For our latest WELL CHOSEN artist series, we're talking to Bianca Branaman, the illuminating Los Angeles based designer who created Sugar Candy Mountain out of a desire for connecting comfort, beauty and community.
Tell us about your path to designing clothes, how did you get interested in it?
Originally, I started drawing and painting in my father’s studio in Big Sur. He is an artist and was a part of the Beatnik scene in the 50s and 60s. Through being around him, I discovered early on that I loved to make things and to be in that magical, creative space where there is no time. He’d put Coltrane on and give me some paper and pencils and I’d just draw and draw for hours.
That was in a part of Big Sur called Limekiln. Later we moved to Partington Ridge, also in Big Sur, where a more collective spirit was developing: we had shared vegetable gardens, chicken coops, goats, and horses. The men were painters, sculptors and musicians while the women (my mother included) would get together to make sack dresses from Indian bedspreads, jewelry, and leather sandals that they’d then sell at Nepenthe, a nearby restaurant and bar that had an store annex called The Phoenix. I was a little girl then, walking around with a pet tarantula in my pocket, (that I’d befriended in the forest!), and I just soaked up this entire scene. And this is definitely where my interest in designing clothes began.
What inspires your aesthetic?
I’m inspired by timeless design with an attention to detail that makes it special and well crafted. What really inspires my aesthetic is when form meets function, these ‘in between’ designs that can be worn from work to dinner, or to the beach.
Workwear and minimalism are constant sources of inspiration. You could say that I pull inspiration from extremes - I was a tomboy for most of my life but as I got older, I started dressing more feminine. I never used to wear dresses because they were so girly, but now I love dresses because they’re more minimal and comfortable. I’ve always felt funny embodying exaggerated, stereotypical femininity!
Where were you born and raised? If you could live in any other city where would that be?
I was born in San Francisco, where my father was part of the Beat culture. He was originally from Wichita, Kansas, but he left, for obvious reasons. He moved to SF in the 50s and I was born in the early 60s. My mother was a debutante and my father came from a working class farming family in Kansas. He was ridiculed for his art - he was misunderstood and called names, and the only people in his community who he could really relate to were in the city’s black community - he loved jazz and the whole scene.
Beat culture was a response to the 50s consumer culture of "keeping up with the Joneses,” of the cultural value of needing to have all of the latest stuff and having to look a certain way. And the Beats were rebelling against all of that and living in a completely different way. The community of Big Sur was certainly a bunch of like-minded people who wanted to experiment with carrying-out in real life experiments in living differently, in ways that were in stark contrast to structures that had solidified in society, and it was utopian in many ways
We had housing for separate families but the vegetable gardens and goats were communal and we lived off of what we grew and caught and went to town once a month for beans and rice. I ran around with packs of kids all day long, doing and making, building forts and coming up with stories. I didn’t watch television until I was eleven.
When we moved to New York City, it was a huge culture shock, yet it was really exciting, at least to me. I was seven and my extended communal family lived there until I was eleven. My mother was particularly social, and her philosophical, cultural, and spiritual activities led to an incredibly special circle of friends. I mean it’s crazy: I have pictures of myself as a kid, with Milos Forman and Mikhail Baryshnikov, all hanging out in our apartment. As a result of having a general level of comfort and satisfaction with particularly talented people, I’ve always felt a need to be plugged-in to what’s happening culturally and on the street. So at this stage of my life I feel pretty committed to living in either LA or NYC.
What does a typical day consist of?
A typical day at work usually involves running around Downtown LA overseeing production. You'd be amazed to see all that goes into making a garment! I usually wake up in the morning and give thanks for the love and abundance in my life, meditate for the well being of humanity and the environment, hug my husband and pet the cats. Then I start thinking about what I need to get done that day, which is usually either designing or production-managing.
What people, living or deceased, inspire you?
My mother is a huge inspiration to me, not only for her style but for her values. A lot of my sensibility comes from her - she was always so kind to every human being and looked amazing doing it. She would wear an Oscar de la Renta linen suit with a pair of sandals and would sew her own dresses. She had been raised a debutante but she saw the beauty in every living soul. In the 70s, she taught meditation to prisoners on Rikers Island. She was so graceful and articulate, which allowed her to move in any circle, transcending social and economic structures.
Tell us your favorite spots to shop and eat around L.A.
I love to cook and make almost all of my meals at home. There’s a new restaurant in our neighborhood, Journeymen, that I like - they have great naturally-leavened sourdough bread. I also love Cafe Stella in Silverlake, Erehwon and Lassen’s health food stores, Ostrich Farm in Echo Park, and good taco trucks! For clothes, I mostly shop vintage and splurge on about one new pair of shoes a year. For shoes, I love Rachel Comey and Martiniano.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your work?
I find the creative process the most rewarding and the cyclical, season-oriented fashion industry to be the most challenging. Production is difficult in general but especially when you’re producing clothing in an ethical and sustainable way while the infrastructure you’re operating within supports the opposite: waste, single-use plastic, exploitation of labor, etc
Tell us three overarching beliefs or ideals you have about today’s retail experience for artists.
I’m interested in a culture where art, design, craft, and sales can overlap, and in a new society that is more open than the old one. I would like to have more opportunities and time to collaborate locally with visual artists, as opposed to the fast-paced, seasonal wholesale market. As a designer I work behind the scenes. It’s a somewhat solitary activity, and I don’t often get to interact with the actual people buying my collections as much as I’d like to. I want to hear what people have to say, why they like something, why they don’t, and what they want. That’s why Midland is so special, because you include your designers and makers in the retail experience and empower both customers, designers, and makers in the process. And that personal connection makes all the difference! For myself and most people in my community, including the youth, the shopping mall is dead. No one I know wants to go to a scripted space that’s packed with mass-market stuff, and it takes hours of sorting through junk just to find (maybe) one cool thing. I find the mall experience totally impersonal and exhausting. I like a local, well-curated boutique, where I know people and don’t have to experience the overwhelming alienation of going to a mall.
If you had one quote to live by….
“More and more I come to value charity and love of one’s fellow being above everything else… All our lauded technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal.”
By: Albert Einstein
Bianca was photographed by Ashley Randall.
query: "Sugar Candy"