"I went to a private school so, having to wear a uniform, I would often don knee-highs and unique socks to express myself," says designer Roxanna B. Sternerud, voicing a memory shared by many ex-teenagers. "I would fall in love with European magazines, collecting them just to find amazing socks," she tells Refinery29, noting how she’d rip out pictures of her favourites and tape them to her wall.
Sternerud’s preoccupation with hosiery endured post-graduation: In 2014 she founded Darner Socks, a 'luxury intimates line' which she designs and manufactures in her native LA, producing romanticised collections that reject any notion of 'typical' socks, utilising rich fabrics like velvet and mesh. "When it came to the styling credit for the socks, it would always say 'stylist's own' or 'editorial use only'," she continues, referencing the shoots that captivated her in her youth, before the advent of Instagram and its 'tap for credit' feature. "I think that’s what drew me to them even more – it was something so special and hard to find."
Studying fashion at college, her initial plans to work in-house for an existing brand – "to just come in as a designer" – changed course when she landed styling gigs (following internships at Who What Wear and The Zoe Report), assisting heavyweights in Los Angeles and New York. "That’s when I decided I wanted to start my own thing and it came back full circle, to those magazines," she says over the phone from California.
'Darners', explains Sternerud of the label’s moniker, was the nickname given to women enlisted specifically to mend the socks of soldiers during the American Civil War, "which I found so endearing". Simultaneously, and what effectively secured it as the label’s name, a darner is a wooden object you place inside a sock to keep its shape. "Before the company, if you put 'darner' into Google it would just be 100 pages of these wooden objects," she muses.
Tapped for projects with Rodarte and Pringle of Scotland, Darner made its UK debut via Matches Fashion and has, perhaps unsurprisingly, found itself something of an Insta darling, beloved by Reese Blutstein and Man Repeller’s Leandra Cohen, plus some 28,000 others. "Instagram has become such a key thing for the company," Sternerud acknowledges, detailing the effort required to curate the label’s own desirable feed (the impossibly good-looking sock and sandal combos are captured in house, in collaboration with her husband, a photographer).
"It was crazy to industry people when I was pitching," she says of the socks' mechanics, reimagined from a 19th century pattern. "It has seams! Is that going to be comfortable, are girls going to want to wear it? Now it’s what people show off." The socks are cut and sewn with a distinguishable seam that circles the foot, initially produced this way so as to adhere to Sternerud’s desired execution: local and in small quantities.
While inspiration appears from many sources – last year’s floral prints referenced a trip to Stockholm’s Rosendals Trädgård, elsewhere socks might be determined by particular catwalk collections – Sternerud is constantly thinking about "this Darner girl", which is actually two customers: one low key, the other comparatively glossier. "Stay true to your style," she says ultimately, of how to style the brand. "Figure out which kind of outfit, look or mood you’re in, and then however you would be dressing add a sock. It’s an extra, fun touch that doesn’t need to be that serious."