As Gen Z female entertainers have come of age with confidence-fueled voices and talent that refuses to be turned away by the usual gate keepers, they’ve opened up a space for a new wave of equally bold designers and stylists.
Included among them is Los Angeles-based L.O.C.A. designer Eileen O’Brien who’s creating a new genre of fantasy-fueled looks mashing up cosplay, gender mutability and a blinged out dance with dystopia.
Born of working class roots in Merced, California, O’Brien moved to Los Angeles at 18 to attend college at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Already a skilled pattern maker brimming with creative ideas, O’Brien found herself frustrated by the straight and narrow approach of FIDM’s instruction. Following graduation, her future path began to take shape at Universal Studios where she worked for five years as a costume designer and was able to hone her craft and bring her vision into focus.
After two years working for a celebrity designer, she struck out on her own in 2014 and founded L.O.C.A, a name that celebrates her own name and also her working class roots. Fully aware of how fashion exploits the ideas of the working class to build an exclusionary clientele, O’Brien unapologetically is here to take what’s hers.
Check out our email exchange with O’Brien below.
Snobette: You dressed Dawn Richard with an amazing look for a New York Pride evemt. Can you walk us through the story behind the connection and how long it took to put it together?
Eileen O’Brien: “I met Dawn Richard through my friend and stylist Joey Thao. We’ve been working together for about four years with Dawn, and various other artists and entertainers. For this look Dawn was interested in having a crystal outfit with crystal fringe and a matching cowboy hat for her upcoming Pride performance so I drew up the design and it was immediately approved.”
“I wanted to be able to make a look that was fully crystalled but still had stretch so I used a dark silver metallic spandex to create the bodysuit from scratch. I design, pattern, cut, sew and embellish every look myself and occasionally hire my friends to help me when projects are bigger. Once I had the bodysuit, I began the embellishment process using a combination of heat press and hand application. The fringe was also glued and sewed on by hand. The cowboy hat I had already covered with the metallic spandex and crystalled it all by hand. In total this outfit took about 20 hours to create.”
Snobette: Dawn’s look taps into the cowboy theme that’s very hot among entertainers right now. Do you have a sense of where that trend originated?
Eileen O’Brien: “First off it’s a classic theme and always will be in style. Second, I feel like when trends start, it’s partly because of the collective conscience; people just naturally migrate to certain things based on energy shifts. As far as the Western theme being big in rap and r&b music right now, it’s partly because of specific artists such as Lil Nas X and Megan thee Stallion.”
“Country music originates from black artists and hip hop is the most popular genre of music now so it only makes sense that black artists are wearing Western style and country music is integrating with hip hop more. And these rap and r&b artists are the trend setters now. They’re the reason everyone wants a cowboy, cowgirl look. They’ve made it the new hot thing, but it was also always their fashion.”
Snobette: YouTuber and makeup artist Nikita Dragun is a major muse for you. How did you two become acquainted with each other and what makes the relationship click?
Eileen O’Brien: I met Nikita Dragun through Joey Thao as well; he’s her main stylist. We started working together about a year a half ago and ever since the first 2018 Coachella lime green crystal look with matching gloves and hat happened, Nikita and I have been working together. I think the main reason Nikita clicks with L.O.C.A. is because she likes to give people full fantasy moments and I am a fantasy designer. We love over the top, next level, extra AF, femme fantasies and that’s what we strive for every time we create a look.”
Snobette: You’ve also worked with such an amazing roster of women: Asian Doll, Megan thee Stallion, Kali Uchis, Christina Aguilera, Paris Hilton and Amber Rose, among others. Is there anything they share personality wise that speaks to their ability to be entertainers?
Eileen O’Brien: “All of the artists I have worked with are all confident, iconic, femmes and are not afraid to stand out. They all have strong personal style and taste. For me as a designer it’s extremely important to make clothing that makes women feel strong, beautiful, sexy and glamorous.”
Snobette: Your outfits all have viral potential. What was the one that was a game changer for your Instagram following.
Eileen O’Brien: “I would say the first look I made Nikita was a serious game changer for my Instagram following. My fan base definitely grew from that look and has been steadily growing ever since.
“The crystal look I made for Asian Doll for the BET Awards red carpet also shot me into another realm. That look brought me the most amount of followers in an extremely short amount of time. I feel myself on another level right now. I’m in the middle of my transcendence as a designer. I feel I can only go up from here.”
Snobette: Entertainers often work last minute and change their minds a lot. What qualities do you have that have enabled you to succeed in such a high pressure, fast changing environment?
Eileen O’Brien: “I handle stress extremely well. I do not freak out on people and can definitely keep my head right when I have only 10 minutes to do an hour job lol. People can be very demanding in this industry and everyone is always waiting until the very last minute to decide what they want. Though this is a constant aggravation, I completely understand how this industry works. The show does not wait for anyone and what I’ve learned is that the look will always deliver in the end.”
Snobette: Who is on your dream list to work with?
