Double Take: Vena Cava

With just four seasons under their belt, Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock, the ladies behind rising fashion label Vena Cava, were one of three emerging talents showcased by indie fashion sponsor GenArt this year, and they already count actress Maggie Gyllenhaal as a fan of their smart, feminine designs. Pretty good for a pair who just a few years ago were passed over to participate in their senior fashion show at Parsons School of Design. Over sangria at El Quijote in the Chelsea Hotel, Refinery29 caught up with the lovely ladies behind this buzzing label-on-the-rise.
How did Vena Cava come about?
Lisa: [It] happened in a weird organic way. Parsons has a senior year runway show and they pick the people they like to be in it and everyone else doesn't get to show their work even though they've been working on it for a year (laughs). So our collection [wasn't chosen].
So Vena Cava emerged out of not being chosen?
Lisa: Yes. We just wanted to do a little fashion show for our thesis collection and got this friend who puts on fashion shows to help us out. It ended up [happening] during fashion week. So what was meant to be a little graduation show at a bar turned into this huge production. We only had 12 looks, did the show on no money, and the fashion director from Barneys came, plus someone from the New York Times
So what happened then?
Sophie: We got addicted to it.
Tell us a bit about your design collaboration.
Lisa: When we start brainstorming for a new season, we kind of talk about general stuff first. Shapes, what kind of silhouettes we want, what kind of fabrics or colors we are thinking about. Then we go through magazines, artists book, old wallpaper, and other things, and we bring in photos that inspire us.
Sophie: We'll really bring in anything. Random found objects, pieces of clothing. We surround ourselves with all these things and talk about what direction we want to go in.
What are some of the found objects and images that inspired you for the new collection?
Lisa: Sophie found a really great old photo of the artist Meret Oppenheim who did the fur teacup. She's wearing this necklace that's made out of rope and it has a big button, like a ball. And we are using that as a closure, it looks almost like a noose but with a ball at the end, in a lot of the pieces. There is also another really great photo of a Louise Bourgeois, a painting of a spider. It had an amazing chartreuse yellow-green and gray palette that we were both really into.
Do you guys get into arguments when designing?
Sophie. Definitely. You have to disagree about what you're making.
What are the main points of disagreement?
Sophie. We disagree on color.
Lisa: Yes, color is a big thing.
Sophie: Lisa is more colorful while I limit myself more to brown and black.
What are you planning for spring?
Sophie: For spring, we are doing three different original prints that we made. One is based on Ernest Haeckel, the old botanical illustrator. We are using some of his drawings. They look like seaweed and the reproductive system. And then we took those and cut them out and made a new collage with it and inserted [things] like bugs and octopus. From far away, it looks like a floral print, but up close it has a lot more going on. And then the other one is this trompe l'oeil braid that is very surrealist. And the third one is this band that has a lot of different words that make up a collar piece.
What do the words say?
Lisa: They are random (laughs). There is 'hamburger,' and 'nachos' and
it's printed on this beautiful chiffon.
It sounds like such a departure from making clothes, such a totally
different process, like making art. How do you go about it, do you
redraw everything or collage?
Sophie: We do both. That's why it's great because it adds a personal hand-done feeling to the clothes and people want to buy it because it's an original print, really unusual. I saw this shirt that looked like it was paisley from far away but when you got closer, the paisley shapes had skulls and skeletons inside them. I like that kind of thing--benign from a distance, but then you find something else going on. That's a theme in our clothes--to have silhouettes that, from afar, look elegant and classy and not too obtrusive. And when you get closer there are a few details that are still unusual and interesting.
You seem so involved in every aspect of your business, it would be great if you opened a store.
Lisa: We have toyed with the idea. I don't think it would happen in the near future though. But basically for the same reason that there is a very specific, personal quality in what we do that a store may actually be a great way to explore that and to articulate that to other people. Right now, we are trying to figure out different guerilla tactics to sell our clothes. We want to rent an ice cream truck this summer and park it across the street from Marc Jacobs and have loudspeakers and have an impromptu trunk sale.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
Lisa: Prada. I know that that's a standard answer, but Miuccia Prada is the fashion equivalent of Beck. She can pull things from the most bizarre places and put them together in a way that's weird but not too weird so people can still understand it. She's so great at finding the middle ground between running a business and making clothes that are artful. That approach is really cool and that is our personal goal. Finding the right balance between business and art.
Vena Cava is available at Butter .
With just four seasons under their belt, Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock, the ladies behind rising fashion label Vena Cava, were one of three emerging talents showcased by indie fashion sponsor GenArt this year, and they already count actress Maggie Gyllenhaal as a fan of their smart, feminine designs.

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