Happy 20th Anniversary to Nathalie Seaver
This year marks 20 years in business for Nathalie Seaver. As one of the best-kept secrets in LA (and owner of of the most popular shops in the neighborhood), Nathalie has been inspiring hundreds of customers every year with her sense of style, hospitality and whimsy. It’s no wonder she’s made it this long in the often-tumultuous retail business.
We asked Nathalie to look back on her beginnings and tell us the secret to making it to 20 years old. Here’s what she said:
I opened my shop on a rainy February in 1998. I was also wholesaling my clothing collection to quite a few stores across the country. Having my own shop was a way to present all the different pieces I designed in one place, as most accounts would pick just a few styles from the bigger group. It also allowed me to experiment with new designs and perfect them, before rolling out to wholesale. I also realized I could put pieces together, merchandised in my own way, and this is how I inadvertently got into the styling aspect of my work.
I am half French and spent much of my life going back and forth to Paris. That city has served as a source of inspiration for me — not just as a designer, but also for how the French enjoy life in such a different way and how they also appreciate life so artfully. What I first noticed about the little shops in Paris, from the time I was a little girl, is how they were all curated thoughtfully, with a very intimate, personal touch. Still today, after I leave Paris, I’ll remember a special or witty design detail — from a bag of candy tied with an unexpected polka dot ribbon, to a jacket pocket lined in a spectacular fabric that only you can see. I have always tried to reference this sense of whimsy and artful aesthetic in my own design process.
When I opened my boutique, I wanted to recreate that flavor of an intimate Paris shop. I didn’t want standard “display fixtures” and racking systems. I opted instead to use vintage furniture that I would be happy to have in my home, to display the store’s wares. This choice also created a much more personal atmosphere and immediately set the shop apart. I’ve always had a rotating series of vintage chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, and some sort of chaise longue, to create a salon feeling in the shop. The idea that you could actually buy one of those chandeliers or that chaise, as well as the skirt and top hanging on the wall nearby, was a fairly new store concept for LA at the time. I had a lot of design teams coming in taking pictures of my interiors for the first few years after I opened!
I chose West 3rd Street because it had so many wonderful, artisanal storefronts and two great bookstores; The Cook’s Library and The Traveler’s Bookcase, which I wish were still there today. There was a clock repair shop, too, down the street and a place just for party balloons. I loved having a storefront nestled among this almost smalltown, eclectic mix of businesses.
The store has remained true to my initial mandate — which is to offer chic, wearable clothing with a timeless style, for everyday or for dress up. More importantly, my shop is about welcoming people as if they are stepping into a private living room.
As a designer, I have always been very particular about the quality of my materials. While I have always been known for my selection of prints, the fabrics also have to feel good against the skin. I tend to choose primarily natural fibers: silk, rayon, cotton, and cashmere. “Your clothes are naturally luxe, on purpose,” someone once said to me and that’s actually true.
Pretty much every week, I get someone coming in, saying they still wear a certain dress or skirt or jacket of mine, which they bought many years ago and still get compliments on. Either that, or their daughter is wearing the pieces now! And that is another element I learned from living in France: People buy their clothes thoughtfully and choose them to last a long time. Clearly this concept really made an impression on me… I guess I’m the opposite of fast fashion!
Given that my shop is in Los Angeles, I have always had various fashion professionals coming to my store to help them in their work. Costumers come in to pull pieces for TV shows and movies, stylists find awards show gowns for their clients, design team professionals, working for big fashion groups, come to my store to pull inspiration pieces for the big name designer bosses.
Probably worth mentioning, too, is that, for the most part of my design career, I have worked with “found fabric” – leftover yardage someone else didn’t use. This is now considered eco-friendly, but it also served another purpose; it was a great way of avoiding the huge minimums usually required by fabric mills. I’m all about repurposing whenever I can, too (although it wasn’t called that when I first started designing, either) but again, it’s about not wasting perfectly good fabric.
For example, if I initially made linen dresses and skirts with 200 yards of found fabric and had a few yards left, I wouldn’t throw the leftover material away. I’d hang on to the yardage and the next year, make linen napkins. The leftover silk for my blouses (often limited edition pieces — again with found fabrics) later is transformed into bias finishes for dresses and skirts — or gets pieced into one of my one of a kind silk collage scarves. All these years later, however, I am considered an eco-friendly designer as a result of these practices — and I’m happy about that — but really– eco-friendly is just common sense, isn’t it?
When I first opened my store, I always offered a size run of a style. Now, I may show one or two sizes and hold back the rest, so I can still have fabric to create a custom size for someone who might request it. I also had a lot more vintage barware and tabletop when I first opened and now most of my homewares are new, French and geared to hostess or wedding gifts. I am also including a diffusion line of accessible clothes at much lower price points. A sign of the times, for sure. But needed to balance against the custom order pieces, which while I am told are quite reasonable, are not always suitable for the everyday customer.
I attribute the longevity of my business to loyal, local, repeat customers – many out of town clients who can’t find in their hometown (or online) what they find in my shop (and often say we are their first stop when they come to LA). I also think adding the wardrobe styling element to my offerings has broadened the customer base, as well as creating custom sizes and versions of my designs. Customer service and the personal attention we offer is something people remark upon over and over again. And people are always pleased (and often surprised) to find out they are talking with the designer and creative director.
Advice to any entrepreneur:
Ask lots and lots questions, before and after you start your business
Listen to your customers
Never be too proud to learn how to work a different way
Have the courage to correct a mistake and move on
Trust your gut — if it feels right — try it, even if cautiously, at first. If it feels wrong — just don’t — no matter who says you should.
If you find joy in your work and make it infectious, your customers will gravitate toward what you are offering them in your work
Work hard but always include fun in the process
Find out more about Nathalie Seaver here. And visit her store at 8360 West 3rd Street.
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