Bi-coastal designers Sophie Buhai (pictured top) and Lisa Mayock have been curating an amalgam of artsy cool since launching their mainline label Vena Cava in 2003. These California transplants graduated from Parsons New School of Design in New York, where they cultivated their indie aesthetic; the brand’s cleverly crafted vintage-thrift store vibe has garnered such a cult following that, in 2010, the twosome expanded its reach with the creation of Viva Vena! The price-friendly sister line offers sophisticated whimsy, through a designer lens.
The Thread caught-up with two of New York’s favorite it girls on the cusp of their 10th anniversary in fashion to discuss their upcoming milestone, the importance of good housekeeping and why Marfa, Texas, is the place to be.
A Look Back: The pair photographed by Norman Jean Roy for Vogue in 2007, when they were named CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists.
This September will mark 10 years in fashion for the pair, who revealed that they are definitely planning something to celebrate the occasion. “It’s pretty insane that we have been doing this for that long,” adds Lisa.
For Sophie, it’s the evolution of their brand and collaborating with other creative authorities that keeps her continually inspired to design. “I think when we started out, Vena Cava was really just a women’s ready-to-wear collection. And now we have branched out into so many different domains that the brand just feels a lot more dynamic. I love seeing the new directions we can go in.”
Carefree Cool: Viva Vena! ‘Chinati’ Patchwork Gauze & Chambray Dress & Fringed Kimono Jacket
The DNA of Viva Vena! is an extension of Vena Cava, so how do the two lines differ? According to Lisa, it comes down to substance. “The Viva Vena! pieces are more fun and trend-based, whereas the Vena Cava pieces are more what we like to call ‘future heirlooms’—meaning you can buy a Cava piece and in 10 years pass it down to your daughter. Viva has a little more universality.”
Sophie, who wanted to design more casual clothes and daywear, adds, “We love the challenge of doing Viva Vena! and making clothing that has our aesthetic but that’s available to a lot more women at different price points.”
Music Festival Chic: Viva Vena! Cutout Neckline Print Dress & Patch Pocket Overalls paired with the ‘Used Bookstore’ Pompom Pullover
As well, Viva Vena! appeals to the lady who might be exploring vintage for the first time, while Vena Cava may resonate more with the vintage vet. Sophie and Lisa have labeled the Viva collection as neo-vintage, but we wondered: what exactly does that mean? “When you think of vintage, there’s somehow this connotation that it sort of looks like a ’40s/50s pinup star, say, corky-vintage,” Lisa says. “We think of neo-vintage as Goodwill finds from the ’90s. Sort of like a newer take on used clothing.”
Vintage shopping has exploded in popularity, but the fit can be wonky to say the least—á la shoulder pads and weird sleeve lengths. Sophie agrees: “The proportions can be awkward on vintage finds, so we wanted to make a collection that felt like you may have scored something at an amazing Goodwill, but it also has an awesome fit. It looks really modern, yet it’s not. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
Inspiration for the Viva Vena! spring/summer 2013 collection came from the little town of Marfa, Texas. This hidden jewel was put on the map in 1956 as the backdrop for Giant, a film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. “Minimalist artist Donald Judd basically bought up Marfa in the ’70s,” says Lisa. “The city has become an art destination for minimalistic sculpture, but then you have the local Texans that live there too. We were inspired by the really cool mixture of high art and normal Texas country life. It’s such a special, unique place.”
When they’re not taking creative trips or crafting up looks for their two collections, these 24/7 fashion girls even find the time to produce their own magazine, dubbed the Zine, which they first printed only as keepsake for their fall ’11 runway show. “We just launched our 3rd issue of the Zine on housekeeping. People really liked it, so we have continued to make it. There’s no set printing time frame; we kind of just make them whenever we want to make them,” says Sophie.
Lisa recalls some of the great entries from friends, whom they asked to weigh in on this idea of housekeeping and what it meant to them. “We got entries that spanned from a recipe for someone’s grandmother’s stew to someone’s actual housekeeper’s number,” she says. “There’s Martha Stewart’s Living, Good Housekeeping and Ladies’s Home Journal, but there’s no real people lo-fi approach housekeeping magazines.”
No matter the project, what you can come to expect from Lisa and Sophie is a cool, nonchalant approach to life that makes them as intriguing as their designs.