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“I love accessories,” says designer Kendall Conrad. “I like to dress like a blank canvas. I don’t change my clothing style that often. I don’t like prints. I like simplicity, but I like to change my accessories.” That’s apparent at our lunch — she’s wearing a black cashmere sweater and jeans, but my eyes are immediately drawn to the stunning gold rings and leather cuffs wrapped around her wrists.
With her husband, David Cameron, Kendall founded Kendall Conrad, the accessories brand whose bags, shoes, jewelry, and belts now enjoy a devout following among celebrities, magazine editors, and trendsetters. But this wasn’t her first fashion company.
In 2000, while pregnant with her second child, Kendall started Tauro. “At the time I couldn’t find a bag I needed,” she says, “and so I designed it.” She hired a saddlemaker, rented a studio in the Alhambra building, and soon stores such as Maxfield’s and Barney’s were placing orders. Tauro ballooned from there.
Jewelry was a natural progression. “I was doing custom hardware for the bags with a jewelry manufacturer,” she recalls. “He asked me, ‘Why don’t you make rings for your fingers?’ That inspired me to start making jewelry. I started making leather cuffs and then sandals. Everything grew organically from each other.”
Lately, the retailer Vince hired Kendall to consult on their bag programs, and they’ve done four collections so far, with a fifth set to launch in February. Even with that growth, Kendall Conrad only works with American manufacturers and today make everything in Los Angeles.
Kendall was born in San Francisco. Her mother was an interior designer and her dad was Barnaby Conrad, the famous American bullfighter, portrait artist, and author.
“I’m a Santa Barbara girl,” she says proudly. “My father’s grandmother had a house at 700 Buena Vista. My grandmother would rent five cottages for the family for the entire summer at the San Ysidro Ranch. Everybody in my family had a connection to Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has always been in my family’s life.” In fact, her mom still lives in their famed home on Rincon Point.
Kendall moved here when she was eight years old. She attended Taft School in Connecticut, then UCSB and UCLA, where she studied architecture, French, and psychology. But Kendall decided to travel.
“I went after my dreams,” she explains. “I modeled for Elite in Milan and Paris. I ended up having a very healthy career. I traveled the world and made money. I lived on and off in New York City, Paris, and L.A. Years of living in Paris was hugely influential to my aesthetic and style. It helped my current career.” She returned to Santa Barbara in 1997 with David, a director.
Kendall’s designs are richly inspired by her travels, by Santa Barbara, and by her father’s bullfighting history. “That doesn’t leave me,” she says. “I remember talking to my dad about names and meaning. Always with the idea of Spain. And the details. My dad would show me his old suit of lights. There’s so much pageantry in the corridas. I love the mantillas. It’s all really inspiring to me. “
On her retail website, she writes a fascinating blog called Aficionada. “I take photos of our clients, showcasing how they wear our goods,” she explains. “They become ambassadors, taking ownership of the brand. I do the interviews. It’s my favorite project. It’s great to profile people.”
Kendall Conrad answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your motto?
“Don’t ever wished you would have.” Meaning live life to the fullest — try it all and no regrets. Very valuable and I think has affected me my entire life. Taught to me by my dad when I was kid and never forgotten.
Who do you most admire?
So many, but here’s what pops into my mind first: Greta Thunberg, for her courage and truth; Jacques Cousteau, for his innovation and ocean research; and Georgia O’Keefe, for marching to the beat of her own drum.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am a very positive person. I wake up happy and the glass is always half full.
What do you like most about your job?
I love when a first sample is ready, and I get to try it on for the first time. Seeing an idea come to life in form and function and color and materials is very exciting.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A holiday with my daughters and husband in a house by the sea with a great kitchen.
What is your greatest fear?
In deep water: sharks!
What is your greatest extravagance?
The essentials. Classic clothing pieces like cashmere and beautifully cut blazers, nice bedding, Egyptian towels, etc. And I think buying really great quality food: I love Erewhon and the farmers markets anywhere.
What is your current state of mind?
Happy and thankful.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I really like humility. Earnest and true-blue people. I am really tired of pompous braggarts and showoffs.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Any kind of pretense or phoniness.
What do you most value in friends?
I think genuine care and loyalty are at the top.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Cool. Always have, can’t help it — says exactly what I mean.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would really love to be able to write and compose music. What a wonderful gift to be able to do that!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Well, they say that humans only use a small percentage of their brain, so I suppose I would like to use 100 percent!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Mother to two very amazing humans! Not taking credit, though. They came out that way, just super proud of them.
What is your most treasured possession?
I think the paintings and drawings done by my dad, my children, my sister, and my friends.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My husband, David. He’s hysterical and has always made me laugh harder than anyone. His timing is always perfect.
On what occasion do you lie?
To protect someone’s feelings, of course!