Jasmin Larian launched a bag that sparked a million Instagrams. In the short time since Cult Gaia's Ark bag has been released, it's been impossible not to scroll through street style photos and witness the iconic, structured bag on stylish women in Paris, Milan, New York and even Stockholm. The thing about the Ark bag is that it dominates an outfit without taking over. The way it's built, it can't be carried over the shoulder. Instead, it has to be carried with its handle. The bag is similar to a vintage Japanese picnic bag, but as the designer, Larian claims she takes inspiration from all over.
Earlier this year, Larian decided to redesign the bag in iterations of colorful acrylic. She also launched a handful of new bags, like the Lilleth, a sculptural top handle bag, and the adorable pig-shaped Babe. In keeping with her accesible prices, the most expensive option tops out at just over $300. The Los Angeles based designer also released clothing earlier this year, rendered in vintage-looking fabrics with an easy breezy L.A. aesthetic.
Here, we chatted with Larian about her random inspiration, sketching clothing on Parisian tabelcloths and her obsession with Bratz dolls.
KB You started out with flower crowns, but what made you decide to launch the iconic bag, and later on, clothing?
JL I always wanted to expand the line. And part of the brand DNA is things that are very instantly recognizable like the flower crown. So, this is a continuation of that. I also always believe that you start a brand with one to two iconic pieces and go from there. Especially at the beginning when investment is still high and you don’t necessarily have a following yet. I think every great brand has broken through that way.
KB How did the Ark bag become so successful?
JL If I knew exactly why it was a success we could replicate it over and over again, but I think it’s a lot of things. We made a bag that is instantly recognizable. It’s viral, in the sense that when you’re wearing it — everyone who’s worn it knows — that they haven’t received compliments like they ever have than when they wear that bag. You’re stopped in the street and conversations are started because of it. In the world of social media, you take a picture of it and people talk. The bag has become a form of social currency in a way.
KB A blogger once told me the closest thing to caring for a baby on an airplane is packing a Cult Gaia bag for travel.
JL [laughs] I should do a tutorial. It’s actually not that hard — at least the bamboo one — and most of our acrylic ones, since it’s woven, it’s malleable, if you put clothes inside of it, it won’t break because it moves. You know what I mean? We should put that on our website. We also made the Lilith, which basically folds flat.
KB I have some friends who display their Ark bags like art on their bookshelves. When it comes to designing bags, do you think it’s important to think of bags as an accesory that transcend fashion like that?
JL I feel like we have that philosophy when it comes to clothes. I mean, if you go to our store it feels like everything can be an object in its own right. I display my bags on my bookshelf sometimes. We have a few different tests to know if we have a good product and one of them is if you wear it out, if people stop you, if men also stop you, and if it would look good alone as an object on a coffee table.
KB You recently launched ready-to-wear and all of the pieces look very vintage. Is that something you were looking at in reference to the line?
JL Usually I have so many references — I did this with zero references, actually. Except for one dress that was actually a piece from my mom’s closet, the house dress. But I designed it when I was in Paris on a paper tablecloth. I was like okay, I know it. This is it. It was so instant, which is an amazing feeling.
This is what our aesthetic is – it feels very glamourous and sexy but easy and cool. Unfussy chic. I see all these girls right now – and street style is amazing – but no one looks like this ideal woman that I admired. I don’t see anyone as a role model for the feminine woman. I think there’s this misconception that in order to be sexy, it’s a little bit slutty or tacky. I think so many of our pieces are very very sexy. A lot of stuff is revealing but it feels...not slutty, you know. I think there’s a way to do both. That’s what my whole resort vibe was.
KB Your mom was a fashion designer. How has growing up with someone who was a fashion designer inspired your work?
JL I think I’m much more attentive to detail. She’s very, very specific about every little detail in a garment. I was also really trained and taught quality over quantity. I go in my mother’s closet and she has pieces from the '80s that are amazing. She doesn’t have a ton, but she has pieces, and that’s how our brand’s been built. We’re not really collection based we try to be more piece-based.
I mean, the modern girl is not going to buy every item in a collection when all of them almost look the same. I think the modern girl is buying pieces.
KB: What about your dad? I heard that he designed the Bratz dolls. Would you say you were inspired by the aesthetic of the Bratz dolls?
JL: He’s the manufacturer of the Bratz dolls. So, I grew up with that. That started when I was around 12 years old. I was around fashion designers because I was working there for a long time. I think the world has been inspired by the aesthetic of the Bratz dolls.
For me, it was an obsession. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It came out in a time when the girl band was hot. All these outfits that were on theme and on trend but were so edgy and cool and no one else was doing it. It’s amazing. I think I learned a lot about branding and marketing then. I also learned a lot about sketching. I learned about Prismacolor through the designers at MGA because they had all these markers. It was a little factory, but it was like a real fashion house. Just miniature. It’s sad that there’s no more fashion dolls. It doesn’t exist anymore because kids are into things that light up and stuff.
KB You said when you were designing your resort collection it just came to you. What about when you’re designing your bags?
JL Our bags are like a shot in the dark. Some were inspired by other things. Others are just – let’s try and make this crazy thing. And it takes forever. The thing is, our bags are not like a normal development thing. We have a bag that’s coming out for pre-fall. It’s taken over a year in development. I’m developing maybe 10 bags at a time and just seeing when it lands, seeing when we get it right. How do you make something that looks so impractical a practical piece object? That’s our biggest challenge.
KB Has there been one bag that you’ve wanted to make but haven’t because it’s too technically challenging?
JL I don’t like taking no for an answer, so every single one that I’ve wanted to make, we’ve tried and we’re getting there. Like the one that’s coming out for pre-fall we thought was impossible. It’s our first really woven bag. But it’s not actually woven. It’s like a fringe crocheted thing – that you have to figure out where you’re going to put everything. I think everything is possible. I have one bag that we started developing seven or eight months ago and we thought we had it. Then we played around with the prototype and wore it and it just wasn’t working out so we had to keep figuring it out until we get it right.