“If you want to make it in fashion, you have to go through being somebody’s bitch,” says Pia Arrobio of the notoriously merciless industry. The 30-year-old designer speaks from experience, having climbed her way up the ladder from an early age – from designing behind the scenes to running her own label – fielding plenty of cattiness and backstabbing along the way.
Amidst the buzz of releasing new designs with a message, Arrobio found herself in the middle of a social media shit storm, when her most recent collection with Revolve (a series of sweatshirts with quotes from internet trolls shining light on the dark side of body positivity in collab with Lena Dunham and Paloma Elsesser) was released early and without context, coming off as tone-deaf and frankly offensive to many. Pia and the internet have since moved on; taking the criticism, pulling the collection and braving the storm with humility, accepting responsibility and reiterating her intent on creating fashion that is good and makes people feel good. But the ordeal came as a wake-up call for the power and speed at which social (media) justice is served.
Fashion’s cliché bitchiness is heightened in the digital age, where the importance of social etiquette has largely been trumped by the influence of social media. Pia, on the other hand, is using her influence to put politesse back in focus and effect an industry-wide change. Despite counting Emily Ratajawski, and Kim Kardashian as members of her squad, she speaks with such a warm candor over the phone, it’s unavoidable to feel like fast friends. A former designer for Reformation, Pia started her eponymous line LPA [Lara Pia Arrobio] with the help of LA-based fashion e-tailer Revolve, and has been navigating the fashion system – often frustratingly – ever since.
Like any rising designer, Pia has experienced her fair share of successes and failures, but was most disappointed by the overwhelming “bitchiness” that permeates the industry – specifically upon the launch of her line. “It felt like Devil Wears Prada… people who always supported and loved me suddenly started shit talking me.” Rather than perpetuating the industry’s malicious cycle, Pia is building a company culture around clothing and compassion. Scan her impressively followed Insta-feed and find a legion of unfiltered, confident girls that embody LPA, from the inside out. She shoots most of her own brand imagery, often picking ‘real girls’ as models, self-styled in LPA’s flirty feminine designs. She wants her collections to “make you feel good, so you attract positivity into your life,” with cheeky tag texts that double as self-esteem boosts. Pia’s latest venture is recreating the brand ethos IRL with a traveling public discussion “I heard she’s a bitch,” to open a space for more girl-to-girl empowerment. Inclusivity is part of Pia’s innate coolness, and she’s trying to make kindness a lasting trend. We chatted with the designer on her trajectory, and how she’s changing fashion’s notorious cattiness to compassion.
COOLS: How did you go from designing for Reformation to launching LPA?
PA: At some point in everyone’s career, you work for someone else. I learned a lot [at Reformation], and was really thankful for the opportunity. But I was at a standstill where there was no place for me to grow, and wanted to be challenged more. I’m always really excited to take a chance, and took a job at Zara. One of their designers was about to move to Spain, and then the Revolve team found out. I got the job, and Revolve counter offered to have my own brand. I actually started my own line, which was never something I thought I could accomplish.
COOLS: How’s the bicoastal life treating you?
PA: I’m mostly in LA, but I come to New York pretty often. I shoot a lot of my own content, so I come here for work. I do this “LPA IRL” where I shoot women in their own homes wearing LPA. It’s girls I really like, I shoot them on film and they do a little questionnaire. I think it’s important that things are coming from LA, and that we make it a breeding ground for creativity – creativity in America is very New York centric. But at the same time, you need the streets to talk to you to see what’s up. I can’t just go from my apartment to my car to my office downtown and expect to be inspired. Girls on the corner are dressed cooler than any editorial in my opinion, so I have to be here to see what’s going on.
COOLS: What other differences have you found between the New York and LA fashion worlds?
PA: They’re completely different. I see these young girls working in our NY office, and they complain about everything. It’s not okay how the people are treated in these offices; it’s like Devil Wears Prada shit. But at the same time, it’s part of growing up. If you want to make it in the fashion industry, you have to go through that path of being somebody’s bitch, and be miserable, and call your parents crying. At some point, you reach a moment where it all pays off, there’s power in the struggle. The competitive nature of the whole thing, the drive, and the overworked hours, all that shit? LA’s like a walk in the park compared to New York.
“I think it’s important that things are coming from LA, and that we make it a breeding ground for creativity – creativity in America is very New York-centric. Girls on the corner are dressed cooler than any editorial in my opinion, so I have to be here to see what’s going on.”
COOLS: And a walk in the park that you’re enjoying. Or has it been a bit of a rollercoaster?
PA: It’s a rollercoaster. One day I’ll be sitting here like “Oh, I’ve hit my rhythm. Sales are really good. Everybody loves it.” And the next comes a gnarly email that something’s being canceled because nobody ordered it. I’m confused, I’m pissed, it doesn’t make any sense to me. So now it’s like “okay”… and I work harder.
COOLS: And it’s stifling as the creative, because you’d rather them just handle the business and handle it well?
