It was the creation of the Ark bag in 2013 that launched LA-based brand Cult Gaia into the fashion stratosphere. That structured bamboo bag (which took its name and shape from Noah's Ark) changed the It bag game. The most sought-after handbag is no longer a traditional leather tote coming in at an unattainable £1,500; instead, the cult accessory du jour is architectural and arty, priced around £100 and makes as much of a statement on your arm as on your Insta feed.
Even if you don't own a Cult Gaia piece, you may own something inspired by the brand's designs, whether it's a pair of marbled resin earrings from Zara or a beaded micro bag from Mango. Now stocked at the biggest hitters – think Net-A-Porter, Selfridges, Browns, Matches Fashion, Saks Fifth Avenue and Moda Operandi – and with 401k Instagram followers, a celebrity fanbase including Beyoncé, Florence Welch and Emily Ratajkowski, plus a host of influencers like Lucy Williams and Bettina Looney who have been seen wearing the brand's sellout pieces, it's fair to say that Cult Gaia's designs have everyone (us included) hooked.
Founder Jasmin Larian was studying at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) when she launched the first iteration of the brand. She began by making flower crowns and hair accessories out of vintage fabrics for friends before her designs evolved into the pieces we know today. "Gaia means goddess of mother nature and the daughter of chaos," Larian tells Refinery29. "A very creative force in my opinion! Most of my inspiration is derived from those things: women, nature and architecture."
The daughter of a sculptor and toymaker (her father is the creator of Bratz dolls), it's easy to see how objets d'art have shaped Larian's work. "I like things that are out of the ordinary and make you look twice without being overdone," she explains. "The more you look, the more you see. I think that great architecture is the same." From earrings that look like Alexander Calder mobiles to crochet bags that could double as wall hangings, Larian brings beauty to everyday objects.
I like things that are out of the ordinary and make you look twice without being overdone.
A turning point came in 2017, when the label launched ready-to-wear, a notoriously difficult move for an accessories brand. Having drawn up some early sketches when studying at FIT, it was always in Larian's game plan, though. "I always wanted a lifestyle brand. When I had to style our shoots with other brands' products and it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, I knew we needed every category: the full brand aesthetic."
With seersucker blouses and silk evening dresses, the Cult Gaia girl now has every piece she needs to create an enviable wardrobe. "Proving that we could do ready-to-wear is mega for me because it’s harder than any other category and everyone told us not to do it. It’s a pleasure to prove people wrong and delight our customer."
The brand's first catwalk show took place last December in Malibu, showcasing the SS19 collection. Something about the brand feels intrinsically linked to spring and summer – perhaps it's the natural fabrications like bamboo and rattan, which seem so suited to beach-bound travels and summers in the city. A multi-hued beaded tote is a highlight, as are some ball-heeled leather mules; it won't be long before you spot homages to both these pieces up and down the high street.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, but as a small, independent brand, it must be frustrating seeing your designs copied by big name retailers. On that point she concludes: "I've learned to be flattered and move on." It's this unflappable attitude that's got her accessories empire to where it is now.
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