We asked design duo Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock some questions about their line Viva Vena, and life in general.
Your first line, Vena Cava, is beloved by cool girls coast-to-coast. What made you ladies decide to launch Viva Vena?
Sophie: We loved the idea of taking our aesthetic and bringing it to more people. We wanted to create a collection that had the Vena Cava DNA, but at a more accessible price. We're big fans of shopping at flea markets and thrift stores...and finding treasures. We wanted to create that feeling with new clothing and bring it to more people. There is something very cool about bringing great designs to an accessible price point—and we're really excited to have more people enjoy our pieces.
Who is the Viva Vena girl?
Lisa: The Viva girl is us and our friends. Girls that love flea markets and thrift stores and don't take fashion too seriously. It's for our generation, girls that want a little more detail in their clothing, but want to be casual and cool at the same time. Everyone just wants to be comfortable and cool at that same time—that's what we're trying to do with Viva.
You're both big fans of vintage and second-hand. How does that influence Viva Vena's vibe?
Sophie: It's a pretty prevalent theme in most of our collections. Most of the girls we know dress in this way of mixing vintage with designer with basics. We wanted to create that way of dressing in one collection. It never feels too vintage, but there is always a hint of the past or of that feeling of uniqueness.
Sophie, you moved (back) from NYC to the low-key cool of LA's Silver Lake area, while Lisa still resides in perennially stylish Williamsburg. Tell us some of your favorite places to hang in your respective hoods.
Sophie: I love so many things about LA; this is one of my favorite topics! One of my favorite things to do is hike the "hidden staircases" of Silver Lake. They are located all throughout the hills, and it's a great way to study all the amazing California architecture. For food, I love to go to Cortez in Echo Park, which serves amazing fresh food. I love juices from Naturewell, tacos from Yuca's, wine and cheese at Cafe Stella, old-timey drinks at Musso & Frank's and southern Thai food from Jitlada.
Lisa: I've been in Williamsburg for over 12 years, and at this point it's almost impossible to keep up with all the great food, art and performance spaces, and everything else that's been erupting here recently. Here are a few places I'm really into right now: coffee at Oslo and El Beit, 285 Kent for seeing bands, Nitehawk for movies and snacks, Tabaré for great atmosphere, Samurai Mama for udon, Cafe Mogador for tagine, Graham Meats & Deli for record-breakingly delicious sandwiches, and of course, the grandfather of Williamsburg, steaks (and an excellent burger!) at Peter Luger. My favorite bar in the neighborhood—I'm not gonna lie—is the one I have set up in my kitchen.
How has working so far apart affected the way you work?
Sophie: It's actually been really amazing. We are able to be inspired by two different coasts and have a much larger perspective because of it. Blending visual influences from both California and New York is a really great starting point for each collection. They are both so different. We've been working together so long we really understand each other's vision, so on both coasts we can get twice as much done with double the exposure.
You've both traveled a bit. If you had to pick a favorite place you've visited, where would it be?
Lisa: There are quite a few places I love, but India is my favorite! I just came back from three weeks there on my honeymoon, and the general attitude and visual sensibility there really resonates with me. There's less of a sense of urgency, and more of a willingness to being open to conversation, something spontaneous, and being present. In many places there it would be impossible not to be present—the bazaars are so bustling that you have to stay on your toes. Everything is a surface for decoration, be it architecture, cars, floors, people, anything. A lot of spaces that would go unnoticed here are treated as a potential opportunity. A tiny stall the size of a small bathroom could be the site of a very successful business. That idea left me very inspired and looking at what I do with new eyes.
Lisa, you're married to Jeff Halmos, one (rather tall) half of menswear brand Shipley & Halmos. With Sophie 3,000 miles away, do you ever bounce ideas off him?
Lisa: Yes! We definitely bounce ideas off each other. We tend to discuss more big-picture things—branding ideas and design structure and concepts, less so about an individual piece I may be working on. Jeff is very insightful and supportive. He's also just damn smart! It's great to have someone so close that really understands what it is you spend all your time doing at work.
Sophie, you Instagrammed photos of your colorblind grandfather's abstract paintings—any chance his original designs might be transformed into prints for Viva Vena?
Sophie: You know, I never thought of that! That's a great idea! I was going to start an Instagram feed just to sell his paintings, but perhaps there are other avenues his work could be used for. It would be pretty cool if Lisa and I collaborated with him on some prints. Maybe we should do a whole series where we collaborate with a different member of our family. You may be onto something...!
You guys design clothing, produce zines, create atmospheric videos and make some of the most inventive invites for Fashion Week—how do you keep things fresh, creatively?
Sophie: We are pretty into this idea of Vena Cava and Viva Vena being a whole world, not only fashion. It's our goal with both brands to create our own little culture—everything we make is an extension of this world we are trying to build. To keep things fresh creatively, it's really important for us to keep reinventing the idea of what a fashion brand can be. We just produced a Vena Cava horror movie, and we're working on our next zine about housekeeping. For us, collaborating with our friends and continuing to do out-of-the-box projects keeps us engaged and allows us to keep evolving.
What's the one song or band you can't get enough of right now?
Lisa: I just can't get enough of Wanda Jackson! I tend to be a bit obsessive in my music listening, and lately "Let's Have a Party" is the song I want to listen to every day for my whole life. It's the gateway song into a whole world of amazing lady-rockabilly music. I love it while working, during a recent dinner party, and just at home doing nothing. The Wanda Jackson Pandora station is pretty great too.
OKAY, LIGHTNING ROUND:
Dream catcher or evil eye?
Lisa: Evil eye! There is something so iconically haunting about images of the eye—they seem to make it onto every mood board we've ever made in some way or another. I came across a collection of old glass eyes yesterday in a vintage store and scooped them up! They make great (very creepy) gifts and are beautiful objects.
Roller-skating or bowling?
Sophie: I would have to go with bowling—it's a great American sport and it's created a lot of great movies. We always say the Viva girl goes bowling whenever we do a customer profile. Lisa and I are definitely the girls hanging at the bowling alley in our thrift-store outfits. My family, starting with my great-grandfather, owned bowling alleys, so it's pretty much in my blood.
Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie?
Lisa: I have to admit I'm not so familiar with the inner workings of Fleetwood Mac. However, I am very familiar with the inner workings of Mötley Crüe, and if you asked me this question about that band, I would have to say that Mick Mars is my favorite member, with Tommy Lee as a close second. The Dirt is a favorite read of mine, a compelling story-slash-cautionary tale about the band, watching their rise, succumbing to their vices and ego and watching them self-destruct. There's a scene in the book where Tommy Lee sees Nirvana for the first time and realizes that their era is over. As a person who also makes things, I can totally relate to the idea that it's easy to get pigeonholed into a certain timeframe, unless you are constantly exposing yourself to newness. It's written by Neil Strauss, who wrote another one of my favorites (and perennial dude favorite), The Game, about pickup artists in LA. It's a highly recommended read!