Women Who Inspire: Kendall Conrad
“Simplicity plus practicality equals sophistication.” This belief embodies designer Kendall Conrad’s personal style, as well as the aesthetic of her West Coast stores and eponymous line of accessories.
Now in her forties, the Californian beauty is the epitome of chic, with a dash of Spanish charm. (Conrad spent time in Spain as a child with her artist parents as her father was also a bull fighter.)
Conrad creates high-end yet understated accessories (read: no giant logos). She believes that beauty is found in the simple things. “I’m not a clotheshorse. I want to put on a smock and then accessorize it. I think that clothes should be a bank canvas; it’s how you dress up the canvas that creates style,” she says. She carries this ideal through to her home as well, preferring neutral furniture, then adding color and character with flowers, books, candles, and art.
Conrad, who grew up in Santa Barbara, traveled the world as a fashion model before returning home with her husband, photographer David Cameron. It was in 2000, while pregnant with their second daughter, that Conrad created her handbag line, Tauro. “I started with handbags; that was the first vehicle for my creative outlet. These bags were my aesthetic, but a little more hippie, a little less refined,” she says.
As the company grew, Conrad took a stand against manufacturing in China, choosing California instead, and went on to create the label Kendall Conrad in 2008. “My bags come from a starting point of functionality and then a ‘look,’” she says.
“I’m super reductive, so I’m always taking things off the bags.” Two years later she opened a store in Venice, then another in Brentwood, and a third in Montecito. Conrad has plans to open her fourth store next year in a location yet to be revealed.
Conrad uses only sustainable, food-grade leather (a byproduct of the food industry) in her handbags. She prides herself on not wasting anything, using every piece of leather — even a 2-by-2-inch scrap will be turned into a key chain!
“I couldn’t just sell handbags in my store,” Conrad says, “so I started making small case goods as well, belts and cuffs to accessorize more fully. Then, of course, each leather cuff needed a matching sandal.”
A jewelry line was a natural evolution. “We started out with brass and we added gold, silver, and everything in between.” Designs are inspired by, among other things, walks on the beach, where she collects seaweed, shells, and rocks.
Conrad relies on yoga to keep her mind focused and her body fit. “I am currently obsessed with yoga,” she says. “It makes me feel great and wakes up my brain. Afterward, I am revitalized and ready to get back to work.” She also uses her own, toxin-free bee’s wax candles to set the right mood while working at her desk.
“These days,” she says, “I am healthier than I have ever been and feel better than ever. If something gets broken, I fix it. I had shoulder surgery and now it’s back 100 percent. I had Lasik eye surgery, and now I have 24/24 vision.”
“When I became a mother, I felt more adult. I’ve gotten smarter with age. I want to set an example for my children.” Though responsibility has made Conrad more serious, she still loves to have a good time. “It’s hard not to be serious, running a business, but catch me on the weekend,” she says.