Jenny Armit's glamorous design for a Los Angeles studio and showroom suits rising fashion talent Kevan Hall to a T
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Think 1930s café society, nightclub singer Josephine Baker, furniture designer Jean-Michel Frank, and the most elegantly crafted evening gowns this side of couture. These associations set the stage for Kevan Hall and his Los Angeles studio and showroom, designed by Jenny Armit. In an age of conglomerate-run, media-pumped fashion, Hall is clearly a throwback to an earlier era. He designs intricate beading fabricated in India, is a voracious consumer of Loro Piana cashmere, maintains a select staff of cutters and pattern makers on the premises, and produces most of his garments just miles away. Armit, a Brit with plenty of sparkle herself, recalls her initial impression: "I saw Kevan's clothes and his portfolio. They just reeked of Paris in the '40s."
The Beverly Boulevard site, however, bore not a remote resemblance to any charming boîte—on either side of the Seine or the Atlantic. "It was horrific," Armit says of the former storeroom, which lacked even a single window. But Hall saw beyond the shambles, beams, and X bracing to the 16-foot ceiling and potential for a modern-day reincarnation of Coco Chanel's Rue Cambon atelier.
Thinking big is second nature to Hall. While the Kevan Hall Collection of evening and day wear is just emerging on the circuit—and the backs of entertainment-industry notables—the fashion designer is no neophyte. Born in Detroit and captivated early by Motown's divas, he studied at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in L.A. During the 1980s, he designed a couture line there; in the late 1990s, he moved to New York to serve as design and creative director for the relaunch of the Halston label. Designing for hire, however, proved but an interlude. In 2000, he returned to L.A. to set up his own base of operations.
Jenny Armit moved to town in 2000 as well, after two years of commuting between London and L.A., completing a boutique hotel in the former city and a lingerie shop in the latter, among other projects. Hall and Armit clicked, and plans for the fashion designer's 2,000-square-foot studio-showroom took root.
The space is divided into two zones. In front are reception and the showroom, open for retail by appointment. Back-of-house areas accommodate cutters, seamstresses, a changing room, a sales office, and a slightly grander version for Hall. Spatial constraints and a desire for sunlight drove Armit's decisions. First came new windows in the exterior wall along the street. Then she was required to construct steel bracing for seismic reasons. "To screen this mass of metal, we built a plasterboard interior wall 15 inches from the building's structural wall," she explains. In addition, this depth produces a sense of mass and allows for clutter-free, built-in display niches. (Niches now display Hall's deluxe cashmeres, with room for a full-scale accessories collection envisioned.) Away from the perimeter, walls stop short of ceiling height, and a translucent scrim of laminated glass divides showroom from work zone. Clientele and staff share the sunlight; clients immediately grasp the semi-couture nature of Hall's work.
"It's like we had one eye, one vision," Armit says of the decorating process. "I remember a lot of yesses." Hall, in turn, recalls his first words: " 'I want 15 shades of taupe, and I'm leaving for New York.' I had total trust in Jenny. Her color sense operates at perfect pitch." (So much so that he now draws on her expertise when finessing his own fashion palettes.) Armit interpreted the directive with an envelope encompassing tones from truffle to white chocolate. "It's delicious," she says laughingly.
Deeper tones characterize the entry, which was dark and low to begin with. "If something is dark and small, make it darker and smaller," she says of the salonlike area with a Florence Knoll sofa and custom resin table. And the transition to the light and expansive showroom beyond becomes even more pronounced.
Here, subtly shaded planes provide just enough architecture for depth and interest, not enough to overwhelm. The space itself is a perfect setup not only for the clothes but also for select furnishings that reinforce the glamour theme. Armit designed a parchment-covered desk à la Jean-Michel Frank and manufactured it in the Philippines. Her Homage sofa and chair, covered in a tight-loop wool, share the same design roots.
During the project's seven-week duration, Armit took a brief European trip, and Hall reaped the profits. Armit located a cherry desk, circa 1930, in pristine condition in Paris. Across the Channel in London, she purchased the Knoll sofa at a Phillips auction. An acrylic painting by Jamaican artist Derrick Haughton came from the Houldsworth gallery on London's prestigious Cork Street. (Armit bought the painting for herself but never got around to hanging it—to date, the work appears to be on permanent loan to the Kevan Hall showroom.) Displayed on the wall opposite the entry, another artwork, a wire sculpture, may be more prestigious still. It is an NAACP design award, which Hall received in 1989. Carved African stools and Hall's own flea-market finds round out the composition.
Within a year of Hall's return to L.A., his studio and showroom's debut signals that he's on the fast track. Any bets on who will be wearing what for the Oscars' red-carpet walk, 2003?