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Conversations with the Inspiring Amanda James

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amanda James.

Amanda, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My first design memory is haphazardly gluing together clothes for my barbies, eager to transform old doilies into fashion looks for my dolls. Now I design custom bridalwear & most recently had a gown worn to the Grammys!

Gowning up my parents always had stacks of Architectural Digest laying around. I fell in love with color and texture by flipping through those pages, and more specifically, chopping them up! There was a freedom in creating “dream house” vignettes from my scrap piles of inspiration. It was a cheap hobby that allowed me to think big. I did the same with Vogue and Harpers Bazaar- styling my ultimate looks, chopping up the pages, merchandising mood boards. As cheesy as it sounds, I loved the feeling of being inspired. The moment you feel sparked by a color or silhouette or layers of texture, and then transforming those elements into something new. Whether it be via mood board or by taking an old tablecloth and designing a dress out of it! I loved concepting and creating, whatever the medium.

After graduating from FIDM, my first official design job was with Hale Bob, a company I would be with for almost a decade. I traveled all over the world attending design shows and working with mills and factories on artwork for prints, embroidery, beading designs, specialty silk weaves, velvet burnouts, jacquards and knits. I developed an appreciation for technical know-how, textile design, and sewing construction. There were few limitations to what I was able to concept and what we could materialize, from the weaving down to the actual dress.

The work itself was rewarding on a creative level, and the travel continues to inspire me today. India, China, France, Japan, Indonesia- so much variety in culture, heritage, technique, use of color. All of it seeped into my brain and aspects continually emerge as new ideas. Rooftop tile designs inspiring motifs for printed dresses. Ancient embroidery techniques combined with memories of Balinese flowers inspiring new designs for beaded necklines. Faded building facades in rural villages inspiring color combinations. Gilded sarees worn walking through a marketplace reminding me that beautiful, decorated things can and should be worn every day!

Even in designing my current bridal collection (which is so different from my past body of work of mostly contemporary ready-to-wear), I find that these travel memories sneak their way into current designs. The collection is rich and novel, full of embroideries and textures. Looking back, I can see how all of my previous experiences have collided to inform my current collection and brand.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Not easy!

I recognize that I am fortunate to have found my passion and know what I want to do for a living, but turning that into a career has been straight up hard work. And then taking the giant step from salaried employee to business owner was the absolute hardest.

I was listening to a podcast called Dear Sugars over the weekend. They were talking about the difference between courage and fearlessness. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is acting in spite of fear.

Most of my successes have actualized because I leapt into the situation even though it was hard and I was scared. Hustle and courage has moved me forward even when I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be. I am big on writing goal lists, both professionally and personally. Rather than letting fear guide me, I use my goals as a checklist for deciding how to move forward. It is not easy, but it’s usually what ultimately brings me the most satisfaction.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Amanda James story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m grateful to be working out of a gorgeous studio overlooking DTLA which is where I meet with clients to view my bridal collection and to design custom looks. I work with women both local and remote. Those that don’t live in LA, fly in to see me, while others are happy to work together via email or facetime.

The ensembles can be ordered as they are, or since everything is custom made, design details can easily be changed. You can mix the bodice of one look with the skirt of another or swap fabrics between silhouettes. I love sketching, sourcing new textiles, designing new embroideries, whatever is needed. I think women really respond to that flexibility and collaborative approach.

The collection is feminine, sophisticated and rich in texture. The stand out silhouettes from the line have been the capes and pantsuits. The capes are basically gowns themselves! The Evelyn is two-tiered, has a full-length train, ties at the waist and is adorned in 3d hand-embroidered flowering vines. The Jasmine Pantsuit is made from subtle, bias cut, variegated stripes. Rather than a traditional tuxedo jacket, I opted for a plunging corset bodice embellished with organza petal appliqué along the neckline and sprinkled that with sparkle! Each style is unique and has a strong point of view.

It has been amazing to foster that point of view as I work with more and more women. They inspire me! Designing for larger companies meant there were sales teams that interacted with the buyers and end consumers. I missed out on being able to connect with the people wearing things I created. Working directly with the women wearing these special pieces has been one of the most rewarding parts of starting this business- and it was one of the things I was most scared of!

One of my goals as I expand the brand is to make sure that personal connection stays intact.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs or other resources that help you do your best in life or otherwise?
Of course none come to mind now, except for Dear Sugars which I mentioned earlier!

The resource I rely on the most are mentors and collaborators. I learn and ideate through doing and discussion. If I’ve been isolated in a room or with a problem for too long, I fall into cyclical thought patterns that don’t lead to new ideas or breakthroughs. Designing and problem-solving in a vacuum makes me feel stuck. I’ve worked through these situations enough to recognize the “stuck” feeling and now know it means that I need to shake things up.

I need to talk to the people in my life that inspire me. I need to get myself out of the house and see something new. In order to change my perspective regarding the problem, I need to change my environment or the conversation. That in turn facilitates a fresh thought process and allows me perform at my best.

An illustration teacher once taught me a trick to drawing from photos or reference pictures. She recommended turning the reference picture upside down. This allows our eye to see what shape, a tree with leaves for example, actually is and not the shapes and shadows our minds misremember. I use this same idea in my life all the time. When I am in the design room, I try dresses on backward, I cut sleeves off, I layer styles, anything that allows me to see the shape in a new way. When I change my perspective, usually a fresh idea emerges.

Understanding how your personal creative process gets a jump start takes time and diligence. Honing in on how my brain is activated has helped me do my best work creatively and personally.

Pricing:

  • Ensembles from the collection are between $1800-$7500. Layering pieces and capes are between $400-$2500. Pricing for totally unique looks start at $2500 and depend on the silhouette, type of fabric and level of embellishment. Come sip bubbly & play dress up!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Leta Taylor of Leta G Visuals, Nardia Niles of Foolishly Rushing In, David Studarus, Simon Blanc

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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