In 2002, the year Vivi Lynch graduated from USC’s Marshall School of Business, the corner of Hoover and Union streets looked to be a nearly unthinkable commercial destination. Now, the intersection’s retail complex, which houses the ever-popular wine bar Bacaro, has welcomed Lynch’s clothing boutique Kissa.
Kissa, which opened last October, caters to USC women above all else. The clothing styles, the hours — most weekdays the boutique operates from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. — and the prices all service the undergraduate lifestyle.
“I knew there was a need here that wasn’t being fulfilled,” said Lynch, who knows the plight of the fashion-forward USC student all too well. “I know how tough it is for girls to buy clothes. I wanted clothes, [but] I never had any money.”
Basics, such as colorful tank tops, can be purchased in pairs for $15. The boutique’s most expensive item at the moment is an $88 dress with thick-contour fabric. Some might call it a “special occasion” dress.
Those offerings might change by the time of your visit, though. Each piece is bought in limited numbers and fresh merchandise comes into the store every other week. Next month, Kissa could have almost entirely new inventory. Still, Lynch intends to keep everything under $100 and offer most pieces for much less. The styles will also remain consistent with college student needs.
“College students always want to wear the same thing,” Lynch said. “You want a really comfy sweater. You want a great dress or miniskirt to go to a party. You want a fun top that you can wear to class and then hopefully to the 2-9 afterward with you.”
A lot of these fun tops and great miniskirts come from Downtown Los Angeles, where Lynch and her team of two search for a combination of what’s trending and what inspires them in the moment.
“We don’t pick designers specifically,” Lynch said of her buying process. “We pick them for their clothes.”
The prices, the turnover and the styles will all remind shoppers of fast-fashion retailers, such as H&M and Forever 21, as will the disregard for “brands.” But accessibility isn’t the only thing that separates Kissa’s merchandise from the pack. The boutique also differs in its approach to the latest whims of fashion. Trends are curated and, as Lynch calls them, “intentional.”
“Every time you come in here you get a little bit of a theme,” Lynch said. “A few weeks ago we were doing this whole blue, blue, blue theme because we thought blue was really hot.”
A denim corset with a tulle skirt reflects this theme, as does a black minidress on one mannequin with a cascading blue hem. The latter is a favorite of Vanessa Waltz, Lynch’s partner in purchasing and Kissa’s graphic designer.
Lynch admits that there’s a lot of trend forecasting.
“We’re always looking at shows and magazines. We’re looking at everything,” Lynch said.
But trends aren’t what drive the merchandise.
The buyers are feeling edgy floral for spring. Indeed, this is already evident on a rack of yellow bustiers, splashed in floral print and hanging alongside a black pleated skirt that, if not leather, looks remarkably similar.
If the offerings sound very “downtown,” they largely are. Kissa won’t appeal to the college student who wears leggings and Ugg boots to class, but there is often a practicality (and comfort) to what the boutique stocks. Lynch’s current favorite piece is the one she happened to be wearing for her interview — a gray jersey tank with an attached tulle skirt that is both classroom- and bar-appropriate.
You could see the same look on almost any USC female, but it’s no real surprise. In the decade since she’s become a Trojan alumna, Lynch has worked in the L.A. fashion industry — she won’t say where — and has attended almost every USC football game. Her understanding of both worlds runs deep.
Accordingly, a lot of Kissa’s clothing has a similar versatility and ease to that gray dress. A sleeveless white button-up with silver tips attached to the collar would look equally appropriate for a class presentation as it would for a night out. There’s a playfulness to the designs, as well — many sweaters and T-shirts feature cut-out sleeves, cat prints (‘kissa’ means cat in Finnish) or some combination of the two. In short, the pieces look stylish on their own.
As Waltz said, “It’s not supposed to be stressful to wear clothing.”
The stress-free mantra extends to the shopping experience as a whole. The boutique is currently offering numerous deals through its website, ShopKissa.com, and offers free delivery within the 90007 area code. Lynch has also launched a membership club to provide loyal customers with in-the-know newsletters, early access to merchandise and, of course, discounts.
“I know that life is expensive. I want to make clothes fun,” Lynch said, her point punctuated by the sight of a smiling giraffe piñata behind her. “And affordable,” she added with a grin.