Gil Rodriguez, the Made-in-LA Essentials Brand
Gil Rodriguez, the Made-in-LA Essentials Brand
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY : DREW ESCRIVA
Just after shooting the latest campaign imagery for the Los Angeles-based fashion brand Gil Rodriguez, long-time friends, photographer Drew Escriva and designer and owner of the brand, Eliana Gil Rodriguez, took a moment to chat about starting your own brand, sustainability and the state of fashion.
Remind me how long it’s been since the birth of Gil Rodriguez.
We launched in July 2018; so it’s coming up on a year pretty soon.
And how long was it in the making?
I’ve been working on it to various extents since I left American Apparel four years ago. In that time, it took on so many different forms until I was ready to launch. I worked more intensely on it for about six months leading up to the launch.
What would you say your initial priority was with the line, if you had to narrow down?
Well I think the reason that the concept didn’t fully crystallize until six months before the launch, is that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be in fashion anymore. I was kind of jaded by the whole thing. It seemed really wasteful frankly, and pointless. so I had a couple of years where I wanted to start a line, but I also didn’t feel there was a purpose. There were so many lines launching — people making beautiful things, but making things people don’t really need. Trends were getting faster and faster, and I was a bit turned off. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in the industry at all. But as time went on and I experimented with other projects, I started to notice how difficult it was to find basics — especially after the downfall of American Apparel. I’d hunt down vintage basics, but then you could never get the same thing again if you wanted to, or in a different color. And then I realized that was actually something that was a more sustainable model. It wasn’t changing every five minutes; you didn’t have to sell someone something new constantly. It was something that was classic enough that you could wear for years. That just felt a lot better to me, and more true to my experience and my strengths that I’ve developed in my career.
Interesting. I feel like I’m learning a lot about that. I didn’t realize you had a moment where you’d wanted to leave fashion. What else did you see yourself pursuing?
Well, I was at American Apparel for 10 years, so when I left that company I was really lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to get stuck for another 10 years in another corporate company. So I tried out a lot of things; I tried producing, acting, modeling. I did a lot of freelancing: creative direction, styling. I was bouncing around for a while until I knew what I really wanted to do with Gil Rodriguez.
Having done all those things, do you feel like being your own boss is more rewarding?
Yeah it is. But you also get out what you put in. Start-ups are hard; you don’t have a lot of the structures of a big company. You don’t have the same safety net. If you take a day off, then the whole company is taking a day off. So it’s challenging, but also very rewarding.
What has your experience been in trying to balance art and commerce? Do you see fashion as art or as a business?
It’s definitely a compromise between the two. You have to wrestle with the practical realities of running a business. That being said, I try to be true to my creative influences and what I’m drawn to because I think that’s what gives the brand its identity. So it’s a balance and a constant compromise between these two things pulling at you.
And with creative influence, do you have specific designers you’ve always looked up to, whether creatively or for their business practices?
Yes, I have a real admiration for designers who were able to do a very specific recognisable thing very well, over a long period of time. People who didn’t have to constantly reinvent themselves. I think of Azzedine Alaia; he honed his craft in a specific space and did the same thing in various forms while evolving. You can recognize his work right away. It spoke for itself without a great deal of marketing. Issey Miyaki, especially with Pleats Please, created something so timeless that was an investment in the ’80s and is still an investment today. I find that very admirable and something I aspire to — to not have to change as fast as the industry is for survival.
Yeah, how do you push back against the industry? It’s very challenging. I’m thinking of myself as a photographer. People want constant content. Do you think there will be a return to the old ways? Sort of like the more things change the more they stay the same?
I think so, it’s a pendulum swing. It’s clear it’s getting unsustainably fast and incredibly wasteful in terms of fashion. People are getting used to consuming products that are basically single use. Brands like H&M and Zara pick up big designer trends that people are purchasing but it’s not made well and you wear it once and that’s what people are used to. I think at the same time though there is a big backlash against that. It’s not healthy or sustainable for the planet or individuals. It’s causing people to be depressed and feel like they have to constantly be purchasing new things in order to just keep up. I think there is a more sustainable way of doing things that makes people feel better. I see it with myself and I gravitate towards that. People around me gravitate towards that. I’m sensing more and more shifting as well. I do what I think is right and what I think is missing and what I would want and hope people respond to it, and so far they have.
Do you think for the future you see Gil Rodriguz stores, or more of a physical presence?
I would really like that, I have to see how much sense it makes and take it one day at a time. But I think that would be amazing, people could try it on and have more of an immersive experience.
