Spotlight // Clark & Madison
Handcrafted leather goods label Clark & Madison is named for the American explorer William Clark and Founding Father James Madison. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was essential in the discovery of the West. That spirit of exploration is something that the brand centers itself on. Clark & Madison also plays up the masculine and feminine aspects of their company, a story between two people. Los Angeles-based makers Dina Epstein and Michael Frosti Zernow are the epitome of that masculine and feminine dynamic, although Dina admits to bringing the more masculine elements into their designs. The two halves of both a design partnership and a couple share a long-cultivated love of travel and adventure, and they strive to encourage their customers to venture into the wild with that same sense of discovering the unknown, with their Clark & Madison bags in tow, of course. They design things that they want and need; they focus on the essential and incorporate their unique stamp on their classic designs to create their beautiful signature investment pieces, available online and at The Classic Pop Up Shop in Westwood.
How did the both of you get started in creating your goods, and how did you connect and build Clark & Madison? Frosti: When we first met we were living on opposite coasts. When we started traveling to see each other we were basically living out of our bags. It really simplified our lives to travel like that. We liked the idea of the people we became when we were visiting each other. It was such a freeing experience to just leave the office, grab a few essentials, and go where we really wanted to be.
Dina: We wanted to create something that inspired people to grab our handcrafted bags and just head out the door. Inspired by the craftsmanship of our grandparents’ time, we added our own touch of California style and modern functionality.
I'm sure you both have similar aesthetics, but if you could say what unique thing each of you brings to the table, what would it be?
D: We actually have very different styles. I think my style is more masculine than Frosti's. I lean towards classic, clean bodies and rich hues. Frosti comes in and adds the 'lighthearted' element. It’s very reflective of who we are (ex. I wear Todds, jeans, and cashmere sweaters most days where he will be in a patterned shirt, colored chinos, and always accessorized with a hat, pocket square, or tie). Our products are very much a mold of us.
F: I think Dina has great vision. She really sees the design and builds it very naturally. I feel like, a lot of the time, Dina has the plan already in her head and I just fill in pieces with color and style.
Was this something you always wanted to do? If you could choose another profession, what would it be?
D: Working for myself has always been a priority for me, whether it was a babysitting business at twelve-years-old or shooting bands in college, I was always trying to build brands. Clark & Madison is exactly where I want to be.
F: I dropped out of art school to be on Survivor. I had no intention of ever doing this. I found myself here because I wanted something to be there, and it wasn't. Before this, I was a professional free runner, competing around the world, working in stunts. Before that, I worked in a cafeteria. I like the adventure of discovering something new to do everyday; being an entrepreneur gives me the chance to wear a lot of hats.
You both travel and accumulate the materials for your wares throughout those travels. Give us some examples of the found materials used.
D: This year we took an incredible trip to Japan. We made our way from Tokyo, hiking through the mountains to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, & Mount Koya. We went to traditional kimono makers, found vintage fabrics, and now we're building a collection around some of the beautiful and unique textiles we discovered there.
F: We also love to take road trips. I think it's incredible that we can just head out our door and discover something right in our backyard, in the middle of nowhere not on any map. We've found a lot of great things off the freeway in towns with no names.
What are you favorite places you've traveled and how have they inspired your collections/pieces?
D: This is a hard question. The most inspiring part of a country has to do with the people. We have stories behind almost all of the textiles that we gather on our journeys, and they are always about the people: Singapore for the Hawker markets, Turkey specifically for the maze of the old city with the ancient dye vats and rug merchants lining the narrow paths. We’re planning on going to Peru soon, and I am sure that we will come back inspired and overloaded with beautiful materials.
Walk us through your design process. How do your ideas come out? What—aside from the places you travel—are your biggest inspirations?
D: We design things that we want. I carry our classic tote in coal everyday and have been for a year. It is the perfect everyday bag.
F: I'll say I want something to carry my laptop, then we look at a laptop, we hold it, wrap in different materials, look at other designs. We try to find simple, elegant solutions to our everyday needs. Our current laptop case is based on an envelope and doubles as a beautiful portfolio case. Then as our final step, we add our own signature element to contrast the design: vintage material, floral lining, or in this case a single piece of ornate hardware to balance the simplicity of the body.
What's the production process like? How many people are involved in the making of one single item?
D: I personally know and work directly with every person that makes each one of our products. We work with a family owned leather studio in downtown Los Angeles and get our leather from a family run company as well. My logo vendor runs his company with his wife, and is unreachable on days his two boys play soccer.
F: Producing locally was one thing we were both adamant about, we felt to be truly creating the types of products we want, at the standards we want to have, we needed to be part of the process as much as possible.
You do pop-ups and have stockists in LA and the East Coast. Any plans to open up your own brick and mortar?
D: We would love to build something more permanent if we have the chance.
F: I love the idea of someone being able to walk into an experience. I want to create the type of place that I would want to go to.
Where are your travels taking you next? F: I’m going to Greece this fall and I just got back from Vancouver, two of my favorite places.
D: And we're going to be taking our annual road trip in August. We haven't decided all the stops yet, but going to head north maybe over to Idaho.
What are you working on now?
F: We’ve been working on a few projects like our Classic Pop Up Shop in Westwood Village. Bringing in new American made goods and connecting with other LA brands has been such a great opportunity to try new things and develop in many ways. Our next collection is going to be much more well rounded.
D: We have some more really great collaborations in the works that we can't talk about yet, but it's going to be a truly exciting year for us.