A little over a year ago, Scott Studenberg and John Targon launched Baja East under the concept of “loose luxury.” One could argue that the collection’s oversize ikat graffiti sweaters, boardshorts, wrap skirts and tunics can be filed under the sweeping ath-leisure phenomenon — except Baja’s $1,295 track pants come in triple-ply Cariaggi cashmere and the layered, androgynous look carries a highly stylized edge.
The collection is billed as “ambisex,” meaning men can theoretically wear most of the styles as easily as women.
This story first appeared in the December 11, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“We’re just making easy pieces that are a rebellion against the bandage dress and tailored suit,” said Studenberg. “A lot of luxury consumers are working from their house in Malibu or by the pool at Shoreditch House in East London, and they’re not wearing a suit. They’re wearing a cashmere hoodie and boardshorts that cost as much as the suit because that’s the biggest ‘f–k you’ to their friends.”
The look is very current and cool, and has resonated with an impressive roster of retail partners: Net-a-porter, A’maree’s in Newport Beach, Calif.; Boon the Shop in Seoul; Matchesfashion.com; Barneys New York, where they secured the 60th Street windows during New York Fashion Week in September, and Maxfield in Los Angeles, where they have a veritable shop-in-shop by virtue of having shipped 80 percent of their holiday collection early.
It hasn’t hurt that Studenberg and Targon are incapable of taking a bad photo and have personal charm to spare, as anyone who attended Baja East’s first two proper presentations can attest. During the presentations, Studenberg and Targon talked the audience through the collection with Korsian quips for a new generation, such as calling some of the more generously cut pieces “all-you-can-eat styles.”
Good looks and personality go a long way in this industry. Also in Baja’s favor is the fact that elevated, fashion-forward loungewear has never been so relevant and important up and down the fashion food chain. But one of the duo’s greatest assets has been their experience in sales, distribution and strategy for major luxury houses — Studenberg at Lanvin and Targon at Céline — before quitting for their own start-up. Neither has technical design training, but they share an eye for style and sales logic.
“Our big focus has been maintaining a bigger position in key specialty stores and not branching out to the department-store business on a broader level,” explained Targon. “That’s really worked.”
The press is quick to anoint new talent, and Baja has had great play in the past year. Studenberg and Targon are aware that it takes more to translate to the customer. “In a year, a lot has happened for us,” said Targon. “But we still aren’t well-known out there in America, where people shop.” That’s where the relationships they brought from their time at Lanvin and Céline and honing in on smaller specialty stores has paid off. “We know everyone on the sales floor at A’maree’s and they know us, and thankfully love what we’re doing,” said Studenberg. “They’re pushing us. We need people who believe in what we’re doing on the sales floor.”
They’re just as focused on developing the collection to include more tailoring, such as a crepe trenchcoat and draped drop-crotch pants, to offset the cashmere loose luxe.
For pre-fall, they had strong leather outerwear, such as a terry-lined bomber and shirt jacket, and a little evening with a tinsel Lurex wrap skirt. They’ve also branched into lifestyle and gifting, with cashmere beanies, eye masks and a king-size throw that goes for $8,000 at Maxfield. “They have it all ready for the holidays so they can do a business,” said Studenberg. Baby goods, with cashmere singlets, newborn hats and swaddles, were introduced for pre-fall.
Baja East is sold in 26 retailers internationally. In their first year, Studenberg and Targon have grown revenues to $2.1 million and hired their first employee, which is impressive for a start-up run on no outside investment — yet. But, said Studenberg, “We’re very open to that.”