When it comes to the world’s premier fashion weeks, New York, London, Milan, and Paris come to mind. But what about L.A.?
Ciarra Pardo, the president of Los Angeles Fashion Week, is helping establish the city as a global fashion capital. Born in New York, Pardo worked in finance at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter before moving to L.A. at 22.
There, she worked as a consulting creative director for Geffen Records and Island Def Jam. She founded her own production company, Les Enfants Terribles, and shortly after launched her second company, the creative services agency GraviteCreative, where she worked alongside Grammy Award-winning artists such as Jay-Z, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Usher, and Rihanna.
Pardo was an integral force behind the rise of Fenty, the billion-dollar fashion and beauty brand created by Rihanna, working behind the scenes on the creative side, helping make the singer one of the wealthiest people in entertainment and fashion—and bringing size-inclusive fashion to the mainstream, long before it was popular.
Fenty partnered with LVMH in 2019, and the Fenty fashion house closed in 2021.
Los Angeles Fashion Week, which occured in October and will run again in the spring of 2023, is Pardo’s latest project, powered by N4xt Experiences, a firm Pardo co-founded.
Pardo speaks to Penta about the secrets of building a fashion brand, working with Rihanna, and what excites her about L.A. style.
PENTA: What is your background in fashion?
Ciarra Pardo: I come from the creative direction world. I’ve been blessed to play in beauty, fashion, entertainment, and technology. I’ve seen the immense power of integrating these worlds. I talk a lot about our launch of Savage Fenty with a 13-foot hologram of Rihanna with Fenty Beauty. It led to a pop-up shop in Brooklyn in 2018, what I learned is what I wanted to see here. I wanted to create that same energy here at LAFW. It’s fashion forward, but we have integrated beauty, technology, and sustainability.
We partnered with Livia Firth MBE, co-founder and creative director of Eco-Age, a creative agency helping brands become sustainable. In L.A., we’re in the wellness capital of the country. For us, we have a clear shared passion, that if we don’t have sustainable efforts, we’re headed down the wrong path. We’ve partnered with Eco Age to offer partnership and mentorship to learn how to do things in an eco-friendlier way.
How did you arrive in Los Angeles?
I’m a New Yorker born and raised, I’ve lived in L.A. for 20 years, so I’m lucky enough to see the changes in the industry, and we are going through a wild renaissance right now in contemporary art, fashion, and beauty. Technology is moving out of Silicon Valley and into Hollywood. It’s different to me. We are offering a reimagined concept of L.A. fashion week and offering a playground. We could never compete with other fashion weeks, but what we’re creating, and we’re hoping what that we are creating, is sexy enough for brands to want to show with us, as well.
When you think about L.A. and fashion, what defines it here?
L.A. is the capital of the casual cool. But there’s so many other things that come out of it. Small brands have grown and are competitively out there. There’s a ton of cool L.A. brands, like Fear of God. I’m still a New Yorker and still wear heels during the day.
You would jaywalk in your heels?
100% and still talk on my phone. The New Yorker in me always wants to walk. I think there’s this idea of what L.A. is but it has changed a lot.
What neighborhood excites you the most in L.A. right now?
Downtown L.A. has a lot of cool things, I can have a great lunch and go shopping all day. Hollywood proper is becoming something cool, too. You have all the usual fashion suspects in Beverly Hills and it’s not my preference to be there, but Venice in the west side is incredible, from farm to table foods, to housewares and style.
What was it like working with Rihanna?
I was her creative director before I started Fenty. Nothing could prepare me for starting Fenty. I never thought it would see the success it did as quickly as it did. When I decided to go in-house, I worked with Rihanna from the perspective of my own creative agency. When I went in-house to do this, I said I have five years. I don’t know how to be in-house and work for someone else.
I thought five years was enough time for it to try to get a name. it happened much quicker. I had a beautiful tool: Rihanna—a beautiful face, sex appeal, grace, talent, all of these things, and translating that into beauty, perfume, and fashion. It wasn’t as easy as it appeared. It taught me a crash course in beauty, fashion and fashion.
Fenty was so trailblazing, with size-inclusive fashion and virtual runway shows.
We were the first athletic brand to be showing in fashion weeks in London, Paris, and New York. We were one of the first to take what was considered “athleisure” and bring a high-end, high scale moment to it. Simultaneously, while we were doing Fenty Puma, we were doing Dior. There’s a special thing Rihanna only has, I was lucky to partner with her. She’s a chameleon of all chameleons. Her work ethic and commitment are so important to the process.
What brands showed at LAFW that excited you?
Maxwell Osborne’s anOnlyChild [fashion collection] was so exciting, he came from many years from the fashion brand Public School. I’m a big fan of how he is creating sustainable fashion that’s cool and beautiful, he’s a brand doing it right and it’s gorgeous.
Fleur du Mal is super exciting, Jennifer Zuccarini’s brand is so exciting because it goes beyond the sexiness of lingerie to more of an empowering collection that is sex-appeal focused, and moving into ready to wear, and keeping it classy. She’s a firecracker. Gypsy Sport is exciting, I have a ton of their pieces, and I’m Latin, so I’m a huge fan of LatinX designers. They’re onto something cool, in between the intersection of streetwear and sexiness—beyond sweats and uber-sporty. Sami Miro Vintage is onto something, she wanted to present the brand in a private, chic, invite-only atmosphere. I support her. It’s sustainable.
Women fashion designers are sometimes brushed aside, why is it important to support women designers?
We want to maintain and support emerging designers; we are female founded and female led. Diversity can be overused, and it means so many things, but really staying true to it, is key.
What’s next for cutting edge fashion in 2023?
I think comfort with fashion is in. Doing what you think you must do [to be] sexy, or uncomfortable, is out. Comfort is leading to how a lot of legacy brands are changing their habits and style. There is an energy that has been shifted for women, period, what is clear for our voice, and comfortable. It’s a collective mindset that’s shifting right now. It’s being seen in everything.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.