For nearly seven years, Baja East has married the edginess of street wear with a chill California vibe, creating an aesthetic the brand defines as “loose luxury.” It’s an idea Baja East’s founder and creative director, Scott Studenberg, has intentionally pursued through inventive, playful, and in many ways spiritual concepts of fashion and design.
The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Studenberg is uniquely qualified to carry the brand into a new world of e-commerce, having worked as a sales director at Lanvin, a French multinational high fashion house, before becoming an innovator in his own right. He recently launched the brand’s first home collection, Baja Home, consisting of a variety of home goods including duvet covers, pillows, candles, mists, pajamas, and cashmere throws. His A-list roster of clients include Celine Dion, Lizzo, and Lady Gaga, whose Born This Way Foundation recently partnered with Baja East as part of its Pride initiative, on a collection of tie-dye sweatshirts, sweatpants, and tees — all personally handmade from Studenberg’s Los Angeles home.
It’s been a transformational season for Studenberg, who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. While he’s had the brand for nearly seven years, it was forced to shut down for three seasons in 2018/2019 due to business shakeups and a traumatic breakup with his fiancé.
“I had zero money. I was absolutely broke. We had hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and I was already depressed going through a personal breakup,” Studenberg tells Out. During this time, he moved from New York City to L.A. After months of trying to payback the company’s debt, its shareholders and ex-business partner voted Studenberg to liquidate while Studenberg simultaneously secured an angel investor to pay back debt and move the brand forward as the sole owner and creative director. Through it all, he continued to send massive boxes of clothes to clients like Dion, who is still one of his most loyal customers. “Literally, that’s how I would pay my rent for over a year, day by day, week by week.”
Studenberg’s Laurel Canyon apartment is now filled with props, clothes, machines, and racks. A true artist’s habitat, it isn’t hard to recognize the honest labor going into every detail of his work, as dyes, sewing machines, and fabrics lay across his furniture. Things have certainly changed for the better, and business is growing. The young visionary re-launched Baja East last year and within that time he’s risen from the ashes to create his best work yet, crediting several trips to Joshua Tree, a national park east of LA, for his new creative direction.
On Marling (left): satin wild top, raglan tee and cascade skirt with beded fringe. On Nicole (center): crepe scarf gown. On Scott: Burnout tee
On Nicole: Sun hat with lurex fringe, cascade bodysuite, satin boxing pant with lurex fringe sash.
“I was able to find grounding and infuse that into my work,” he explains. “I took this idea of running horses, which had been, you know, the running horse sweatshirt that’s been around for a while. People really love that. I was like, ‘What’s the more artistic way to incorporate that? What’s the fantasy?’”
Studenberg’s vision of a herd of wild horses, which to him represent power and rebirth, became the inspiration for his Spring 2020 collection, which displayed this imagery in the daylight. For Pre-Fall 2020, it was the same concept but in a beautiful lilac pink sunset. Then for Fall 2020, shot for Out magazine, it’s midnight in the Mojave. For Spring 2021, Studenberg will shift to Malibu where we see horses running out of the water symbolizing the shedding of one’s skin and a pursuit toward freedom and strength. Still, Baja East’s style remains true to its core.
“I really don’t like something to be in one season and then out the other,” the designer adds. “Fashion has told us to do that in many different ways. I feel like we can continue things. Like, I’m still making the same black and white satin suiting I’ve made for years. There have been new iterations of it, but a lot of the same core stays and I think that’s important.”
Studenberg also believes that consumers of fashion are demanding brands to be more “honest” in the ways they’re designing and marketing clothes. From the people behind the scenes, models, even the customers themselves, being truthful about fashion’s role in our lives is a big focus for today’s social media-prone fashionistas.
“Fashion has upheld this image of perfection for a very long time,” he says. “I know for a fact through experience that there is no one or nothing in this world that is perfect. And perfect is also very boring. Perfect just doesn’t exist. Period. When you strive for this level of something that doesn’t exist, it can make you crazy.”
He continues, “When I say that fashion is being honest, I think that we’re number one: looking at being more responsible, hopefully, in what we make, what we put out, what and how we do it, whether it’s being environmentally friendly or just pulling back on the amount of dials we show, or if we’re using vegan leather.”
“Us being honest [requires] pulling back from the amount of what we’re putting out there and the pressures we’re putting on the people in the industry, and the pressure that we’re putting on people outside the industry to make them think that four times a year they need the new bag or the newest of the newest thing. No. People need something that makes them feel great. They need something that makes them feel inspired.”
Being honest with consumers is a personal quest for Studenberg. “Fashion has always been about image,” he says. “When I was going through hell, I didn’t let anyone k now on the outside on social media. I couldn’t because fashion is all about image, and if the image I created over the past however many years was tarnished then why would anyone want to buy a $200 hoodie from me? That would look like a brand is desperate for money. That’s not sexy. Instead of being honest with everyone on what was going on, I had to pretend, which personally killed me inside.”
“Living in the higher vibration is an honest place and you can’t get there if you’re lying to yourself and others.”
On Alex (left): Logo zip hoodie, burnout tee, logo harem. Brent (center left) Ribbed cotton cardigan and harem swat. Tyler (center right); Ribbed cotton crew and harem sweat. On Vivienne (baby): Satin bloomer. On Maggie (right): Wild horses crepe kaftan maxi and billow pant.
All clothes by Baja East from the Pre-Fall 2020 collection. Styled by Scott Studenberg. Photographed by Nio Vardan.
This story appeared in Out Magazine's 2020 Fashion issue, guest edited by Scott Studenberg, creative director of the fashion brand Baja East. He appears on the cover with RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars winner Shea Couleé.