New York Diary: Vena Cava Studio Visit
An interview with the designers plus a mini film.
After graduating from the Parsons School of Design in 2003, Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock started Vena Cava on their living room floor in Brooklyn. The then 22-year-olds have since grown their brand into a creative tour de force — they create original videos, publish their own zine and recently re-launched Vena Cava's sister line, Viva Vena, which is a more vibrant take on their original label.
Attracted to their unique eye-catching patterns and modern-vintage aesthetic, Vena Cava is a label that I grew up with. When I heard that the designers wanted Oyster to visit their studio, fireworks and bells went off. I met the girls in the midst of New York Fashion Week at their sun-filled SoHo studio, where we snacked on gummy frogs and talked about everything from flea markets to Joan Didion. While calm and collected, the girls are also incredibly full of life — always smiling, laughing, and downright enthusiastic towards everything they do.
Gillian Sagansky: How did you two meet?
Sophie Buhai: We met through a friend when we were still both living in LA who knew we were going to Parsons. She introduced us right before we started college.
And you met and fell in love?
Lisa Mayock: Yes, we met and fell in love. We thrifted together the first day we met and that really cemented our love. We both had the same secret favorite spot. I was like, "you know about that place?" and she was like "you know about that place?" And so we went there together and became good friends after that.
Rather than doing a show for NYFW like you used to, you guys have decided to go a refreshingly creative and original way. Can you tell me a bit about this?
Sophie: We stopped showing about a year and a half ago. We realised that for the amount of money that we would spend on a show, we could spend a fraction of that and make a movie or some kind of out of the box project that could live forever on the internet and way more people would see it besides the elite group that goes to shows. For Fall we did a horror movie, and for SS13 we did a movie with our friend Matthew Frost starring Lizzie Caplan — it's a spoof on fashion films and how ridiculous they are. We are trying to have more fun with our line and not do things the way everyone says you should.
How did you decide on the name Vena Cava? Medically speaking, it's a vein that brings blood to the heart…
Lisa: We were trying to come up with a name for a really long time. We found a medical dictionary at Sophie's house in LA and came across that word and loved it because you don't really know what language it's from. It sounds very enigmatic and looks beautiful when it's laid out on a page.
A very wide variety of influences have inspired your past collections from Hunter S. Thompson to the movie Drive to Mexico in the 80s. What inspired your Fall 2013 collection?
Sophie: This one was more of an evolution. It started out with images we had of the occult, listening to a lot of Sabbath, looking at images of Aleister Crowley and imagery from the 60s and 70s — you can see these influences when you look at the prints. We really went for luxury basics, simpler pieces you can wear everyday. Now that we have Viva Vena, which is very vibrant, youthful, and exuberant, we can make Vena Cava more restrained and elegant; really make pieces to show the grown up sides of ourselves.
Could you describe the Vena Cava girl? What is she like?
Sophie: The Vena Cava woman is us and our friends. There's definitely a certain kin of Vena Cava girl, and I don't think it's anything we set out to do. They are women who appreciate detail, who are strong, smart, dress for themselves rather than for men, appreciate the past and have a little bit more… you know, they’re not sluts [laughs].
Well speaking of non-slutty transcendence, what are three pieces from your FW13 collection that you would want to pass down to your own kids?
Lisa: That's a good question. One of them would be this. It's more of a concept piece, that's simple and pretty easy to wear.
Sophie: I would have to go with this jumpsuit because it's a great example of what we're trying to make which is 'extreme basics'. It's comfortable, utilitarian, but at the same time it makes a statement.
If you could dress any person living or dead who would it be?
Lisa: Joan Didion because she is amazing and I love that this collection is not about age. We've never been interested in dressing hot 18-year-olds because they look good in mini skirts; it's just never been about that.
Sophie: Women who are independent thinkers but are funny too! Recently we've been psyched about dressing female comedians like Carrie Brownstein, Kelly Oxford, Lena Dunham and Lizzie Caplan, women who have a real sense of humor.
You guys have done tons of collaborations, from Uniqlo to Via Spiga to Converse. If you could choose one company to collaborate with which one would it be?
Lisa: A lot of these ideas start off as jokes and then become real. I was talking about how amazing it would be to collaborate with Wu Wear. It would be hilarious and we could make some badass menswear.
Sophie: A men's line in collaboration with Louis CK is my dream. I could do nothing after that and be happy.
I'm with you on that one. I want to talk about your zine, how did this come about?
Sophie: We put the first one out three years ago. Everyone had a blog so we wanted to do the opposite. The first zine theme was '90s' and we only printed 600 of them. We liked that it wasn't on the internet but rather handmade and lo-fi. We did it for no real purpose other than to have fun and it helped brand our company even though it was a small creative project.
And for all of us Vena Cava coveters, can you tell us a little bit about what's coming up next?
[Sophie and Lisa are silent]
You don't want to spill the beans?
Sophie: We have a couple things in the pipeline but we can't talk about them yet [laughs]. The zine will be coming out and you can expect more guerrilla-style ways of showing our collection. There will also be more product categories coming. We'll leave those ones a mystery…
Sophie: A pilates line.