Say what you will about the Kardashians and the Jenners, but they are nothing if not particular about their #aesthetics, and it feels safe to say that they're not going to wear a brand unless it fits their very specific individual (but also kind of collective) images. One label that just about all of them (and both Hadid sisters) have embraced recently — and that's also built plenty of its own cred — is Unravel.
The brand's signature body-hugging, high-waisted leather pants and deconstructed sweats almost feel synonymous with Kendall, Gigi and Bella's off-duty style right now. The clothes have a tough-yet-wearable, streetwear-inspired vibe, as well as a luxury ready-to-wear quality and attention to fit and detail. (The price point is in line with the latter.)
Of course, the line's popularity among these famous families is no accident: Makeup artist Joyce Bonelli, a longtime member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan's extensive glam squad, is engaged to, and the co-creative director of the label's French founder Ben Taverniti. While her regular proximity to one of the most influential families on Earth is certainly convenient, Bonelli insists that she does not push the line on her clients. "You can't make someone wear something, so I don't know why people think that," explains Bonelli. We caught up with her and Taverniti over the phone after seeing their latest collection in person during Paris Fashion Week; they're currently holed up in their Hollywood Hills home working on Spring 2018. "Joyce has an organic relationship with them; it is not like we're trying to push millions of boxes of product on them," adds Taverniti.
In Paris, Bonelli was pulling double duty, doing Kendall Jenner's makeup in addition to meeting with press and buyers to support Unravel. Jenner was shot by paparazzi wearing the brand multiple times over the course of PFW — once after literally stealing a leather-denim-hybrid jacket from Bonelli's own hotel room. This sort of thing happens a lot, apparently: "They try it on and don't give it back to me and they joke, 'Tell uncle Ben to get you a new one,'" says Bonelli. "I literally have nothing for myself."
Bonelli also stresses that she doesn't give the Kardashians and Jenners product unless they specifically ask for it, providing the following anecdote: "We were making grills with our friend in our hotel room [in Milan]; [Kendall] came by to get her imprint done and I just showed her a couple pictures of what we showed in Paris this last show and she goes, 'Oh my god, I need this, I need that, and I need that. So I brought those to her... the next day I was coming into her room to do her makeup and a stylist had pulled from the showroom — and I let that kind of organic thing happen too — and she was like, 'Joyce why didn't you ship me all these pieces. What the fuck is wrong with you?' And I was like, 'I don't know; I don't want to be annoying.' She was like, 'Can't I keep these?' Everyone in [the] Milan [showroom] is like, 'Where are the pieces? We want to show this to sell it [at market].'"
Not everyone with a strong Instagram following gets those privileges, though. "People think that because they have 50,000 followers on Instagram they are entitled to [say], 'Oh let's collaborate!' And collaborate means, 'send me free shit.' I'm like, 'No, we're not that kind of brand at all,'" explains Taverniti, who studied at ESMOD fashion school and worked for Jeremy Scott in Paris, then moved to the U.S. to start a denim company. (His father was also a designer, and he cites late-'90s Raf Simons, Rick Owens and Helmut Lang as influences.) He launched Unravel in 2015 and Bonelli came into the picture as a romantic and business partner shortly thereafter (Bonelli gave birth to their twins just three months ago). The family both lives and works out of their Los Angeles home, though everything is executed and produced in Milan, Italy.
Taverniti has aimed to hit the right balance of exclusivity, elusiveness and an overall difficult-to-pinpoint vibe from the very beginning. He and Bonelli like to describe the brand as a "vibe," and a "movement," which they really feel has started to take off over the past few months. It all started with getting into the right retailers. “The first season when it launched, it was very important to me to just get [six] doors across the world," he notes. Specifically, they were Alchemist in Miami, Maxfield in Los Angeles, Elyse Walker in the Pacific Palisades and online, Selfridges in London, Antonioli in Italy and Montaigne Market — six of the most influential and exclusive retailers that exist. "People were like, 'those are the most difficult stores to get,' and we got them all in the first season,'" says Taverniti. They kept their distribution small for the first two seasons, and then entered into a partnership with Italian company New Guards Group to foster expansion. As they've grown from six to 100 doors worldwide, the strategy of only selling to the best stores across the world hasn't changed. Last September, they launched with their first U.S. department store, Barneys, which Taverniti says has been amazingly supportive. "They give us amazing corners."
Taverniti likens the brand's retail strategy to its celebrity/influencer gifting strategy, noting that they could sell to "double" the stores they do. "We need to keep it special," he says. "We could be on all the Instagram-famous models, but that's not what we do." He adds, "We want people obsessing. When I was a kid, and even now, there are pieces from other designers that I absolutely love and I need to have [but] it's impossible to find and it drives me completely crazy, but that looking for something... it's amazing; it's one of the best feelings in the world."
Speaking of exclusivity and keeping things special, the brand doesn't even have its own e-commerce yet — something that's unusual for even the most elitist fashion brands. "That's one of our biggest fights," says Taverniti. Bonelli is firmly pro-e-comm; I could hear her mutter impassively, "It's ridiculous," as Taverniti explained that he's such a perfectionist about things that sometimes he just does nothing. "I've been working on e-comm for over a year and the reality is I hate everything that I'm seeing. When I started Unravel, it was very important that everything had to be different, to look different." Ultimately, he's trying to find a way to capture the emotion of shopping in a store with e-commerce and promises it's coming. Something else on the docket is a proper fashion week show: The brand will definitely hold one during men's fashion week in Paris this June, and most likely one during women's in September. Taverniti's goal is to "bring back" the feeling of his late-'90s fashion heroes like Simons and Lang. Physical stores are also "in conversation."
Shows and retail experiences will likely help communicate and define the "vibe" Bonelli and Taverniti are talking about, as Unravel is a difficult brand to categorize. Taverniti says the biggest compliment he's received was from an unnamed prominent industry veteran telling him, "It's not ready-to-wear, designer luxury, whatever; it's not streetwear; it's like a combo of all of it. Basically you guys created a new type of brand." This topic really gets him going.
"My background is streetwear; I literally grew up in the streets, I was the 17-year-old kid hustling in the streets, and nobody knows that about me," he says. "The idea of Unravel is I'm going to give you the best fit, the best color, the best fabric, the best everything and it's going to feel good. It's going to be easy to wear, you don't have to overthink it. I want this to be timeless; I want this to be real."
And that's not limited to men's and women's apparel and accessories. Childrenswear is in the works — and really who knows what else. "We are getting there to creating that vibe," says Taverniti. "When you create that, the sky's the limit. It's not just clothing, it's not just accessories, it's going to be way more than that. It's a lifestyle."
See the Fall 2017 Unravel collection in the gallery below.