There is something to say for the physical shopping experience. Having worked in retail myself, there is a joy in communicating with people, that collaborative exchange. After working in a company and understanding what it’s like being a part of a team, do you have an inclination to work in a partnership or on a team for your business now?
I’m a bit of both. In my days in American Apparel, I was a recluse and locked myself in my office to do my creative work. I find it difficult to keep in touch with my instincts with more people around. But on the other hand, I really love working with other people and am a team player. It’s refreshing to find this with Gil Rodriguz, because before I was doing everything myself and didn’t work with a lot of people. It got lonely, and there was no one to bounce ideas off of and speak out loud to to develop my ideas. It’s been nice to start building a team. It’s been such a beautiful collaborative process in the sense that I don’t know that I’ve experienced anything like it. It feels like we’re equals going into something without any expectations but a lot of curiosity and creating something special.
I think curiosity is good. I think there’s something in fashion, photography, and art in general, where going into things with a sense of, “We must have this outcome, this is exactly how it should look,” and trying to match everyone’s visions is a losing game.
One of the reasons why everything feels stale in fashion is because to a certain degree everyone has access to the same references and everyone is putting together beautiful moodboards that look the same. If you get too attached to how you want the final outcome to look, you’re going to miss out on any of the accidental magic that you stumble across when you’re in an open-ended creative experience.
Is there a way you feel like you can get that no expectations in design?
There are so many different ways to approach design. You can go into it with, “I’ve had this amazing experience with these vintage unitards and I wish I could get unitards exactly the way I want them,” and that’s what I do a lot of. A lot of the designs are not revolutionary in the sense of reinventing the wheel or anything. I’m just designing things exactly the way I would want them. I can’t seem to find anything like that on the market, so I’m just making it myself.
It’s a simple approach when it comes down to it, just making something that you would want.
Yeah I’m also not making couture gowns. I’m making practical everyday essentials. It is a creative process in a way. Thinking about what kind of life you wanna live, what kind of feeling do you wanna have while you wear the clothes. That is a creative process in it of itself, but it’s not art. How you present it can be artistic, but how you build the universe around it is a deeper creative process.
Inclusivity and diversity. It is a power and responsibility to be in control of images and presenting clothing into the world. Do you feel pressured by larger companies that are expanding their size ranges?
Inclusivity and representation is what this movement is about. Representation is incredibly important. I remember seeing the first actress as a kid that kind of looked like me and that was a big deal for me. I idolized them, like Michelle Rodriguez and Penelope Cruz — beautiful, strong Latin women. I very much first hand understand the power of being represented and seeing yourself in public figures, even down to the image of someone on the back of a newspaper. And I think that for myself and for my brand I don’t believe in this idea of inclusivity for the sake of inclusivity and making sure to check off all the boxes to make sure no one feels left out. I prefer an approach that’s more organic. And using the diverse community that is already around feels more authentic to me and my brand. As much as I strive for representation, I strive to be surrounded by more diverse people that I think represent my brand well. I’m not so entirely concerned that every shoot has a black girl, an Asian girl, a white girl, hispanic, etc. — their range and sizes are perfectly proportionate so that all the boxes are checked and we’re protected from any backlash. I think that misses the point and is a defensive move within a culture where calling big companies out is prevalent. I like the way we do it. It feels real and we pick models because we think they’re beautiful and interesting, not because of any individual characteristic of their physique. It’s a whole package deal and I think if you go into it with that attitude, you will embody diversity authentically. When I was modeling I did a lot of shoots where I felt like I was a token. It was me and other tokens and we were used to being cast in this one role, over and over again. I think that even though that’s an amazing thing in the sense that all these different types of people are now being represented in advertising, I think tokenism is a two sided coin — no pun intended. I felt like they weren’t seeing who I really am. I was just the ethnically ambiguous Latina girl.
I would imagine that part of that is because those calling the shots see inclusivity and diversity as something that only exists in ad marketing and not in their own life, not in their own community. And when they are not only surrounded by people that look the same then that’s where things start to organically fall into place, because that becomes their world — and that’s what your world looks like.
Exactly. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. I want to expand our size range to fit more sizes. There are certain things we want to expand into as well, but we want to do it at our own pace and for reasons that feel right to us.
If you had a different career in a different city, what would your life look like?
I kind of thought I was going to become a physicist or psychologist. That was my academic leaning before I moved to LA. But who knows? Maybe a fisherwoman.