A lot of designers call themselves multidisciplinary, but they’ve got nothing on Renata Abbade. A former stylist for magazines like Purple and fashion brands like VPL, the São Paulo–born, Los Angeles–based designer has spent the better part of the last decade involved in a wonderfully weird array of activities: creating a cult jewelry line in ceramics, dancing on stage at Lollapalooza with the Brazilian band CSS, starring in a series of self-produced dance and workout videos (including one for CSS, in which she wore masks depicting each of the band members’ faces), designing terrariums, landscapes, rugs, tapestries, and fabrics, DJing down in Brazil, and performing with a semi-fictitious band called High Waisted. She refers to herself both as a freestylist and a fashion artist, but in truth, what she’s often creating amounts to something more like performance art, where she is the subject, channeling personal interests and experiences into new and different media. “To me, it feels like I’m only doing one thing, even if I’m involved in a lot of different things,” says Abbade. “Like with the terrariums, it’s basically styling with plants instead of clothes, and land instead of people.”
As you might expect from a 30-something designer with such diverse interests, Abbade is constantly pulling from a reference sheet a mile long and peppered with 1980s paraphernalia — karaoke videos, ice-skating costumes, Weird Science, Norma Kamali fashions, Jane Fonda workout tapes, and Duran Duran album covers among them. But her most enduring inspiration comes from her childhood in Brazil. “Everything I know is very tropical and colorful and happy and uplifting,” says Abbade, despite the fact that she grew up in upstate São Paulo and moved to the city — which she calls dirty and chaotic — at age 17. “It’s such a dense place, and the clouds never go away,” she says. “But if it were bright all of the time, the messiness would show up so much more. This way, you have to look to find the beautiful details.”
Abbade grew up dreaming of moving to New York; when she was 18, she went on a “Supermarket Sweeps”–type television show in Brazil — which would prefigure her styling prowess — and won a $4,000 trip to the city. She came home to attend fashion school at Santa Marcelina, just a few years behind fellow alum Alexandre Herchcovitch, but found herself itching to get back; a job as a styling assistant ended up being her ticket. It was in New York that she planted the seeds for most of her projects. She learned how to do ceramics at the downtown Manhattan Educational Alliance; she met one of the members of CSS — who’d seen a video of her dancing by herself on Coney Island — at a random cafe in Chinatown. But once the recession hit, New York lost a bit of its allure. “To me, New York was a place to work and make money and have fun. But then work got kind of down, money was way down, and the fun wasn’t there anymore. Also, I felt a strong need to reconnect with nature,” she says, which is what brought her to the studio and apartment we visited last month in Echo Park. “Los Angeles has the best of all of that. It’s a city, but you can go to the beach, the mountains, and the desert. I mean, there’s a waterfall up the street from my house.”
In L.A., Abbade has been making her jewelry at the Barnsdall Art Park, which overlooks the Hollywood Hills and is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and she’s been branching out into household objects like pots, wall hangings, and tiles. It’s in L.A., as well, that she’s turned to more landscape-based projects. “I actually just did my first one — a friend’s mom is renovating a house and there’s an atrium in the front yard. It’s really about creating a look, but for the ground. It’s still about making something look beautiful.” Here’s a closer look at the threads that tie all of Abbade’s disparate work together.