We Forgot Our Bikini Tops In California

by Eugenia Kim

L.A. womenswear label Toit Volant brings global inspiration to locally sourced luxury apparel
French for ‘flying roof,' Toit Volant is a womenswear line designed by former design professor Alnea Farahbella and her French partner, Arno Nabos. Her line is known for its contemporary minimalism made playful with cheeky embellishments. When asked who the poster Toit Volant woman would be, her assistant Susie Suh quips, “Older artsy women with asymmetrical haircuts.”

Suh is only half kidding. Toit Volant pairs well with $11 juice cleanses and Kinfolk perusing. It suits the crudité-nibbling crowd satirized so well by Fred Armisen. But Toit Volant designs are less GOOP, more everyday woman. She mindfully sets prices so that hustling women can feel a sense of luxury. Farahbella meets the working woman halfway, a two-way street, per se. She sources and manufactures her clothes in limited quantities. It's more than just a brand vision. She's really supporting small business, fair labor, and sustainability.

I was compelled by the Toit Volant vision, so I made time to visit Farahbella in her downtown L.A. studio. Indoor smoking and a Q&A ensued.

What inspired your most recent SS16 collection?

When I was as a professor in Vietnam, I found myself really compelled by these countryside women from the mountains. They would do a lot of work in their clothes, carrying heavy things, walking long distances. Their clothes are more functional, big skirts so they could move around easily. I move around a lot at work as well, and I wanted to include a feminine silhouette that was married to functionality.

What can we expect for your Autumn/Winter 2016 collection?

It's the mountain woman that came into more money and started going out in the evenings. I’m only half-kidding. We’re inspired by the same sensibility. The clothes are more of a transition. You can still wear everything during the day, but there’s more refinement. We experiment with more luxe fabrics, but ultimately I’m still very focused on design. We took a lot of casual everyday fabrics (in the SS16 collection) and paid a lot of attention to design and construction. A lot of companies try and use the least amount of fabric while executing design which can result with seams that misplaced and clunky and ignore the body.

Seems like you’re inspired by countrysides and landscapes. After living abroad for ten years, how does California factor into your designs?

I wanted to move to California because I just wanted to see sky. I was inspired by my recent trip to Arizona. I was reading these journals by Georgia O'Keefe. She would write letter after letter describing sunsets and sunrises over New Mexico to her friends. I loved that. I wanted to move somewhere you can see skies, and remind yourself to breathe.

In California, everyone is almost naked during the summer, wearing crop tops and daisy dukes all the time. I designed the ‘Flore’ dress initially as a pink pencil skirt with a triangle bikini. I would call it my “bikini fell off” dress. It was an awful piece but helped me develop a sense of humor about California. But this piece developed as I started to take it more seriously. It evolved into this nicer elegant dress.

When I see your collection, I can’t say its influenced by a certain time period or decade, is it removed from certain references or based in an imaginary time and place?

There are so many women I’ve come across, in my travels, and there’s little stories in all of them, and they all end up in my dresses. I don’t reference a time but I reference real people, designers, artists, characters, who have inspired me with their stories. There is no reference, just experience.

Photography: Kiu Kayee at kiukayee.com

Model: Aja Bleu Oldham