Getting Coachella Ready With Emily Ratajkowski’s Favorite Designer

Christy Dawn dresses

Christy Dawn Photo Shoot in Big Sur

Let me start by telling you that I am not a boho babe. Now, that is. I was that girl in college: long flowy dresses, Birkenstocks before they were deemed stylish, long flowing wavy hair. But, living in L.A., there are moments when I get nostalgic and still feel a hankering for my boho days gone by — not, however, around Coachella time, when I suffer acutely from Post Traumatic Fringe and Flower Crown Disorder.

Christy Dawn Festival Dress

Christy Dawn Festival Dress

But if I were that gal again, I would live in stylishly farm-girl frocks from Christy Dawn, created by Venice, Calif.-based designer Christy Dawn Petersen.

Petersen designs the kind of feminine dresses that one would wear to frolic in a sun-drenched field with nothing but a smile, some beat-up boots and a devil-may-care attitude. And famously free-spirited cool girls, from Emily Ratajkowski, Taylor Swift and Erin Wassen to Brooklyn Decker and Langely Fox wear her clothes in just that way — minus the flower fields.

Side note: Petersen and Ratajkowski (friends from their catalog modeling days), collaborated together on a small capsule collection earlier in the year.

But what makes Petersen’s dresses worth paying attention to isn’t simply the roster of “it” girls who have anointed the only six-month-old brand of pretty dresses. Rather, it is the care put into each dress and the environmentally friendly footprint of the line combined with Petersen’s commitment to manufacturing in Los Angeles and the brand’s accessible price point. (Most dresses run about $172 to $220.)

Petersen’s collection, sold only online and at her namesake Venice boutique, is sewn in Downtown L.A. using only upcycled dead stock fabric left over from fashion houses. While there are a number of classic styles that are constants in the collection, each one is a limited-edition piece owing to the quantity of the fabric. Often, one roll only has enough yardage to make four or five dresses.

And, if gorgeous dresses and the promise that scores of other cool girls will not be wearing your one-of-a-kind dress isn’t enough to woo you, perhaps the packaging is: Each dress is wrapped in kraft tissue, topped off with a bundle of lavender and delivered in a handmade cedar box that is hand engraved by one of Petersen’s friends. Uh, I’ll happily channel my inner boho babe just for the pretty box, thank you very much.

Christy Dawn Box

While it may seem like a lot of effort to go through for each individual dress, Petersen insists that the labor of love is not only worth it, but deeply satisfying. I  wanted to see for myself, so I popped by her Venice boutique/HQ, in a rapidly burgeoning area of South Lincoln Boulevard that is home to Superba bakery and eclectic Cali living lifestyle store darling The Golden State Store.

Emily Ratajkowski Shoot

Emily Ratajkowski

I stopped myself from buying a dress that day — in the name of professionalism, of course. But, I will admit that a subtly sexy white poplin number I spotted left me with fantasies of frolicking around those aforementioned sun-drenched fields and calling out, a la Robin Wright in The Princess Bride, “Farmboy, fetch me that pitcher.”

My own bucolic dreams aside, I spoke with Petersen about channeling our inner sexy farm girl, the realities of  manufacturing in LA and much more!

FASHION TRENDS DAILY: So how do you describe your designs?

CHRISTY DAWN PETERSEN: We have people write on our Instagram all the time: “I love your sexy grandma dresses.” I’m like, ‘ Oh thank you… question mark?’ It’s very, like, European farm country. That is the girl that I want to be.

FTD: That sounds oddly appealing. How does one do that? You mentioned to me that people have called your designs ‘conservative.’ But they’re certainly not styled that way in the lookbooks! Does this comment surprise you?

CDP: I think so! In L.A. … I think women think they need to be sexy by showing off their skin, but I think [sexiness] is more of a mood or a feeling. So when you express yourself and you feel sexy, you look sexy.

FTD: When were the seeds for Christy Dawn planted?

CDP: Where it really started for me was when I was younger and my mom would make my clothes and we would go vintage shopping and she would tailor my dresses or T-shirts or skirts, or whatever it was, to fit me.

FTD: Did you like that or did you want to just hit the mall?

CDP: I loved that!  I grew up in a really small town [Placerville, Calif.] and it would take an hour to get to the mall. But there were a ton of thrift stores and vintage stores around. … I’m inspired by a lot of vintage silhouettes but I modernize them to feel appropriate for this day and age.

FTD: So how did modern-day Christy Dawn come of age? Christydawnfabric

CDP: I modeled for like 10 to 12 years and I was always wearing other people’s dresses or clothing. … I was an e-commerce princess for years here in L.A., just wearing other people’s clothing all the time. So, I came home one day from work … and was like ‘I’m so inspired to do this! Let’s make six samples. I have the ideas in my head already and let’s sketch them out.’ And my husband [who previously ran a hat business] was like ‘OK, I’ll help you.’

FTD: What does it take to do business in L.A.?

CDP: Having it made in L.A., you’re more hands-on as the owner and designer of the business, which I love because I want the quality to be perfect for women who are wearing them every day. And I want them to last. That’s something that’s really important to us.

FTD: What does it cost to make the dresses?

CDP: I want to say that the range for our dresses being made are anywhere from  $40 to $65 [and up] just for sewing. Our silk dress costs $118 to sew and that’s NOT including the fabric. That’s not including the pattern maker, the pattern itself, and the grading [and more]. There are so many elements to making a garment.

FTD: The price points of your dresses are very reasonable for the quality. Was that something that was top of mind when designing this collection?

CDP: Totally! because I think if you can make a dress that’s handmade, and in L.A., and you’re giving a fair wage to all the people making your dress, but then it’s still affordable, that is amazing. . . . It costs a lot of money to make [these dresses] because everyone is getting a fair wage and there’s so much energy put into this. They’re truly artists, the people that are making our dresses. I feel like $200 for our dresses is a great price.

Christy Dawn_Sewing

FTD: By the same token, I appreciate that you recognize that our collective threshold for clothing prices just keeps getting crazier, and $200 is a serious deal breaker for some budgets!

CDP: I never could afford a $200 dress when I was in school or just moving to L.A.,  so  I want that option to be there for some women who maybe can’t afford it but are like, ‘I’ll treat myself and get this dress.’ Not all of us can afford a $200 dress, but there’s so much behind that $200 dress that you’re also supporting!

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Author:Michelle Dalton Tyree

Fashion Trends Daily is the brainchild of Michelle Dalton Tyree. She is the former West Coast Retail Editor for Women’s Wear Daily, Fashion Editor for The Japan Times, and founder of former L.A. luxury boutique Iconology. Michelle is frequently quoted about fashion retail trends in major media outlets such as NPR, KPCC, The Inside Source and the New York Times. She has developed content for many luxury brands and retailers and has written for Allure, Worth Global Style Network, Footwear News and other media outlets.