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Meet: Designer Trina Turk

The Bay Area raised designer shares her thoughts on growing up crafty, collaborating with Banana Republic, and how a little dress company became a California lifestyle brand.

All photos courtesy of Trina Turk

Forget San Francisco. Walnut Creek’s Neiman Marcus continues to draw top tier designers to the East Bay, making a trip across the Bay Bridge feel unnecessary. The latest style icon to hit our neck of the woods? Bay Area native Trina Turk, who caught up with personal style consultant and Diablo style writer Carolyn Rovner during a personal appearance at the department store in September.

Who were your style influences when you were growing up?

I was born in San Francisco, and grew up in San Jose.  My mom sewed and was “Mrs. Crafty.” She was always making things—my clothes, curtains, and pillows.  I grew up in the 60s, so we would do crafts that involved batik, sand candles, and tie-dye. California itself influenced my approach to color and fabric. My dad took us to every national park in California, so the prints we do have an organic feel to them. Now, living in LA, it’s hard not to be inspired if you have your eyes open.  We really embrace the fact we are west coast based.

What made you want to be a fashion designer?

I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer as soon as I learned how to sew when I was eleven years old.  That’s when I started looking at magazines, and became obsessed with fashion.  When my mother explained to me that I didn’t have to follow a pattern it was a big revelation!  I went on to study Apparel Design at the University of Washington.

Trina Turk is a lifestyle brand.  Is it what you envisioned 17 years ago when you started your company?

When I started working as a designer, I worked in the junior market for 12 years.  The clothes were less expensive, and I was always yearning to do something a little nicer, and something that I would actually wear.  In the beginning, I was just thinking about what I wanted to wear. I thought, maybe I’ll start a small company, and I’ll make some dresses. Our focus on print led us into swimwear, then into residential fabrics. Through Trina Turk’s focus on color, print and textiles, it organically evolved into these other categories. It just kind of happened. 

What was the collaboration with Banana Republic in summer 2012 like?

It was great.  It got the Trina Turk name out to people who were not familiar with the brand, and long-time customers liked re-visiting some classic prints.

Tell me about your fall collection.

We’re trying to inject the color that Trina Turk customers expect from us into the fall/winter/holiday collection, so that it’s not all gray, brown, black, and camel.  I think those neutrals set the tone for fall, but we try to keep it colorful.  There is a lot of color in the collection.

One of the big trends for fall is mixing patterns.  What are your tips for women who may be trying that trend for the first time this season?

I think you need to be confident to mix patterns.  The easiest way to jump in is to mix neutrals, like black and white or black and camel.  It gets more complex when mixing multi-color prints with other multi-colors.  Try it in a small way, like wearing a print blouse with another print scarf tied onto your handbag.  Be adventurous…jump in!

What are your wardrobe essentials?

You’ve got to have a skinny black pant; a thin, fine-gauge turtleneck; a bright-colored cocktail dress; and a great pump—either open-toe or platform or snakeskin.

What are your fashion challenges?

My biggest fashion challenge is having enough room for my wardrobe in my house! (laughs) I don’t see fashion as a challenge; I see it as a party! 

How has your personal style evolved?

It’s gotten more bohemian.  In the 80s, I was “Miss New Wave Girl,” wearing things with a very hard edge.  Maybe with my influences from Palm Springs or just traveling, I’m interested in more textiles and textures.

What are you working on now?

We’re wrapping up Summer 2013, and starting to work on Fall 2013.  Our muse for the season is Faye Dunaway from the movie Network: relaxed, chic working girl.  Even though she was a network executive, she was still sexy.

What’s the best thing about being Trina Turk?

Ultimately, the best thing about being me is that I’m doing something that I really love.  I love fashion, I love color, I love prints, I love fabric.  And I get to play with those things everyday…that’s the best!


Neiman Marcus, 1000 S. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 279-3000, neimanmarcus.com.
Trina Turk: 1223 Burlingame Ave., Burlingame, (650) 340-8540, trinaturk.com. Apparel and accessories can also be found at Flaunt in Danville, Specialtees in Lafayette, Iniam in Oakland, and Walnut Creek’s Nordstrom.