Los Angeles-based womenswear designer Heidi Merrick took her show on the road during the weekend, choosing to present her first full runway show on Saturday on a rustic plot of land she owns in the wilderness of Ventura County.
“This place calms me. I become more myself when I’m here,” the designer said of the 55-acre mix of orchards, forestland and sage-filled fields nestled in the hills between Ojai and Santa Barbara. “And it gives me the inspiration to go back [to L.A.] and do stuff.”
Merrick, who has traditionally presented her collections a few looks at a time in her downtown L.A. flagship store (where the production studio also is located), explained that she decided to switch things up as a way of signaling a shift in her business model.
“I decided this season that I wasn’t going to offer [my collection] to stores,” she said. “[Retailers] are always like, ‘You’re Heidi Merrick. You’re from California, and that’s what we want [the clothes] to be like.’ And we live such a broad life I want to be able to show that. So I’m pulling it in [from other retailers] and am going to open my own stores. I wanted to let people know I’m pulling it in because I have more to say without an edit.”
Merrick added that she’s currently looking at bricks-and-mortar locations on L.A’s Westside as well as Santa Barbara. (A Malibu pop-up closed earlier this year, but Merrick said she’s also looking at potential locations in that beach locale.)
Merrick’s spring and summer 2020 collection was noteworthy for another reason too. It was the first in the brand’s 13-year history to include menswear offerings, some pieces modeled by longtime friend John Pearson, who also, it turns out, had a hand in convincing the designer to move into men’s. (A notable ’90s male model, Pearson appeared in singer George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” video.)
“We were at this party, and I was wearing these high-waisted pants and he kept saying, ‘Heidi, your clothes are so classic. You really need to make those for men.’ So I bought this pink palm-tree print I thought would be perfect for a dude’s shirt but then I kept chickening out and only using it for women’s pieces. He kept urging me to do it so I finally decided, ‘OK, it’s time to do men’s.’”
That palm-tree print (in two color combinations — pale pink against black and yellow against a sandy brown) appeared in a range of pieces including wide-legged, high-waisted women’s trousers and matching long-sleeve tops with tall ruffled collars, voluminous skirts and pajama-like men’s short-sleeve shirts.
Grounded in a palette of black, brown, white and gold, Merrick’s collection included oversized blazers, blazer jumpsuits and bodysuits for women as well as high-waisted pleated trousers and short-sleeve button-front shirts for men.
Playing off the back-to-nature vibe were fly-fishing-inspired vests, trousers inspired by park-ranger pants and an iris print that climbed and curled around shorts, trousers and belted, bathrobe-like dresses to add a subtle dash of tropical flair.
After the show, attendees were urged to pluck apples from the trees lining the dirt path back to the property’s front gate. If the move into menswear — and the switched-up distribution model — are as successful as that far-flung runway show seemed to be, those trees won’t be the only thing that bears fruit.