L.A. designer Heidi Merrick fully embraced the “back to the land” movement during the pandemic last year, when she moved her family to a plot of wilderness in Ojai and turned it into a working ranch.
The life change also inspired a collaboration and a collection, which debuted last week at The Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang, Calif.
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The 10,500-acre resort with horseback riding, a lake for fishing and more, has been an Old West-style guest ranch since 1946, entertaining the likes of Clark Gable, Doris Day and Ronald Reagan.
For her fall 2021 fashion show and dinner party Thursday night, Merrick brought along her own fashionable SoCal crew, including actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar, Minka Kelly and Lindsay Price; botanical chef Loria Stern; handbag designer Kendall Conrad and others to celebrate the California ranch lifestyle.
“Years ago, I came here in the start of my career to go fly fishing,” Merrick said of her history with the property. “There is a book called ‘Famous Fly Fishers’ and I’m a chapter, so is Sandra Day O’Connor and Dick Cheney.”
When Merrick moved north last year, she rekindled her romance with the Alisal and had the idea to expand her popular “SRF” line of slogan T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats to include a new slogan, “Rnch.”
She combined that with a new runway collection that was certainly timely with fashion’s current love affair with all things Western. Merrick gave her signature pieces the subtle ranch treatment, showing ribbon-tied denim poet tops; tailored khaki blazer jumpsuits and playsuits; black duster coats; riding pants; organza prairie skirts and gowns, and striped blanket shawls.
Far from veering into kitsch territory, she managed to keep the lineup rooted in the classics.
The runway and “Rnch” slogan pieces, $68 to $1225, will be rolled out on her web store and in the Alisal Ranch mercantile shop over the next few months. Merrick also has a retail store in the works in Summerland, the trendy Santa Barbara suburb.
It’s not the first time the designer has hooked up with a hospitality brand. She created staff uniforms for the new Pendry West Hollywood and Pendry New York hotels, and collaborated with the St. Regis several years ago.
“I’m a lifestyle designer and [these collaborations] end the seasonal pressure,” she said, adding that she never wants to wholesale her collection to department stores again.
Instead, Merrick’s business strategy has become about tweaking her brand classics for different moods and locales. “Since COVID-19 hit I’ve wanted to change the way I do fashion. I don’t want to do all new. Fifteen years in, I know my customer and I want to get off the fashion calendar and just feed them,” she said. “So I change up the fabric, alter things a little and make it better every time. In the show, my mom was wearing a layered lace skirt we did 10 years ago that we’re bringing back.”
Since her approach is all about community, it was only natural to bring friends and family together for the collection reveal, including dad, Al Merrick, the legendary surfboard shaper, and mom, Terry, who kept the books for their Santa Barbara-based Channel Islands Surf Board company for 40 years.
“I’m 73, I was so nervous about falling down,” said the first-time model, who brought serious Diane Keaton vibes to the runway.
While guests sipped local wine outside on the resort’s creekside lawn, the designer arrived on horseback with her models, including her young children and several spur-rattling Alisal ranch wranglers.
“I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve been to a fashion show and what better place?” said Gellar. “I like that Heidi designs for a woman who’s looking sexy and doing s–t,” she said of the focus on function — with a bit of flash. “And if you can ride a horse in sequin bootie shorts, I say go for it,” she laughed, nodding to the designer’s signature sequin “Neptune” briefs, paired with a cream blouson-sleeve sweater and riding boots in the show.
“I met Heidi through a mutual friend and her line is really simpatico with my lifestyle,” said Lindsay Price, who is married to celebrity chef Curtis Stone. “She’s super into surf, my husband and kids are as well, and I have to get out there with them…She’s very California but the tailoring is impeccable.”
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