairly covered with trousers and long skirts. A couple polka-dot pieces popped up, revealing Vena Cava’s softer side.
Vena Cava’s collection for Uniqlo, is a highlight of the latest Uniqlo Designers Invitation Project (DIP), which is returning for its fifth year. And Vena Cava for Uniqlo will allow shoppers to get their hands on top designers’ creations for just a fraction of the cost of their mainline collections.
Trends: Mid-length hemlines, silky skirts, cool cutouts, cropped tops, edgy clothes with a refined twist.
Colors: Black, rust, navy, beige.
Key Look: Rust-colored fitted maxi dress paired with flatforms and layered gold necklaces.
Accessories: Berets, lace-up flatforms, gold chokers.
Who Would Wear It: Downtown girls who like a polished and graphic touch with their edgy look.
Vena Cava Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York Fall 2011
Buhai and Mayock are no strangers to the collaboration game.
Last fall, Vena Cava created a line for the Bloomingdale’s in-house brand Aqua, and their new (and most unconventional) collaboration launched at Vena Cava’s Fall/Winter 2011 New York Fashion Week. Vena Cava for condom line Proper Attire. Synonymous with downtown chic, Vena Cava infuses its cool-girl aesthetic into a collection of condoms for the PROPER ATTIRE® brand, boasting playful packaging designs. A must-have for any empowered fashion maven, proceeds from the sale of PROPER ATTIRE® condoms benefit Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In February 2009 they unveiled a shoe line for Via Spiga, and in May of the same year they put their spin on khakis for Gap as part of the brand’s CFDA initiative.
“We just want to make sure whatever we do has our stamp on it,” said Buhai. For example, when it came to the Gap khaki project, she said, “Vena Cava is not a khaki brand. We had to think of defacing khaki … [it’s about] making sure things are in line with our brand.”
“Lisa and I were at a point where we felt like we were getting stagnant,” Buhai said, noting that they’re interested in all aspects of the fashion industry, like “how to design shoes, how to make a zine, how to blog.”
“Fashion is cyclical,” she continued, “but when you add in different projects, you feel like you’re learning again.”
The designers showed pieces that stayed true to their vintage, boho-inspired aesthetic with a collection that was rife with breezy silhouettes, long skirts, and plenty of prints. The metal-worked long and short choker-style necklace, the statement metal earrings, and the dainty black berets worn by many of the models were perfect for adding structure to many of the looks, which were often free-flowing and casual.
Sexier pieces with a 90s touch were also in the mix and included wedges, cropped and off-the-shoulder tops, cut-out dresses, high waist pants and skirts, feminine mini dresses, and fitted cropped jackets.
Vena Cava Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York Spring 2011
Here’s their interview from Opening Ceremony:
What is it like designing with a friend? Is it a finish-each-other’s-sentences sort of relationship or more of a yin-and-yang thing?
LISA: It’s both! We balance each other by having an extra set of eyes and two opinions on every sketch. And we definitely each have our own taste. But we also finish each other’s thoughts in a free-associative way that baffles most casual observers. It tends to come out more when we’re extra sleep-deprived. Here is a fake sample conversation:
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
LISA: Though there was a brief period where I was fascinated by the idea of designing prosthetic limbs, I have always wanted to make clothes.
SOPHIE: I wanted to be an artist, a Shakespearean actor (thespian phase), a fashion designer, and a bowling alley proprietor (family business).
How do you think Vena Cava would change if you had begun your collection in SoCal, rather than in NYC?
SOPHIE: More Cruise, Brews, Jacuzz… just kidding, kind of. There would definitely be less black and “edge.” From a design standpoint, I think the clothes would have a lighter, more spontaneous spirit–there is something about dressing in New York that feels more formal and studied. In LA, there is a freedom to dressing because people don’t follow “fashion” as much. And you can be in a car all day, so you don’t have to worry about dressing for practical purposes. We designed our last Spring 11 collection in LA, and you can really see the ease and color in the collection.
Describe a typical day in the VC studio.
SOPHIE: It’s usually a mix of a bunch of stuff. It’s a lot of computer time and meetings. We design maybe 10% of the time; the rest of it’s managing the company, figuring out ways to expand the business, developing special projects, and brainstorming new ideas. Some days we can be at the library all day, other days may be filled with power business meetings, and then there are the less glamorous days of all: e-mails. It’s always a mixed bag.
What secrets can you reveal about SS12?
LISA: One of our prints prominently features a certain illegal substance.
SOPHIE: We designed the whole collection while traveling in Vietnam! We did most of the sketches in a bungalow on the beach. It was sort of our fashion honeymoon!
What was the first show you ever went to?
LISA: My dad took me to see NKOTB (that’s New Kids On The Block), who I definitely wasn’t into. But it was pretty awesome of Mike Mayock for being such a great dad and taking 6 kids under the age of 10 to Dodger Stadium to see them.
SOPHIE: Bob Dylan at The El Rey when I was 14. My Dad’s friend took me and my brother. There were only 150 people in the room…it was very memorable.
What about the first tape/LP/CD you ever owned?
LISA: My first CD was the Portishead album Dummy when I was 13.
SOPHIE: Motown Hits, a tape I got at the car wash. ‘Til this day, I think it’s the perfect tape.
“You won’t see us building an all-white cement-and-glass showroom in the Meatpacking District,” says Sophie Buhai, in fact, the pioneering pair were among the first to set up a studio in Brooklyn’s industrial Gowanus neighborhood, now a hotbed for indie brands. Great taste and great thrift bonded Sophie and Lisa. “It helps to have a friend to create with,” Buhai says. “Melding our aesthetics makes the collection unique.” Hand-drawn prints and long draped dresses earned them the two CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominations, but the designers swear the highlight has been Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour’s visit to their Brooklyn studio: “We never thought Gowanus would see the day!”
Vena Cava Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York Spring 2011
Currently, Vena Cava is sold in over 150 retailers internationally. The brand has also been featured in magazines including Vogue, Paper, Glamour, InStyle, Elle, and The New York Times, among other publications.
They showed their collection for Spring 2005 through the patronage of emerging artist supporter Gen Art. With a presence in New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago, Gen Art seeks new talent in fashion,
film, music, and visual arts.
When Buhai and Mayock were approached by Gen Art to present a line for Spring 2005, they had two fashion shows and positive press behind them. The experience, however, would differ greatly from their previous shows, in that they were provided with significant production and technical support, which helped ensure a fluidity and smoothness to the program. For their previous shows, the pair worked on very low budgets and with the help of many of their friends. Gen Art gave them the opportunity and the challenge to create a line that would appeal to the audience—a mix of high-end fashion buyers, commercial and corporate fashion buyers, and investors—and display their brand identity. They were able to give special attention to minor details because of the funding provided by Gen Art.
Buhai explains that Vena Cava produces clothing that women of different ages can wear: “Even though we are young, our mothers wear our designs; women of different body types wear our designs. Our clothes are quieter. We are really into the reality more than the fantasy of fashion.”
Buhai and Mayock agreed on “Vena Cava” because they wanted to avoid the obvious device of combining last names. It is by avoiding the obvious that they have marched steadily forward with their brand. Vena Cava has a strong, focused, young team pulsing with life and carrying it forward creatively, one small collection at a time. They start with small collections and improve upon them without upstaging them. Consistency is the most important thing.