Byline: Kristin Young

It means “very holy” in Spanish, and among the fabulously fashionable contemporary-buying public, Santisima has indeed found a faithful following for its pants.
But the Los Angeles-based contemporary label had humble beginnings: a Sears sewing machine.
“I started sewing and learned by myself,” said Leonardo Aguirre, the line’s 30-year-old designer, during what he admitted was his first face-to-face interview with the press.
“We didn’t even know how to thread the machine,” chimed in 35-year-old Joseph Michel, Aguirre’s partner and the company’s business head.
Several sewing classes and four years after establishing the brand, Santisima is sold in more than 60 specialty stores across the U.S., including Fred Segal and Traffic in Los Angeles and Big Drop and Scoop in New York.
Aguirre and Michel conceded one professional alliance helped form the line’s aesthetic: Both interned for Richard Tyler, an experience that instilled in them a penchant for high-quality fabrics and the kind of crisp tailoring for which Tyler is famous.
And, like Tyler, Aguirre evidently has an innate understanding of the female form. “I just had this thing for girls and how they dress,” he said, noting his favorite pastime as a child was to dress his little sister.
Santisima makes ample use of buttery calf leather and quality wools. The line is also produced by one of Tyler’s former contractors, a Chinese-operated factory in Rosemead, Calif., with a labor force knowledgeable in tailoring.
L’Atelier, a contemporary showroom in the CaliforniaMart, took the line under its wing, assuming both sales and bookkeeping, which freed up Aguirre and Michel to double Santisima’s collection offerings to four a year.
For fall, the showroom is banking on an ankle-length, A-line, V-neck jersey dress with long sleeves and top stitching (wholesaleing for $150); wool pants with a suede panel on the front ($127); and a column skirt with three layers of chiffon ($125).
At immediate delivery is a traditional white linen suit, which is already a bestseller at retail. The single-breasted, low-cut blazer ($142) is paired with wide-leg pants ($122). Although in growth mode, Santisima is reluctant to go the major department store route at this stage. It is just too risky, Michel said. The line doesn’t require a minimum buy either — more good news for the small specialty stores.
“I remember when we started how difficult it was for people to sell us just 20 yards of fabric,” said Michel. “So I’ve always thought I don’t want minimums.”
Keeping prices on the salable side is a significant consideration in the design process. Aguirre will pass on a fabric if it drives up the price.
“Right now we have enough money to pay our bills,” said Michel. “And we would be happy this way for the rest of our lives.”

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