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Invading Your Space: Billy’s Holly Jovenall

We caught up with the vintage fanatic to talk her new brand, Billy, her biggest fan, Justin Bieber, and what makes her tick

Welcome to “Invading Your Space,” FU’s new, ongoing series in which we visually and verbally explore the workplaces, studios, and other sexy dwellings of the most talented humans in fashion and beyond.

New York and yours truly are just beginning to get acquainted with Holly Jovenall’s Billy, which is understandable, seeing as Fall 2017 marked the stylist’s first official collection of altered vintage duds and vintage-inspired menswear. However, in Lala Land, where I ventured this weekend, the brand has been buzzing for a while. Perhaps that’s because Jovenall is such a West Coast star. Kicking off her career as a shop assistant at Kitson, Jovenall quickly became creative director and started styling private clients, who liked the vintage clothing she sourced and wore herself. “Well, the vintage happened because I’ve always worn it,” she explained, leaning on the desk of her downtown L.A. studio in skinny black jeans and a worn white tee over a long-sleeved black one. “I’m from the East Coast, on a horse ranch, and it’s just part of the lifestyle there to wear old tees, or wear my dad’s tees—he’s a construction worker, so his shirts had really cool holes.” I interrupted briefly to repeat the words “really cool holes” because that sentiment is one of a million reasons Jovenall and Billy are cooler than you. She continued, “So then, the clients would want to buy my t-shirts, or they’d want to buy my vintage varsity jacket. That’s really how it started.”

So where does she find all these vintage treasures? “I’m pretty strategic,” she said (because she’s a boss). “I really only do the Rose Bowl [a flea market in L.A.], and then I have private appointments with two Japanese guys. One of them is kind of my mentor, and I’ve worked with him for a little over five years. He knows how picky I am with my vintage, so I’ll send him a project, like this capsule of 20 vintage white tees I’m working on, but it takes months because he’ll go through his collection, bring like, 50 back from Japan, and I’ll go through those, and I’ll just take two of the best.” She gestured toward a huge industrial laundry cart in the middle of the studio. We walked over to take a look inside—and there they were. To anyone other than a hawk-eyed vintage connoisseur like Jovenall, these would just look like old, white t-shirts and, okay, sure, that’s exactly what they are, but to Jovenall, they are exquisite. “They’re all different. There are some lighter-weight ones that are early ’70s, and then there’s some of the smaller necklines that are ’50s and ’60s, some Hanes, and these smaller tees, and here’s some V-necks. Oh! And these light tissue-type tees, these are my favorite.” I’ve never been so excited over a bag of old white t-shirts in my life—the patination on each gave them a visually and tangibly rich history I’d otherwise have overlooked entirely.

She walked me through more of her vintage collection—military jackets, letterman sweaters—showing me how she’s customized each with a wash, or distressing, or a Billy patch, like a vintage pentimento. And while this is how Billy began, as updated touches to vintage clothes, her new collection, housed at the back of the studio—largely menswear, but to be worn by anyone—is all made from scratch. As we headed back to take a look, I had to ask: The Biebs, one of her biggest celebrity supporters, how’d she do that? “It seriously just happened organically. I put something on social media and Karla [Welch, Justin Bieber’s stylist] hit me up five minutes later and her text was like, ‘What the fuck is this Billy stuff? I need it for Justin.’ I’ve known Karla for ages, and now he’s a really loyal, amazing client—I think he has over 200 pieces. Karla would be like, ‘We need more jerseys.’ I was able to then go and start sourcing, and making sure that when she needed something, I had it. Then he wore a couple of jerseys on tour. She really wanted the same aesthetic for Justin that I wanted for Billy—mixing streetwear with vintage and chic, high-end clothes.”

I spotted a black tee pinned to the wall. It was possibly the most perfectly distressed black tee I’ve ever seen—bleached out in the front, but with a dark black square where a breast pocket had clearly been. “Oh, yeah, I worked on that for over a year—I’m such a freak with natural wear-and-tear, so I’d put it out in the sun, I left the pocket on, and then took it off. I wanted to get this look, like you’re in the sun working on a job site and you get this natural burnout. It got a little hole here, and then the rest is just because it was a vintage tee and I washed it over and over at my house. To keep wearing it down, I’d throw it in with my jeans and stuff.”

That burnout with dark ex-pocket patches has been replicated by her manufacturer. The collection has the feature on the back of sweatpants and jersey shorts—it’s fab af—but she adds all the holes herself. I asked her how. She wouldn’t tell me. “I don’t tell anybody—it’s this little tool that nobody else knows about, and people ask me all the time, but I make sure it’s not on Instagram Stories.” I guessed the tool must have been hidden, or under lock and key, or in her vault, and when she looked about and told me there were some laying out, I resisted the urge to scour the space for her vintaging secret sauce. Instead, I spotted the screens and paint used in the collection, which also punctuate the space. I asked her about her other clients. “Well, there’s Kim too, of course.” Of course. “I met her stylist at one of the vintage events I used to do to make some money, and we just really connected. She was like, ‘Oh, I style Kim. I would love to set up an appointment with you.’ And I was just like, Okay, and it just grew from there, so Kim buys the sweatpants, the little sweatshirts, little t-shirts.”

We talk some of her other clients too—Wiz Khalifa, Luka Sabbat. She pulls out her iPhone and shows me some behind-the-scenes shots from a photo shoot with Ty Dolla $ign the week before. I ask about her client Kim’s hubby Kanye—she says not just yet, but we agree in classic L.A. slang that that would be “hella dope.” Either way, with clients like these, and her stellar collection, Billy is set in good stead to succeed, but it’s Jovenall herself—her professor-level knowledge and her nuclear enthusiasm for her craft—that will ultimately drive the Billy brand.

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