When it comes to fashion, San Francisco is an interesting paradox. Bay Area designers and consumers are notoriously innovative, politically conscious, and stylishly playful. Many who grow up or study here go on to make waves on a national or international scale. And yet this city still is not considered a global style center in the way that New York, Paris, or Milan are. In recent years, even L.A. seems to be getting more attention as a legitimate fashion capital than San Francisco.
With spring (and spring fashion lines) afoot, we decided to profile some of our favorite local designers — those who, regardless of their popularity outside city limits, have decided to stay put or move here to contribute to the San Francisco fashion design dialogue. We predict it won't be long before the fashion establishment is singing their praises — and wearing their designs. On Lawrence Cuevas and Marivel Mendoza, from left to right: 1) Denim double pocket shirt, avocado tee and twill shorts by Turk+Taylor; 2) Leather jacket and sheer top by Mi, leather hotpants by Shaye, jewelry by Muscovie Design; 3) Raindrop dress by Sara Shepherd, kit leather button shoes by Al's Attire, jewelry by Muscovie Design; 4) Leather jacket and jeans by Mi, dot tee by Turk+Taylor, white tie by Indie Industries, wing-tip shoes by Al's Attire; 5) White tee by Mi, corset skirt by Shaye, jewelry by Joy O, polka-dot hat by Al's Attire. (All Photos by Jeffery Cross. Photo illustration by Mirissa Neff. Styling by Lauren Cohen, Laura Peach, and Juliette Tang. Hair and makeup by Shamika Baker)
With delicate features, a smattering of transparent freckles and dark blonde hair that hangs in messy curls to her elbows, Shaye McKenney could be a model. But her approach to fashion is more altruism than narcissism. After returning from an extended sojourn that took her to India, tribal Amazon, and on many nomadic adventures in between, the Oakland native and daughter of a designer opened La Library on Guerrero Street— a borrow-or-buy boutique whose purpose is to make stylish clothing available to all.
"The sense of ownership we have is not sustainable," says McKenney, whose business model was inspired by the designer handbag rental concept seen in Sex and the City. Which is why she doesn't just sell outright the airy white dresses, embroidered linen jumpsuits, and leather hot pants she makes from her mother's fabric remnants. It's passion for social change — as well as for a good pattern and great fit — that drives her. The whole point is being able to share. "We should not have to sacrifice glamour and art because of money and a bad economy."
OLD-FASHIONED, FASHION FORWARD
Tucked away in a former North Beach butcher shop among towers of vintage hatboxes and fabric bolts stacked to the ceiling, custom clothier Al Ribaya is king of the cutting board. His old world tailor shop Al's Attire makes every imaginable piece of clothing to order, paying more attention to detail than profit. "It's a difficult thing to make money at," he admits. "People don't know what it takes to build something one stitch at a time."