I discovered TL-180, whose French-Italian designers are based in Rome with a studio in Paris, in a beautiful mid-century modern historical landmark home in the hills of Mount Washington — an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood on the east side of Los Angeles. It's among the last places you'd expect to find a fashion preview, and given LA traffic, the designers probably didn't receive as many stylist and influencer visitors as they would have in a more central location. Alas, I was curious about the brand and the house (and my boyfriend happened to live down the street), so I went. Upon arrival, I couldn't have imagined a more fitting setting for Luisa Orsini and Antonine Peduzzi's subtly retro, relaxed designs.
Since launching TL-180 with a range of handbags in 2012, Orsini and Peduzzi have made a habit of doing what feels right, even if it defies convention. For instance, for the past three seasons, they've been showing during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, simply because they like its small, authentic feel and the city's buzzing creative energy. Over the past eight years, TL-180's growth as a brand has been slow, steady and organic. Until recently, the made-in-Italy products have only been available through its website and a few small international boutiques, hence their cult status. But last November, the designers inked an online exclusive deal with Net-a-Porter that will likely raise the brand's profile alongside its growing popularity among celebrities and influencers like Emma Watson, Emma Stone, Lea Seydoux, Eliana Gil Rodriguez and more.
Orsini and Peduzzi met at a party at the French-owned Villa Medici in Rome; initially, they didn't really get along, but ultimately found a creative synergy. "We wanted to create something together because we felt connected in this way," explains Orsini. "We were painting, doing stuff, being inspired together." After pursuing individual careers — Orsini in fashion design at Valentino and Peduzzi in theater — they moved to Paris and started creating together, initially focusing on painting and photography but ultimately coming up with a bag that evolved into a full line. They started selling it through the trade show Tranoï and then via appointments in their Paris apartment, where they felt they could better communicate their brand identity.
TL-180's current hit is a basket bag made of woven calf leather, but each style has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you want to own it immediately: The carryalls, top-handles, bucket- and belt-bags are relevant without being trendy, distinctive without being garish, and perfectly marry Italian quality with French insouciance. The designers want the bags to feel retro without being carbon copies of vintage styles, always incorporating a contemporary element and Italian savoir faire. Common points of inspiration include art, poetry, the elderly and children ("They're less focused on their image," says Orsini.), while the starting point for each collection is often a film. The latest: 1971 Italian-French drama "Death in Venice."
"We don't believe in fast fashion; we want to do something more timeless," says Peduzzi of the brand's foray into ready-to-wear. "It's the way we live; we take clothes from our grandmothers... We have a lot of clothes forever, they're not just to be consumed." Right now, they're focused on knitwear, also made in Italy. Proximity to their factories is what prompted a recent move to Rome from Paris. "We spend a lot of time with the factory and it's a family; [we spend] more time [with them] than our boyfriends," says Orsini. "It's important to build something real and you can feel it in the quality — a real relationship with the people you work with."
Now that Orsini and Peduzzi have a solid production set up, they're ready to expand their distribution beyond the small boutiques they launched with. After the Net-a-Porter exclusive ends, we'll likely see them in some other big-name retailers. Product-wise, the girls say shoes will be next.
As for marketing, the designers obsess over imagery, often working with their artist friends to create content, and work with their PR to develop organic relationships with celebrities and influencers who genuinely like their bags, which do lend themselves well to Instagram.
It may have taken a few years, but TL-180's moment seems to be here, and there's nothing wrong with growing slowly. In fact, it's pretty smart.