It was quite by accident that I bumped into Magda Berliner in Los Angeles. I had met her at a Target party in New York back in February and even if I tried, I could never forget that tiny vision of fashionable delight in those enormous black square glasses. The word ‘petite’ might have been invented for her sake. And that was a while ago too, because as a woman in her fifties, with an 18-year old daughter just about to go to college and an underground cult fan following that’s been growing for more than a decade, she looks like she’s still in summer camp. So when she walked up to me at the Max Mara party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, minus the glasses but still cute as a button, I got a jolt of misplaced puppy love – I wanted to squeeze her! She did not take offense. On the contrary, I was invited to her house the next day.
Los Angeles is breathtaking, even in its hazardous haziness. As my chauffeur meanders through the Hills, via Mulholland Drive, I can just about make out the San Fernando Valley. It’s vast and impressive. Every flower, tree and bush is in bloom and there’s this sound, like something steadily rushing in the distance, a combination of oceans waving, foliage rustling and traffic swooshing. It’s almost like the sky is higher here, and amplifies every bit of movement the city makes. I haven’t heard it anywhere but here; it’s a la-la thing.
I’m curious to see Magda’s home. I bet it’s every bit a reflection of her unique style and apparent good taste. “It’s never finished!” she sighs as she gives me a tour. “We haven’t done a tenth of what we want with the house; it’s quite an expense but the bones are good.” And the landscaping adds all the value. They put in a salt water pool and replaced the dry grass with stones. I’m not prone to envy but it’s starting to nag.
Magda’s parents immigrated from Bolivia in the fifties. They settled in Hollywood and then moved to the Valley when Magda was a teenager. She’s a FIDM alumni and studied Journalism at Cal State. She started her career in fashion as a stylist but went on to design one-of-a-kind dresses with vintage lace, a business she’s kept small and self-sufficient for the past ten years, run from her own studio and home-office. “The fandom for my Lace Collection dresses is quite wide and varied,” she smiles. “I receive e-mails from all over the world! It’s great to be an underground culty brand. I do In-Stores with intimate boutiques country-wide, customizing pieces, meeting amazing women and really enjoying where the product lives. Each piece is special and people appreciate the attention I lend to the experience.” She even models her own look books! Which reminds me: what is the secret behind that itty bitty body? “Bread. Wine. Cheese. Avocado! Pilates. Ballet. Running!” she cheers. Are you frowning? I think I’ve just lost control over my envy…
Magda also has one of the most extensive and unique vintage collections I have seen to date. It takes up two jammed wardrobes in her bedroom and spills over to the wall-to-wall closet in the bathroom. “You didn’t see the closets in the garage….!” she laughs. I ask her if she’s ever been accused of hoarding. (I accuse myself on a daily basis!) “I try to wear what I own. If I haven’t worn a piece for a while I wear it once more and if I don’t feel it, I pass it on. I do keep my archival collections - I was quite adventurous with my attire in my twenties and thirties and am quite glad to have the bits from that time – and am grateful that I can be ready for any type of event or gala at an hour’s notice!” Her daily outfits are motivated by the weather and locale. “In LA I favor button down shirts, skinny, cropped jeans and ballerinas or boots (depending on season) and sunglasses – I drive a convertible! In New York I tend to layer: dress, turtle neck, tights, boots, cardigan, coat. In Paris I wear dresses over blouses paired with a jacket or cape. The city definitely determines the uniform!”
And so I put on my sunglasses, take off my shoes and recline in the passenger’s seat of the Mini Cooper, as I once again zoom to the sound of the Valley views on the way down. Magda is picking up her daughter and I am going for a game of tennis. Life is good in la-la land.