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C California Style

A green cactus garden greets visitors at the Melrose Place hideaway. PHOTO: Fred de Gasquet.
Looks from Isabel Marant's Spring/Summer 2013 collection. PHOTO: Alessandro Lucioni.
Isabel Marant presents at Paris Fashion Week. PHOTO: Armando Grillo.

Et Voilà

by C California Style

The authority on boho cool, It designer Isabel Marant keeps her new Melrose Place boutique and any Hollywood drama on the downlow.

Most fashion designers delight in the fanfare around L.A. store openings, trotting out celebrities bedecked in the current collection for an endless stream of shopping events masquerading as parties. Not Isabel Marant. The French fashion designer is such a class act that she quietly set up shop on Melrose Place, in early January, with nary a peep. Of course, that only makes admirers of her jet-set, bohemian look want more.

Designed by Franklin Azzi, the former antiques store has been remodeled with a groovy cactus garden courtyard, a neutral wood-paneled interior, floor-to-ceiling windows and several skylights. “He shares my love for American Modernism,” Marant, 45, says of the Parisian architect, a frequent collaborator. (French artist Arnold Goron also contributed a series of whimsical, tiny animal sculptures on metal perches.) Marant’s only other U.S. store is a three-year-old location in New York. “The opening of the New York shop has been great training for us,” says Marant, who premiered her first Paris boutique in 1998 and plans to open another in London this fall.

“Isabel Marant is the go-to for cool, effortless designs,” says Hollywood style icon Kate Bosworth, who, along with Blake Lively, Alexa Chung, Rachel Weisz and Katie Holmes, is frequently photographed wearing the 19-year-old label. “I could not be more thrilled about her new store in Los Angeles,” she adds.

Bosworth is hardly the only tastemaker shopping the bright and airy, 1,335-square-foot boutique where hours are posted outside in both French and English. Locals like jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth have made it a regular haunt. “Isabel Marant is just going to heighten style and fashion here,” says Neuwirth. “This is a town that has always been glamorous but not always chic, and she is going to make everyone dress better.”

The feeling is mutual: Marant became enamored with the city three years ago after the 2010 volcanic eruptions in Iceland delayed her New York-to-Paris return flight, and she jetted west for a sunny respite. Since then, she has visited L.A. two additional times. Last summer, she fell in love with Big Sur as she drove the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. One day, she says, she’d love a house in L.A. designed by Richard Neutra, one of her favorite architects.

“What I really appreciate in Los Angeles, compared to New York, is the lifestyle, with great weather and great nature,” says Marant. She also appreciates local designers like James Perse and Raquel Allegra, particularly for their t-shirts. “I’ve always been very inspired by American sportswear apparel, and I love shopping for this kind of clothing in L.A.”

One thing she doesn’t love about L.A. is the fame-obsessed culture. “I’m very happy and proud to have all those celebrities wearing my clothes, but I must say that I’m not really into this battle,” says Marant, who lives in Paris with her husband, bag designer Jérôme Dreyfuss, and their son, Tal. “I’m designing clothes for all kinds of women,” she adds.

Marant was born in Paris to a German mother (a model and a director of the Elite agency) and French father. They were big travelers, and childhood trips to Africa, Asia, India and the Caribbean influenced her overall look so much that The New York Times described it as “trekking in Tibet via the Bastille.” She was a tomboy who rebelled against the girlie style popular in her suburban neighborhood by asking her father for a sewing machine in order to rework old army jackets into unconventional pieces. She studied design at Studio Berçot fashion school. A crush on Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren inspired her to craft clothes from dishcloths—later replaced by sumptuous, pricey textiles as her fabric of choice.

The new store (the 13th worldwide) showcases Marant’s look of tousled French cool with slim pants, sheer tees, draped minis and her famous suede ankle boots. “I think [they’re popular] because they are slightly heeled but remain very comfortable,” Marant says of the booties. “They give you an attitude without being too much. They are quite classic but stylish.”

Also on display is Marant’s spring 2013 collection, featuring Hawaiian Elvis-inspired, ’70s paisley prints on mini dresses and blouses. None of it comes cheap, but she also has a more affordable, casual line, Étoile, housed in its own room.

Marant says she picked the Melrose Place location over other luxury retail areas like Rodeo and Robertson because the leafy stretch felt more private. “I would almost like to keep it as a house for myself,” she says. That is, if her Neutra wish doesn’t pan out. “I think this will be my favorite shop in the world.” 8454 Melrose Pl., L.A., 323-651-1493; isabelmarant.com.  

Written by Deborah Schoeneman