Baja East: They're Just Like Us | SSENSE

Outfitting the Easy Opulence of Off-Duty Famous People

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A mid-week abs class at Equinox isn’t the most conventional place to meet your best-friend-come-design-partner, but when you consider such a meeting the foundation of the brand Baja East, it makes perfect sense. The pair converge to produce collections that feel rich, yet loose, a bizarrely acute manifestation of two men coming from heritage brands finding common design ground at the gym. While both John Targon and Scott Studenberg attended fashion school in New York City—John at Parsons, Scott at the Fashion Institute of Technology—and both worked for major fashion labels—John at Céline and Burberry, Scott at Lanvin—neither have design experience. Both gathered intel on the luxury goods market, and then abandoned it all for something more laid back: “We’d talk about the fact that we didn’t want our bosses’ jobs, and how there was a void in the luxury market. For about a year, while we were still in our positions, we planned Baja East,” says Scott.

Fast-forward 15 years from that Tuesday night core session in Manhattan, and the duo have come to head one of the most quietly celebrity-endorsed brands to hit the post-Kitson, post-Juicy athleisure market. In the heart of the Lower East Side sits John’s new office. It’s been two months since the brand officially began their bi-costal phase, with John maintaining the East Coast operations and Scott holding it down in Los Angeles. Apologetic about the disorderly state of his workspace, John explains that he chose to decorate his new apartment before his new studio. Since its inception, the two have been eating, breathing, and sleeping their brand—until the relocation they had been running everything out of their two-bedroom Chelsea apartment. After years of cohabiting and coexisting amongst the label’s cohorts, the bicoastal separation is something of a divide-and-conquer strategic play, one that represents how the brand is expanding.

Brands are continuously faced with the challenge of evolving without losing the heart of their DNA, but Baja East have developed organically from a gender-neutral line of sweats and pool slides to include pieces at home on the red carpet. Cropped cashmere sweaters, luxe knits, sweatpants, and Ikat t-shirts have lived in harmony from their very first collection. For both Scott and John, the hybridity of elegance, comfort, and versatility is essential. “Our first collection was 25 pieces that went back and forth on men and women. Over time, we heard that women were looking to see what our idea of a cocktail dress was. We started branching out.” From there, rubber shower sandals got a shearling do-over, and satin was worked into easy evening tops and slinky lounge pants. Paparazzi bait like Bella Hadid, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber are just three figures who have become loyal to the brand, a loyalty which carries over to those who aspire to emulate the “I’m rich and I’m busy” look of celebrity on the move. Justin selfies in bed in the brand’s “THRIVING” t-shirt, while Celine Dion hits the studio in their "Bye Felicia" hoodie. They aren’t just selling clothes, nor is their brand of luxury merely a descriptor for fabrics or silhouettes. Their casual approach to high-end is a lifestyle signifier, indicating a modern way of being put together that trickles down from a disguised famousness.

As the paradigm shift continues, what constitutes luxury is expanding, and Baja East have found their market among a very American-feeling form of dressed-down. Rethinking premium fashion through the conceptual cornerstone of “loose luxury” has become the backbone of the brand. Scott explains: “Loose luxury represents a new interpretation of what luxury means.” For John, “the idea was about breaking down gender walls, but also saying luxury doesn’t have to be serious. It can be comfortable, and something you want to wear all the time.” Their popularity speaks to a contemporary approach to dressing up, which is doing it in a way that feels opulent in its ease.

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