This story is part of Image issue 11, “Renovation,” where we explore the architecture of everyday life — and what it would look like to tear it all down. Read the whole issue here.
Renovating one’s style begins at home. And by home, Keyla Marquez means the various places around town where the “L.A.-edgy girl vibe,” as she calls it, lives. “L.A. girls, they don’t give a f—. There’s something about L.A. culture and the way it seeps into fashion — Sundays at the car show, Sundays at the flea market. Girls just look good. And they feel good too. You feel their energy,” she says. “There’s so much originality in the way these girls dress — they thrift, they vintage. The way the kids dress out here is so cool — the way they mix vintage with designer with their DIY. Like all these DIY kids that sell on Melrose … I always stop and look at their stuff. The kids will literally just put up their rack and a tent. This is the youth evolving and renovating fashion. They’re making up their own stores on the streets.”
Marquez, who has styled L.A. luminaries like Mia Carucci, Cherry Glazerr and Mandy Harris Williams, takes her inspiration from the way in which L.A. girls develop a consciousness — an awareness — of their sexiness and draw power from it. The right outfit can alter your mood when you see how it works with you in the mirror; it can change the way you feel. For Marquez, an empowering outfit looks like her new ensemble from Freak City: a pair of blue pants with a skirt sewn on and a matching hoodie all covered in orange flames. “Every time I wear that, people are like WTF, Keyla, and I’m like, ‘I know I look good,’” she laughs. “I actually wore that on a second date with a guy.”
Experience guides Marquez’s approach to making meaning from clothes. She was born in El Salvador amid a civil war. She spent her time with her grandmother and mother, who both ran their own clothing lines out of their homes. Her grandmother, who had the biggest house on the block, welcomed the women in the neighborhood and crafted ruffled velvet dresses for them to wear on weekends. “War shaped me in a traumatic way, but now that I’m healing, I see it as empowering because I got to see the power of community,” Marquez reflects. “It’s like making magical moments out of tragedy.”
“Politics but make it fashion” is a slogan you’ll often find in Marquez’s Instagram posts. When photos of children in cages surfaced in the news in 2018, Marquez designed bright T-shirts splashed with the words “NO ICE.” “I crossed the border when I was 5,” she says. “That could have been us.” The shirts raised $6,000 for the separated families. And in 2020, she once again mined the potential of a simple article of clothing when she asked artists to reinterpret the white T-shirt; all proceeds went to families affected by COVID-19.
This summer, Marquez is launching Lujo Depot, which she describes as an “online wardrobe rental showroom for the industry by the industry.” She plans to feature smaller, lesser-known designers and to run a blog broadcasting the undertold stories of the designers and “what inspired them.”
Marquez recognizes that there is a story behind every project. For her, that story is intertwined with how and where she grew up. “I love L.A. so much. So much of my work is L.A.,” she says. “Now that the culture I grew up living in is finally getting agency and support, it’s really beautiful. I get to style based on the life I’ve lived here. When I get to do jobs that represent L.A., it’s like, it’s me. I am L.A.”
Elisa Wouk Almino: You started by working in architecture and design. Did that influence the way you compose an outfit?
Keyla Marquez: One hundred percent. I understand construction. I understand fabrics. Understand the foundations of design. Working at an architecture firm helped me get a better understanding of how colors and imagery work. I learned theory and balance. And how to put a deck together — half our jobs are in front of the computer putting these decks together for clients, trying to sell a vision or idea.
EWA: How would you describe your mark as a stylist?
KM: I don’t ever style someone in something they would never wear. I love colors. I love L.A., and I love jewelry — my jewelry kit is insane.
EWA: What is one thing you can do to an outfit to make it feel new or fresh?
KM: Accessories. A good belt, a good chain. A flashy shoe. An oversized jacket. One thing that’s super extra. A big gold hoop.
EWA: Tell me about your love for bows.
KM: My dad passed six years ago, and I got all these ribbons made with his name on them. It’s me always having a part of him with me. I also want to look like a present to the world.
EWA: What is an outdated notion around style that needs to go?
KM: Sex. Male and female. There shouldn’t be clothing for just men or clothing for just women.
EWA: How can we be a little freer, a little more innovative with style?
KM: When I was younger, I used to limit myself with clothing a lot. I used to be like, “I’m short with that,” or “I can’t wear X thing because it makes me look fat.” I’m so over that now. Everything looks good if you give it that attitude. It’s all about approach. We have to give clothing that space and that freedom to be more than just what you think it is.
EWA: Who is an L.A. designer renovating style?
KM: A lot of my friends’ brands that I support so much and are a part of my community — for example, Gypsy Sport. He’s so good at upcycling and taking our culture and making it work for us. Making it fashion. Growing up in L.A., our culture was never seen as fashion. People thought, “They’re poor, they’re ghetto.” And now we have Vogue doing articles on brands like Gypsy Sport or No Sesso. That’s also a renovation of old-fashioned ideals — celebrating things that once were looked down on because immigrants are not really celebrated. But we’re changing that slowly. Because immigrants are now coming into positions of power. And we’re getting paid to tell our story.
EWA: What are three adjectives you would use to describe your personal style?
KM: Powerful, confident, daring. I don’t care what people think when they see me. I am that b—.
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