The Dawn of Coastal Couture
Influenced by a Newport Beach childhood, Laura Brock and her husband, Kris, bring fashion's vanguard home
The New York fashion scene is famously cruel – “The Devil Wears Prada” kind of cruel – but so far it’s been kind to husband-and-wife designers Kris Brock and Laura Vassar Brock. Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily heap praise on the couple’s romantic and elegant aesthetic. Barneys sells their embellished jackets, selvedge denim jeans and lambskin pencil midi skirts. Movie stars and supermodels wear their shimmery, soft dresses and floral trench coats.
In other words, the Brocks have been doing just fine since the debut of their ready-to-wear women’s line in fall 2014. But after son Charlie was born, they left New York last summer for a new home base: Newport Beach, where Laura grew up and developed the breezy sense of style that can be seen in their Brock Collection.
“The way of life here is so much easier,” says Laura, 29.
“In our opinion, it’s just so much more fun,” says Kris, 30, a Texas native.
Though the Brocks continue making frequent trips to New York, where they still do most of their production, they just opened an airy new studio in Los Angeles’ Fashion District. They had been working from their living room in Newport Beach – they are staying in the guesthouse of Laura’s parents, Caroline and Brad Vassar – but decided the studio would help them do a better job of separating work and home.
Even though Orange County is headquarters to St. John Knits, the 54-year-old upscale women’s fashion line, as well as high-end boutiques and luxury destination South Coast Plaza, its fashion scene has long been defined by innovative and cool surfwear and activewear. Think Huntington Beach’s Quiksilver or Newport Beach’s Yokishop.
But the Brocks’ presence, along with those of established designers like Cypress’ George Esquivel, who specializes in rare, handcrafted shoes, are more evidence that a couture sensibility can have a place here too.
“What I’m seeing is lines like Brock, they can make it big here in Orange County,” says Dawn Klohs, co-owner of A’maree’s, the iconic Newport Beach boutique that has been selling a mix of luxury and artistic labels for nearly 40 years. “I don’t think there are any parameters anymore to where you have to be.”
Esquivel, who has teamed up with the couple on three shoe collections, said living in a fashion capital like New York or Milan has obvious advantages, like running in the same circles as fashion editors who can put new designers on the map. Yet there is plenty of leeway to succeed in the place that feels most like home.
“I like it here. My aesthetic is West Coast,” he says. The Brock Collection “is very beautiful and sophisticated and very Southern California. Laura epitomizes their collection.”
Laura, who graduated from Newport Harbor High School, remembers making dresses in her bedroom when she was a teenager and mooning over the clothes at A’maree’s, where her mother was a regular (and where the Brock Collection is now sold).
But there was also the sensibility one develops from growing up in a beach town. Though she wasn’t a surfer girl, Laura remembers always being in loose clothing – billowy cotton shirts and cut-offs – as she and her friends rode their bikes to the beach.
“Growing up in Newport was the best,” she says. “We never had shoes on. Newport allowed you to have this ease of dressing. And I think that sensibility has carried through the collection: a sophisticated element that we’ve learned from the New York way of life and this sense of ease that I got from growing up in California.”
She and Kris were speaking from their L.A. studio, where home life had followed them one recent morning: Charlie, now 18 months old, was toddling around and pointing at photographs of models on the walls (“Mama?” he asked) while Laura’s mother trailed behind. Two of Laura’s longtime friends from Newport Beach showed up to check out the new space.
Kris grew up in Corpus Christi, learning to sew from his grandmother and running a surf shop there. “When I opened the shop, I’d sit in the back and do alterations and started trying to sew dresses together,” he says.
The pair met in their couture class at Parsons School of Design in New York and worked on a final project together. Kris ended up working as a runway show tailor with brands such as Calvin Klein and Diane von Furstenberg. Esquivel said Kris can talk for hours just about stitching. “The craftsmanship is so well-done,” he said.
Laura started as a celebrity stylist, training under Petra Flannery, an L.A. stylist who works for a number of celebrities, and later worked for the high-fashion Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens.
Through it all, they knew they wanted to design their own clothes, together. They brought complementary interests – Kris focuses on structure and clean lines, while Laura brings a romantic touch and an eye for fit. “If one of us starts a design, the other can turn it into something we both love,” says Laura. “We support each other in that way.”
The Brocks source their fabrics from Italy, France and Japan – an attention to detail and craftsmanship that helped make them one of 10 finalists this year for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award for up-and-coming designers. (Past winners include Alexander Wang, Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler.)
“We focus on making clothes that women want to wear,” says Kris. Laura pointed at the white cotton dress – from their collection – that her mother was wearing as she chased after Charlie.
“Like the way my mom is wearing that dress so casually, I love that,” she says.
Caroline looked up and grinned. All she wears these days is Brock Collection. “Everywhere I go, everyone loves my clothes,” she says. “Even at the grocery store the other day, the bag boy goes, ‘I love your outfit.’ ”
It is Caroline, an interior designer, whom Laura cites as her most enduring influence. In her clients’ homes, and in her own, Caroline’s emphasis is on classic and elegant designs, with French-style touches and beautiful antiques in the mix. But Caroline laughs about her influence on Laura. “When she was little, she wouldn’t let me dress her,” she says.
The couple, who have six employees, are busy shipping out their fall collection and starting to design for spring. Husband and wife will each sketch out some designs on their own at the drawing board, then present them to each other.
Sometimes they don’t jell on a look, but “a lot of times we come together with the same idea, and we don’t know how that happened,” says Laura. “We’re in the same mood.”
It’s never easy to turn off their imaginations. “We’re married, so it’s something we’re always talking about,” says Kris.
And someone is watching. As they were talking, they looked over at Charlie, who had settled down with a crayon and paper and was starting to sketch some ideas of his own.