At Alisal Ranch, the SoCal designer invokes the Wild West with her most personal collection yet
Words by KELSEY McKINNON
Photos by ELIZABETH LIPPMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
and BLUE GABOR PHOTOGRAPHY
While guests moseyed over to their seats for Heidi Merrick’s Fall/Winter presentation at Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, Merrick herself trotted out on horseback to welcome everyone. Wearing a black silk jumpsuit from the new collection, a black Stetson hat, suede boots, and a bold red lip, she was every inch a cultured California cowgirl (read: a well-traveled, well-read outdoorsy sort who’s not afraid of wearing dry-clean-only pieces on the daily). As the show unfolded, it became abundantly clear that Merrick’s embrace of the pandemic’s “back to the land” movement is true in more ways than one.
The event is not Merrick’s first rodeo at Alisal. She initially visited the 10,500-acre guest resort and dude ranch outside of Solvang for a fly-fishing trip, just after she started her eponymous label. “Every morning, we went out at 6 o’clock to fish, and we caught more fish than I’ve ever caught in my life. It was easier than anything you’ve ever done,” she remembers. Domino magazine caught wind of the outing and asked Merrick to return to the setting for a shoot featuring her in her elevated angling gear. The photos became fodder for mood boards across the country — think J.Crew and Eddie Bauer. Then Norm Zeigler published a book of famous fly-fishers; Merrick’s chapter appears before Dick Cheney’s and Sandra Day O’Connor’s. If anything, the experience was a harbinger of things to come.
On the heels of her successful SRF collection of 2018, Merrick followed up this season with the aptly named RNCH. And if SRF was a reflection of her past (she grew up in Carpinteria, the daughter of legendary board shaper Al Merrick), RNCH is very much an embodiment of her life now.
When COVID hit, Merrick and her husband, along with their two children, moved from their home in Silver Lake to a remote 55-acre plot of land they had purchased between Ojai and Carpinteria. They had been using the property as a weekend escape, where Merrick lived out her fantasy of living off the land, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In lieu of a traditional house with a backyard, there are treehouses that overlook flowering apple, pear, apricot, avocado, and walnut trees; a small citrus grove; and rambling fields filled with fragrant California sagebrush, purple lupine and California poppies. An elevated wooden deck boasts a clawfoot bathtub and a dining/kitchen area with awe-inspiring views of the sun setting over Rincon Mountain. Nearby, there’s a library with a sleeping loft. “It’s just bohemian. It’s all off-grid and super fun,” says Merrick.
Life in the great outdoors sowed the seeds for RNCH. Unlike many designers who were on a Western tear this season, Merrick put her patterns through their paces, with pieces that work for lazy family picnics on the land, afternoons spent harvesting avocados, or glorious trail hikes. Models ambled through Alisal’s Creekside Lawn in riding pants, billowing poet tops, romantic black bows (a nod to Merrick’s love of French culture), lace petticoats, and tailored chambray tops. Merrick reintroduced signature pieces including a long-ruffled skirt in a rugged denim, and her famous sequined Neptune bottoms made an appearance along with unisex RNCH T-shirts and trucker hats. With her family walking in the show in pieces that reflect the land where she was raised and to which she has now returned, the collection is certainly Merrick’s most personal work to date. After the show, guests were treated to a rose-fueled dinner party on farm tables adorned with pieces from Merrick’s growing home collection, which she sells online and at her Summerland showroom.
Merrick has moved temporarily to Carpinteria while she’s in the process of building a house on her beloved ranch (“probably a French country-style house”), where the family will live during the school year with, hopefully, summers in Europe. It will be on the grid, but you can undoubtedly expect to find Merrick in pieces from her RNCH collection riding a tractor or dashing off for a quick surf. “I am those things, you know? But really, I just like to wear beautiful clothes and red lipstick.” heidimerrick.com.
November 5, 2021
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