David Montalba, founder of Montalba Architects in Santa Monica, Calif., believes clothes and buildings should fit like a favorite pair of jeans or T-shirt.
“It’s about creating a comfortable environment, a place where people can be dynamic. Similarly with clothes, you want to wear clothes that make you feel comfortable first and make the people around you feel comfortable, much like the designs we create,” says the award-winning 45-year-old, who has created retail stores in Los Angeles and other cities for Carolina Herrera, The Row, Reformation and Raquel Allegra, to name a few.
Like most people in his profession, Montalba wears either all black or all dark blue every day — not just to the office but in all aspects of his life. When asked whether he spends more on clothes for work or play, he said, “I don’t distinguish between the two.” What about on the weekend when he’s driving his kids to their sports games? “Then I’m just wearing my gym clothes, either a Lululemon shirt or NikeLab,” he says.
Montalba’s style hasn’t strayed much in the last two decades: “I might slowly find myself getting a little more refined and wanting to wear the same things more and more. Now I want to go to a store and buy seven of the same shirt in the same color and just want to be done.”
That’s not to say he isn’t particular. His daily uniform consists of a navy Prada button-down shirt or a navy Giorgio Armani sweater over a T-shirt of the same brand and color; Tom Ford jeans; Common Projects or Lanvin sneakers or Prada or Tod’s boots; a Bottega Veneta belt, and Salt sunglasses.
“I find myself getting way picker and I think it’s because we’ve worked with so many great designers that I’ve learned to appreciate the thoughtfulness with which they do what they do — everything from the patterns to the fabric to the stitching,” he notes.
Montalba has become a keen observer of cultural trends through his vocation. “So much of what we do is driven by the generational trends in culture. The younger people influence a lot more than we think they do. I’m seeing an echo vertically up from that. Embracing that is important, whether it’s how we dress or how we deal with staffing issues and managing the culture in our own office. We have to be very much in tune and flexible and being someone who is open-minded both in terms of dress and culture is important,” he says.
He was born in Europe to an American father and a Swiss mother, and lived there until he was six years old, when the family moved to Carmel, Calif. “I grew up being a surfer. And then going to Europe and spending a lot of time in New York, I experienced a more formal side of things, so I think I am oscillating a lot in between,” he says.
WWD: You also have an office in Lausanne, Switzerland, where you cater to clients in luxury sectors. How does the dress code differ there versus in the beach communities of Los Angeles?
David Montalba: Most people assume the word casual means you can wear tennis shoes, but it’s more about an attitude. In L.A. if I go to a meeting with someone dressed like this and they are wearing a suit, it’s not a big deal. If you go to Switzerland and they are wearing a suit and you are not wearing exactly what they are wearing, it’s a huge problem. So it’s a casualness to the approach to what they are wearing, not in what they are actually wearing, that’s different. You really have to be much more thoughtful in Europe and in New York about who you are meeting with and the audience. In Europe, you need to acknowledge that you are showing respect.
WWD: If you had the choice to go more casual or more dressy which would you choose?
D.M.: If I had to pick one, I’d say casual but it’s super fun to dress up.
WWD: What’s your favorite purchase of the last few months and why?
D.M.: I have this chocolate brown braided leather Bottega Veneta belt that I like with a black matte finish buckle. We’ve done stores for them and I was invited to a private event at their home store, and I felt like I had to buy something, but I actually love it.
WWD: What is the single biggest influence on how you dress?
D.M.: Generally, I try to think about what I am wearing relative to the clients and make it a mutually cohesive experience.
WWD: How do you choose the brands you wear?
D.M..: If I like the clothes but I don’t like the brand then I won’t wear the clothes. I’m much more deliberate. It’s much more about feeling aligned with that brand’s values.
WWD: Apart from meetings in New York and Europe do you ever wear a suit?
D.M.: No. But I travel with a sport coat. And if I was going to a meeting in the Beverly Hills Hotel bar as opposed to Gjelina in Venice, I’d wear a sports coat. Or if someone else was wearing one, I’d wear one.