We had the good fortune of connecting with Heidi Abra and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heidi, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I didn’t have a particular thought process on starting my design business. There was never a magic moment I “decided”. It was a completely organic process. After spending 6 years as a model and traveling around the world, I enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) to study fine art photography. Modeling in Europe gave me the opportunity live full time in Paris, where I delved into art, architecture, history and travel whenever I wasn’t working. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do creatively, only that I wanted to be creative and making a living doing what I loved. I decided to start with one of my loves which was photography and see where that led me. While I was studying fine art and photography at CalArts I began designing and hand making jewelry using gorgeous antique Czechoslovakian glass beads. Immediately people wanted to buy the jewelry I was making, and stores then wanted to carry my work. Then there was an earthquake that led to CalArts being closed down 6 months for repairs, and that’s when I took the time to focus solely on my jewelry design. While I love fine art and find my inspiration there, I found that I enjoyed creating something beautiful that a person could wear or interact with every day. This was the beginning of having a direction and clear expression for my creativity.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I get bored easily! My design work has changed forms, evolved and continues to do so. If new inspiration calls to me, I switch gears quickly. I started my design business by hand making one of a kind jewelry, and then moved into creating scarves & shawls. Beautiful pieces that were an extension of my jewelry, long velvet scarves with the borders trimmed in gemstones. From there I wanted to design clothing, so I began with a collection of one of a kind embellished wrap skirts that I had made from designer silk Indian Saris. From there I expanded to a full clothing collection. And from there handbags, and then back to new forms of jewelry and my signature gemstone belt buckles. I am always evolving and following where my heart takes me. What I am most proud of is the Boutique I created in West Hollywood. It’s no longer in operation, but I had it for 13 years. I was creating so many different collections, and mostly one-of-a-kind pieces or very small quantities of each piece. Everything of mine is handmade and sewn in Los Angeles. I wanted to create my own boutique where I could showcase everything, I made in a beautiful environment that would be an “experience” to come into. My goal was to have people to feel transported to a place of beauty when they walked in my shop. Beauty is a philosophy for me. Not the superficial kind of beauty, but a beauty that includes everyone and everything. Beauty that reflects one’s soul and radiates outward. I wanted my boutique and every piece in the space to radiate this beauty and reflect back to the viewer their own beauty. My boutique and my work are not about trends or fashion, but timeless beauty in whatever form that takes. My own boutique gave me the opportunity to not only showcase all the items I was creating, but I was able to design the entire shop. After much searching for the perfect space, I leased a large two-story store front in a 1930s art deco building. The space was uncared for, and I went about spending 9 months restoring it, down to the art deco hardware on the front door. Owning my own store gave me the opportunity to design my own furniture and create many of the pieces in my shop, from the tables, lighting, racks, and fixtures. My tables were made from ruby red onyx from Italy that I had found at the marble yard and had crafted into two beautiful tables. To me, everything is an art project! My store sign was made by a mosaic artist from hand cut glass Italian Bisazza tiles. The chandelier was cascading hand strung mica stone. I filled the space with antiques, not typical “store” furniture. I wanted it to feel like you were transported to another area and coming to my home at the same time. It was a wonderful experience to create. After 13 years it was time for a change. Owning your own Boutique is a tremendous amount of responsibly, especially if you are hands on like me. And I desperately wanted the free time to travel for an extended period. In terms of what sets me apart from other designers, I would say I am difficult to categorize. I create what interests me at the time. Jewelry, clothing, accessories, textiles, furniture, lighting, stores, environments, interiors, graphics, photography, painting, styling, on and on. It all comes from the same inner compass and point of view. The medium doesn’t really matter. Also, all the pieces in my collections are either one of a kind or produced in very small quantities. My clothing is made in my studio by my seamstress or tailor, one piece at a time. I was never interested in creating large production quantities of my work. I wouldn’t say anything is “easy”, but if you pay attention to the rhythm and flow of your life things will go easier. I know I’ve learned to pay attention to what life has to say, and where it wants to guide me. Trust is key. Creatively what is pulling at me these days is creating environments and spaces. Creating a space of beauty for others, whether that’s someone’s boutique, hotel, café, home or other space. Where I can work with textiles, create furniture, lighting, and collaborate with other makers. That’s what excites me right now. Plus, the idea of being able to travel to different countries to do this work. I’d love to settle into a new city like Lisbon for a year working on a project, and then head to the next creative adventure!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Funny you would ask about where I would take a friend if they were visiting LA! My dear friend Sophie who lives in London was supposed to visit me for a week in March of 2020, and for pandemic reasons was not able to get here. I am planning her visit for 2021. There is too much I’d like to show her, take her to Joshua Tree, Santa Ynez Valley would be two of those, but considering we only have a week and she’ll be seriously jet lagged we’ll stay in LA. I’d love to go on a tour by Esotouric. They do incredibly unique tours of outsider LA. We’d go hiking in Franklin Canyon Park, go on a walking architecture tour that the LA Conservancy hosts. Visit the Getty Museum for the art and incredible views. I also love the Pasadena area and would stop at my favorite coffee house for the best latte with homemade almond milk at Two Kids Coffee, and then spend the day at the Huntington Gardens, the succulent gardens are my favorite there. Then a day Zuma Beach would be wonderful. On the Eastside we’d ride the swan boats in Echo Park Lake, and eat authentic tacos at Homestate Tacos. A dinner at Musso and Franks and visit Larry Edmund’s bookshop across the street is also on the list. I like things that are old authentic Los Angeles.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to dedicate my shout out to my mom, Bonnie. Ever since I was little, she’s had an amazing sense of style. She’s supported and encouraged my creative endeavors and abilities my whole life.
Emilie Elizabeth Ryan Forbes Andrew Durham