I'm not sure exactly when or how I heard about Kule, but I think it was around the middle of the brand's 17-year evolution. New York-based Parsons grad Nikki Kule launched her line in 2001 with luxury childrenswear; in 2009, she went to Brooks Brothers to relaunch its boys' collection and launch its first girls' collection. Then, in 2011, she went back to her namesake company, introducing a high-end "preppy luxe" women's line. Over the years since, it's morphed into something a bit more playful and accessible, and it's this casual and quirky — yet specific — image that's resonating with customers today.
Style stars like Leandra Medine and Jenny Walton are often seen wearing the brand's pieces, all of which are inspired by the classic striped shirt. Despite being relatively simple and easy to wear, the clothes pop on Instagram, and the brand has done a great job of creating an appealing and compelling aesthetic on the platform. That, and its own e-commerce site, were the only spaces the brand had to tell its distinctive visual story — until now.
On Tuesday evening, it opened its first-ever pop-up (or "residence" as Kule calls it) in a real, functioning post office within Santa Monica's charming Brentwood Country Mart (home to Goop, Jenni Kayne and other small businesses). It is very cool, although the brand is actually pronounced like "kyewl" — Kule, the person, has all but given up on correcting people.
The surprising location aligns perfectly with Kule's classic-with-a-twist image — the brand actually shot a look book in front of a mail truck two years ago, a framed image from which hangs on the wall in the pop-up. That was just a coincidence, though: Kule wasn't looking to do a pop-up in LA (she's based in New York, after all) but says she was presented with the opportunity by friend James Rosenfield, proprietor of Brentwood Country Mart, and his wife Heather. It will live in the space for six months.
"It would have been easier for me to do one in New York, but it's an opportunity you can't pass up," says Kule. "It's a really special place." With sky-blue paint and fun, nostalgic touches like retro candy, complimentary "Republic of Kule" postcards and special postal-themed socks accompanying Kule's bestselling striped tees, the space truly brings the brand to life.
"About three-and-a-half years ago, I decided I need to focus on one thing and owning that thing and be really good at that one thing, be an expert at it, make it perfect, and I just came up with the stripes," explains Kule of her brand's latest iteration. "I love striped shirts; I've collected them from all over."
She began by gathering all of her favorites, sussing out what she liked about each one, and mashing up those perfect details. All of the brand's striped tees have a signature vertical-stripe tag detail on the hem that make them distinguishable from their (vast) competition. While one might find focusing on stripes to be limiting, Kule feels that the possibilities are endless, and ultimately, it makes her job easier. "It's uncomplicated," she says.
She releases new product on a traditional schedule four times per year and the collection comprises a pretty full range for women (tees, button-downs, dresses, sweaters, outerwear, accessories and pants to come next spring) as well as men's tees, with items made between Portugal, the U.S. and China. Prices range from around $100 for a striped tee to nearly $700 for a faux fur coat. In addition to Kule.com, the brand is sold at Shopbop, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Revolve and more. A permanent brick-and-mortar space in New York is likely next, and could come as soon as next year, Kule says.
In the meantime, though, the post office pop-up is proving to be a good testing ground. "We're trying to figure out retail; we realized it's not easy to have a lot of piles folded up, we need hangers," she says. Sometimes, it's not just about the aesthetic. "It looks really pretty but it's just better to have hanging clothes"
It's otherwise easy for Kule to determine what else is "on-brand," whether it's T-shirts that read "O BOY" (a favorite phrase of hers) in sans-serif font, easy cashmere sweaters, or even faux fur pieces. "We always say it's very friendly," she says of the brand's overall ethos — one that she feels is likely to resonate now more than ever.
"People need color and friendliness," she explains. "It's a time to be more lighthearted and quirky and fun."