02/23/2012 08:40 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Wren's Melissa Coker On Skipping Design School, Loving Internships

Melissa Coker, the founder of Los Angeles-based contemporary label Wren, somewhat stumbled into her career. "I have a background in magazines, and sort of through a twist of fate ended up designing," she explained. "There were a few things that I wanted and couldn’t find in stores, so I had some friends set me up with pattern makers and I started making things for myself. I made ten pieces and realized that I basically had a small collection. I brought it to some stores and they bought everything so I was like 'Oh, I have a line now.'"

Crediting her "blind confidence," the NYU-educated designer references Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders and Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte as other successes who circumvented the traditional path to becoming a designer. "This isn’t what I studied in school," Coker says, "Fashion just sort of came to me. When I was growing up in Illinois, my grandmother would get the Neiman Marcus catalogs." She recalls that her, "favorite activity would be to pretend shop in the catalogs. That was my first introduction to fashion. Then, my first job was at Neiman Marcus when I was 16!"

After moving to New York, and interning at establishments such as at Helmut Lang, "one thing just lead to another." Now based in Los Angeles, Coker says she chose the location for reasons other than the sunnier weather: "LA has a really thriving garment center," she explained, "In New York, the garment center is being threatened. Because there is so much land here, we are able to produce nearly everything locally." Additionally, Coker admits that she likes the creative freedom Los Angeles affords her, "You are more on your own out here. It's less about the collective consciousness like New York is."

As much as she loves Los Angeles, Coker doesn't imagine that it will take New York's place as the fashion capital of America any time soon: "Los Angeles is almost like a one industry town. It’s film-driven, which creeps into the fashion world. It's a different mentality here, and I don’t see that mentality changing. It's just a different focus on what’s important."

Take a peek in our gallery below for a look inside Wren's office (which Coker says used to be a soap factory!) and save 50% off sweaters with discount code sweaters50:


Photos by Sarah St. Lifer


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