Have you ever riffed with your friends about starting up a business together? Well Valerie Santillo and Anna Chiu did one evening — and actually made that dream into a reality. The two S.F.-based designers turned their love for fashion and art into a gorgeous line of beautiful dresses that feature elegant silhouettes with hand-painted details. To honor the amazing women who inspired them, the pair decided to call the brand Kamperett, a hybrid of their mothers’ maiden names, Pferdekamper and Garrett.
Since the company began, Santillo and Chiu's designs have become a favorite of the tech set. Not only are the dresses totally gorgeous, but the pair make sure comfort and originality is at the forefront of each new collection.
Kamperett recently moved into a beautiful studio built in 1923 right on San Francisco's bustling Market Street with its sewing factory, pattern maker, and an art supply store just a block away. We asked the duo for a peek inside and to share with us what it is like to come together in the name of creating beautiful and innovative designs.
Lonny: Can you tell me about your design backgrounds?
Valerie Santillo: I think I was always interested in fashion. But when I was quite a bit younger, I didn't think of it in that way, or as a career necessarily. I was more interested in style and how that is a means of self expression as non-verbal communication, especially for someone that was a bit on the quieter side. It was just something I just found to be inspiring.
I suppose the practicality of it started when I would look for vintage pieces and alter them to fit or reconstruct them in some way. I have always drawn quite a bit and have a background in visual art. Eventually, I went to school for design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and upon graduating was first working in lingerie. My initial interest, however, had always been in women's clothing and that was where I always aspired to work.
Anna Chiu: I studied biology and worked in science labs, but was always sketching dresses in my notebooks. I worked at an Australian Denim label called Ksubi right after college, which was my first real job in fashion. George Gorrow and Dan Single were still designing the label at the time and were doing some really cool things. After that I designed a high-end children's clothing line and later worked in product design at Restoration Hardware before starting Kamperett.
How did you decide to start working together?
VS: Anna and I have known each other for several years, we worked closely together on a few projects when she contacted me to do some illustration work for her while she was working at Restoration Hardware. We knew that we worked well together and always had an ease in communication when we worked on these projects. We sort of just "got" each other.
We both had an interest in women's clothing, however, we had only worked in other realms within the fashion industry. Her background is in children and mine in lingerie. One night, we had gone to dinner and one thing lead to another and we decided to take a leap and try out developing our own brand. When we met the following day, we each had a sketch of a dress that was nearly identical and has become one of our best selling pieces to this day.
What is your collaboration process like with new designs?
VS: It is so fluid. In general we have a mood or feeling that we are always aiming for with the brand. Often there are other influences or inspiration for the season speckled in, fabric also plays a big role in the process and can inform a lot of our designs. We do a little bit of development separately, then come together with several ideas that we slowly edit down. I think we both make tweaks and have input to each design so the end product ends up being a little bit of us both. It's like it becomes this third entity that incorporates both of our aesthetics (which can be quite different) and sometimes there are certain pieces that are more her or more me. I do think we have a very similar eye for proportion as well as a similar taste level and a clear vision on this mood we are always striving for so somehow that all comes together in the collection. When we both feel like we've hit on something it often becomes one of our most successful designs.
How would you define the Kamperett aesthetic?
VS: Effortless and sophisticated. I think the Kamperett woman is the one in the room that subtly stands out from everyone else without being showy, by exuding confidence in an understated way.
When did you decide to begin hand-painting your pieces?
VS: Right from the start! It was a part of our initial conversation that evening we decided to go into this together. I had dreamed of painting dresses for years I think due to my first love of painting and illustration. It just seemed like a natural progression.
AC: I knew Val had beautiful hand from having worked with her in the past, and I knew we had to incorporate it somehow in the line from the very beginning. It always adds something personal and bespoke to the collection.
What is your favorite part of your studio?
VS: Hands down it is our huge window that floods our space with natural light as well as the non-stop activity and energy outside.
AC: The huge window in the front that faces Market Street. You can see this beautiful old bank, the old streetcars, blue sky, and a little bit of the downtown crazy. We've always loved the contrast of old, new, luxury, and grit. You get it all in our view.