Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Clothe thyself in California-made fashions

Heather Caswell, owner of The Wardrobe in downtown Davis, shows off a design by Steve Barraza of Tianello as she prepares for his visit next weekend. Barraza is featured in Caswell's "The Sound of Fashion" video that will be screened Friday evening, April 12,. He also will showcase his designs at a trunk show from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 13. The Wardrobe is at 206 E St. in downtown Davis. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

“Above all else, clothe thyself with love.”

— Colossians 3:14

By E. Emmet Brady

The New York Times declared in 2012 that “Made in the USA” has a new meaning: Americana chic has gone mainstream, and “Made in America” is making a comeback. But right here in Davis, “Made in California” has never gone out of style.

For more than a quarter-century, The Wardrobe boutique, 206 E St. in downtown Davis, has premiered clothing designed and crafted here in the Golden State. On Friday and Saturday, April 12-13, beauty seekers in and around Yolo County can meet one of the top California-based designers, Steve Barraza of Tianello, as The Wardrobe presents “The Sound of Fashion: Made in California.”

The synergy between Barraza and Heather Caswell, owner of The Wardrobe, is evident in both their core philosophies and the timing of the upcoming event. This will be Barraza’s first California trunk show, as he celebrates 30 years in the apparel industry. The Wardrobe celebrated its 25th anniversary on March 25.

Caswell considers this trunk show one of the most significant in her career. With a look that Caswell describes as “San Francisco meets Europe,” the boutique has championed local and regional designers since its inception. She has launched more than 100 apparel and jewelry designers, including two of her own employees. Almost all of The Wardrobe’s designs are made in America, and at least 70 percent of its offerings are from California designers. Many are manufactured in-state.

Caswell gets dozens of solicitations every year from reps who want to be part of The Wardrobe “fashion gallery,” but she’s often partial to the ones from California.

“The Wardrobe is a place for shoppers to experience the joy that comes from discovering one’s truest self through color, beauty and self-adornment,” she says. “The designers I am especially attracted to are the ones that celebrate the artful and colorful aspects of life here. They have to be the best to make it into my boutique.”

As evidence of her sophisticated palate, the store has been voted “Best in Yolo County” for the past two years. Caswell also focuses on Golden State styles with her annual “Green Friday” sale — her response to the feeding frenzy of Black Friday — when she offers 20 percent off all “made in California” designs.

Then she laughs as she points out how Tianello is dominating the displays in her boutique.

“Tianello represents to me the state’s tastes and aesthetic. It is the quintessence of ‘made in California,’ ” she says.

Promoting the value of made in California is not Caswell’s mission alone. The California Senate approved SB 12 — the “Made in California Bill” — on Monday. Sponsored by Small Business California and championed by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, the bill creates the “Made in California” program that will allow California manufacturers to capitalize on the state’s global reputation and better market their products.

The two-day event next weekend will offer anyone with an interest the fashion process a glimpse into the mind of a fashion icon. (Barraza was the creative force behind the blockbuster LA Gear Apparel brand and Girls, Girls, Inc. before launching Tianello in 1992.)

Caswell brought The Sound of Fashion production crew to the Tianello factory in Los Angeles in December. The resulting footage became a five-part video series, “The Sound of Fashion presents Made in California with Steve Barraza,” which will debut on Friday, April 12.

“I was able to dive into Steve’s creative process more than any other industry professional with this video shoot,” Caswell says. “The insights he shares are solid gold.”

Barraza thinks of his designs as “living clothing”: styles and textures that make a woman feel alive. As he explains, “My goal is to build a garment that makes a woman feel special. The core of my process has always been my word, my integrity. I put that into every piece of apparel I have ever created.”

All the designs and patterns are created in his LA-based facility. In fact, Barraza is hands-on for every step of the manufacturing process; he even names the colors. The challenge of remaining a domestic company is not lost on Barraza.

“Made in America is a very expensive process. It’s not easy,” he says. “But there are so many intangible benefits. Plus, I could not imagine living and working anywhere else.”

His formula has not only created a dedicated following across the country, but it also has catapulted his business: His women’s wear labels have sold more than $150 million worth of “living clothing.” As he explains, “Tianello women are beautiful and they create miracles every day.”

Caswell cultivates the same sense of imagination and self-discovery in her boutique. In many ways, the secrets to Barraza’s success across three multimillion-dollar businesses are the same principles that made The Wardrobe one of his best customers.

The two fashion innovators openly express their shared philosophies: know thyself, know thy customer and, above all else, (as the proverb goes) clothe thyself in love — especially with clothes made in California.

Both events in Davis are free and open to the public. Friday’s runs from 7 to 9 p.m. with the video screening at 8 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session. The Wendell Fishman Quartet, a local gypsy band, will perform.

Barraza’s trunk show on Saturday, April 13, is from noon to 3 p.m.

For more information, visit and Locals can “like” The Sound of Fashion Facebook page at

Special to The Enterprise


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