Ryan McDonald

Couture D’Pier

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From left: Stella Pulos, Kaitlyn Wade, Brooke Jadon, Dalas Dodd, Maddie Wade and Sarah Schneir in the looks of Marcia Schneir on the sand in Manhattan Beach.

Marcia Schneir designs for the pearls-and-sandals crowd

By Ryan McDonald

Marcia Schneir can often be found with a gaggle of children and a studio’s worth of art supplies, urging the kids to find the beauty in a lifeguard tower or a sunset. And then, sometimes in the same day, she pushes herself to find the right cut of cloth to be worn in front of that same lifeguard tower or setting sun.

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The Manhattan Beach resident is a fashion designer whose latest venture, Marcia, reflects both her love of her hometown and her aspirations for what style can offer. She brings an artistic sensibility to fashion, a field in which looking good and selling well can be hard to disentangle. Marcia, Schneir readily acknowledges, will not displace H&M; you won’t be able to buy it at Target. But Schneir is betting that her small-scale, higher-end approach — all clothes are to be sewn in California — fills a need that people might not yet realize exists yet.

For all its obsession with fitness and body image, the South Bay can be a dispiriting place for those who like to dress up, Schneir said. She loves the area’s beach vibe, but thinks there’s nothing inconsistent about wearing, say, pearls with sandals. She sometimes finds herself looking around at the get-ups worn by her fellow women, and feeling as though there are “no other options besides Lululemon and Aviva,” the popular athleisure brands.

Looking at her children and their friends, Schneir finds things dimmer still for teen and tween girls. It’s an awkward stage in life, and not an easy one to dress for either.

“They’re not a little kid anymore, but they’re not adults either. The girls, often times they’ve grown taller than the boys. And there’s nothing for them. As a parent, you still want her to be a little girl, but she doesn’t want to be a baby,” she said.

Schneir is her own selling point in the effort. She recalled that once, while dropping her kids off at school, one of the teachers asked her what she did for a living. He noticed that she had worn a leather-style jacket one day, and floral print the following.

“He said, ‘What do you do for a living? Every day I see you wearing such a different outfit.’ And I said, ‘Well I design clothes.’ When you’re designing just for one person, you have to dress in a way that will make the person comfortable. It’s not like you’re playing a role, but they start to trust you more. It’s a matter of being respectful,” she said.

Among those who have been put at ease by Schneir’s poise is actress Alicia Coppola. Schneir has designed several dresses for Coppola, including most recently one worn for a Golden Globes after-party. Her past experiences with awards show fashion tended to be impersonal, Coppola said: a designer will have a gown ready, they’ll fit her into it, “and when the clock turns 12 it has to go back.”

For the Globes dress, Schneir came to her home and sewed it to fit her body. And the personal feel stretched beyond the awards. Coppola kept the dress, and still wears it.

Such a personal approach to design, though, requires a certain level of trust by the wearer, and confidence by the designer. Coppola already knew Schneir because their kids went to school together. Seeing how Schneir composed herself, Coppola felt ready to be taken on a journey.

“Her style is a really good mixture of high-end and low-end. She’s just got a great sense of

herself. The hair, the perfume, everything comes together in this elegant but street-smart way,” Coppola said.

Schneir said that conversations with local families helped her notice a gap in fashion for South Bay women, including its tweens.

Along the beach

Schneir grew up in Mexico. As a child, she lived next door to a kindly old woman who seemed capable of anything with a needle and thread. From an early age, she was filled with ideas and was constantly drawing things or grabbing swaths of fabric and taking them to the woman next door, and seeing them brought to life.

“From that point, it was either being a heart surgeon or a fashion designer. If you really think about it, it’s all working with your hands,” Schneir said.

She eventually made her way to Southern California, where she bounced around in a coastal triangle: living in Venice, working at a clothing store in Redondo Beach, and attending fashion school in Long Beach.

Given all this traveling, it’s not surprising that the logo for Marcia is a bike.

Marcia’s logo of a bicycle evokes the frivolity associated with a ride on The Strand.

She frequently rode down to Manhattan Beach from Venice with friends to grab a beer and burger. She met her future husband on one of these bike rides, and can still recall what she was wearing with the precision of a police all-points-bulletin, a gift that shows how attuned she is to what she wears, and reveals how much style can change over time. She wore Bongo Jeans, white LA gear high-tops, and a Guess white denim jacket. Her hair cascaded down her back in a stream of untamed curls, “like Shakira,” she said with a laugh.

For Schneir, the bike embodies both a spirit of casual connectivity, and openness and visibility to the world. Schneir said that sculptor Alexander Calder is one of her favorite artists, and it shows in the rough-hewn strand cruiser that serves as Marcia’s logo. It looks as though it were fitted together with unfolded, golden paper clips, and has the same loose, jangly feel as a Calder mobile. During an interview, I accidentally bumped one of these miniature bikes with my hand and reflexively apologized, but Schneir was nonplussed.  

“Don’t worry: It’s supposed to move. I don’t like art that sits,” she said.

Very little sitting goes on in the art classes that Schneir teaches for local kids. She’s a fan of the Young at Art program, but thinks that kids can always use more, and found a set of parents living nearby who agreed. Hence, her free-spirited sessions, which usually take place outdoors. Recently, the kids painted her fence to read, “Save the Earth: It’s the only planet with candy.” The words appear in ultramarine, sans serif lettering, and evoke a sign for a kid’s lemonade stand designed by Saatchi & Saatchi.

Over the years, Schneir has done design work on behalf of Hollywood studios like Disney and Warner Brothers. She has another label, Street Honey, but says that her latest work is more informed by living along the coast. She held a debut fashion show at Shade in Manhattan Beach last month.

The work of designing clothes, sewing them, and then preparing them for a fashion show can be intense and hectic, and only so much can be done ahead of time. Schneir said that she did not sleep for two days leading up the Shade show. But while fashion may be 75 percent a business, as Schneir describes it, it’s the other 25 percent that sets a line apart. And it’s that quarter that helps both the dresser and the dressed look and feels their best.

“Art is the only place you can make mistakes. Thank God for the eraser, or the close shade of paint. You can always spray paint a canvas again. Where else in life can you do that?” she said.

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