Eileen O’Brien: “Rihanna is definitely on top of my dream list to work with. I have a dream of doing a L.O.C.A. x Fenty collab. I think she has the dopest style and taste. I relate to her personality and her business sense a lot. I admire a hard working business woman.”
Snobette: When it comes to dealing with negotiating a price and invoicing, what is your advice for someone who is just starting out?Eileen O’Brien: “Talking money with clients can be scary and hard to navigate when just starting out as a designer. I’ve had to learn a lot about what I am worth along the way. I’ve sold myself short many times and almost every job I do, I believe that I should’ve charged more.
“As I evolve and grow I learn that my skill, talent and originality will grow in value as time goes by. Each look I do builds my reputation as a designer. I’ve never worked with a contract but I’m now en route to making one! I think it’s very important to have a contract as a artist/designer/ business person. You deserve everything you are owed seven fold. Truly, this job isn’t easy. It takes hard work, dedication and long hours. More and more I’m beginning to realize that what a client is really paying for is my vision and ingenuity and conceptualization. You cannot put any set price on that.”
Snobette: “Your class origins are a meaningful part of your background story. How does class express itself in fashion especially given that the mainstream fashion narrative has traditionally been dominated by people from middle or upper class backgrounds?
Eileen O’Brien: “Class is a meaningful part of my background story because I do not come from an upper class background. I come from a family of hustlers and artists and often time artists are the working or lower class. We help the whole world by adding expression, imagination and ingenuity into all aspects of our environment; some artists are even prophets and teachers. We basically make the world go round.
“This is why I call my brand L.O.C.A. (L.O. Class Art), which also speaks to my nickname, Leen O. I want to represent for true artists and underdogs and emphasize the art part of fashion, all while having my name there to let people know this is my vision.
“I feel like class expresses itself in many ways in the fashion industry. A lot of luxury labels present in a way that’s designed to make the garments seem unattainable to the average person, but runway is viewed as the norm to the point that even smaller brands present this way. When it comes to underground, DIY brands, its almost like we have to make our own labels to fits our needs and our people’s needs.
“Watching a fashion presentation from a brand with a huge team and a lot of money can be so amazing and inspiring and allows a lot of artists to express themselves on a grand platform. Still, I’ve seen small brands with small teams or even no teams (!) and no money (!) have underground fashion shows that generate the same amount of buzz or even more than a luxury brand, which says a lot about where the real fashion narratives come from.”
Snobette: How big of an issue is middle and upper class appropriation of poor and working class style ideas?
Eileen O’Brien: “I think it is a big issue when luxury brands steal marginalized people’s fashion and lifestyle and profit from it, whereas the true creators are not profiting and are most likely being discriminated for their own cultural style choices and norms. This kind of just comes back to how artists are basically the framework of society, and most art/fashion comes from the lower class or minority groups.
“Though I do feel like things are changing in the fashion industry and have been for a while. It seems new underground and DIY fashion designers are popping up everyday, which is literally amazing. Its almost like we’ve created a quiet revolution by taking over the industry with originality. Thank God for the internet because now anyone can be a designer, artist, business person.
“Instagram has given working class people a place to market their talents. At the same time I see how putting your work into the public domain really leaves room for intellectual property thieves. It’s even easier for anyone to steal your ideas now. I feel like luxury brands and designers and fast-fashion retailers ultimately will always steals ideas and designs, but its okay now, we have all the receipts and Diet Prada to call these people out! The fashion industry has always been based on recycled ideas and knock offs, but I know the true artist’s talent and skill will always prevail The best thing a designer can do is to constantly find ways to make your work harder and harder to copy.”
Snobette: At the moment you’re not selling your designs at retail. What are the challenges and what are your plans for creating a line?
Eileen O’Brien: “I started my brand based on creating one-of-a-kind looks and then went directly into custom looks for artists and entertainers. I had my first DIY show in 2015 presenting L.O.C.A. to the world and last year had two other smaller DIY shows. I had to do these shows because I needed to express myself as an artist; I was dying for it. Doing custom work has been my main source of income for the past four years and been a way to establish my reputation and define what L.O.C.A.’s vibe really is. Through my growth I have come to realize that I am a fantasy designer. My looks are not simple and are made with the clients personality in mind. I am very concerned about individuality. I view myself as a new Thierry Mugler or Bob Mackie, a fantasy designer.
“That in mind, I am on the verge of having a huge show on a bigger platform to put L.O.C.A. in the legendary lane. I am working on creating my first full collection with the show date TBD! My main challenge is having enough money to transcend. I can only put faith in my hard work, my talent, and the positive energy I’m putting fourth. My plans in creating my line is to make a collection that will be highly sought after for being the only one of it kind. I want my collection to be art gallery worthy.
“Once I put out this collection though, I do plan on making some multiples of certain garments though still handmade and limited to sell on an online store. I just want my work to be up there with all the greats and give inspiration, passion, and drive to the people.