It’s like when you’re in a relationship, and you’re like “I’m definitely gonna marry this guy.” And you feel super confident, and then he dumps you. You’re like “Wait a second. Why didn’t my gut tell me that was a threat?” And then you start to question yourself.
For me, it’s all the Italian girls. They’re so chic and modern, and also fun and classy. LPA is like me. I design for what I know I’m comfortable in, and what I know I’m gonna look good in. And then I design things that are a little aspirational for myself. If I’m really feeling myself, this is what I would want to wear.
COOLS: Your ‘it’ girl squad rolls pretty deep, yet, you maintain a down to earth demeanor. How do remain so chill amongst all the hype?
PA: I get really irritated. Some girl commented on Instagram the other day saying, “the only reason your brand is successful is because you’re friends with famous people.” But when I met Emily [Ratajkowski], she wasn’t famous. She was just a customer at Reformation. The Kim [Kardashian] thing is like a weird, random thing. Our dads went to school together. And she’s a very nice person.
They’re all natural relationships. And it happens to be that those girls are the most down to earth girls out of anyone ever. I don’t kick it with snotty people. It’s not my vibe.
COOLS: So what kind of culture are you creating around LPA?
I don’t think I’m creating any kind of culture. I think I’m just making shit that’s real. I met with a photographer on Thursday, and he was like “What’s the concept?” I was like, “The concept is no concept. The model is super cool; she’s doing her own hair and makeup, and I just want to shoot against the white wall.” It was about her being herself. It’s a girl in her natural environment just being herself. I’m selecting this girl who’s a size 10, and I styled it with her clothes. Things should be aspirational to a certain extent, but I’m not Balenciaga.
COOLS: Tell me about your new project: “I Heard She’s A Bitch.”
PA: I have a freelancer I work with who’s known me for a long time, since Reformation. He was interviewing with some magazine, and the woman asked him where he worked, and he said “I worked for LPA.” And this girl who I had never met, nor had I ever heard of her, goes “I heard she’s a bitch.” And I thought to myself, that is a wildly unprofessional thing to say in a meeting, and at the same time, bitchy in itself.
I always said if I became the tiniest bit successful, I would use that platform to be positive. For a long time I was super shit-talky, and in professional environments that were also very shit-talky. The whole thing is just gross. I remember always being miserable and tired, because I was miserable with myself I was miserable with my thoughts, and it was like ugh. If you just let things go, and be nice, everything’s just better. I knew when I launched LPA I would lose a lot of friends. There are professional women that I’ve worked with forever, that have always loved me and been so supportive, who said fucking terrible things about me at dinner parties in New York that got back to me within 24 hours. I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked at the level that very successful people were shit talking me. People who had been in my life for a long time, who were once very supportive.
COOLS: It’s going to be a traveling discussion?
PA: Yes, a traveling panel discussion. It’s more of a conversation around checking yourself before you say something. To just let it go and keep it moving is so powerful, it’s crazy. To give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s a dialogue about life.
COOLS: So you’re trying to change the way women react with each other. How does that manifest in LPA?
PA: How it manifests in LPA is I’m LPA. It manifests in me having to be very aware of who I am, and how I treat people. People are watching me. It’s funny; you don’t think about it that much. I’m just living my life. I get messages all the time from people like, “I didn’t want to be rude, but I saw you earlier doing this.” “I saw you work here, blah blah blah.” The same way I see girls from Instagram out and about all the time. So it’s just being aware. I think that’s where the idea started. No matter if you have any Instagram followers or not, if you’re a girl in a small town somewhere, people talk about how other people behave. LPA is an extension of myself, and I’m trying to figure out the next events I want to do.
Shooting girls that are of all sizes, which doesn’t mean only plus sizes. I use normal girls a lot on Instagram. I shot Paloma [Elsesser] today. I’ve known Paloma since she was 18. I try to be as inclusive as possible, like using real people as models. I did a post today, that was like “Listen. I’m sorry that I’m posting a photo of a vacation while you’re sitting at your desk.” That makes it funny, and normal. Not taking things too seriously.
COOLS: What’s the underlying message?
PA: Oh, I don’t know. The underlying message of LPA always is that if you are confident and happy, the world is just a different place – that’s why I make clothes. I hope my clothes make you feel really good. And I hope that because you feel so good, you attract that positivity into your life. That’s why all the tags say what they say on them.
“…if you are confident and happy, the world is just a different place – that’s why I make clothes. I hope my clothes make you feel really good. And I hope that because you feel so good, you attract that positivity into your life.”
COOLS: What do they say?
PA: “This dress increases the chances of getting laid.” Or, “Your ex was wrong about you.” Funny little things. They’re all different per fabric. I turned 30 six months ago, I’m not a wildly insecure twenty-something anymore. I want [LPA girls] to feel strong. Last year my boyfriend told me, “Be your best person and be confident in your behavior and how you look at the world. It’ll all be different.” After applying this advice, something just switched inside of me where I feel really good about myself. The world is just a different place for me. I want LPA to do the same.