Greater Palm Springs Icon Trina Turk on Her Personal Desert Style

The Designer Talks Inspiration and Influences in the Fashion World

Written By: Molly Brooks Trina Turk

Bright, bold and anything but boring, Trina Turk is the epitome of Palm Springs style. Locals love to beat the desert heat in Turk’s effortlessly chic styles and make an impression with her hand-designed prints and patterns. Starting the Trina Turk empire out of her house, Turk has grown the brand immensely in the last 20 years. The woman behind it all talks about her experiences in fashion, what draws her to the California desert and much more.

Q: What inspired you to join the fashion world?

Trina Turk: My mom taught me to sew when I was 11 years old and I just thought it was a lot of fun. After that, I heard you could be a fashion designer and knew that’s what I wanted to be. I didn’t really know what it meant to be in fashion, but I thought it was so cool that you didn’t have to follow patterns and that there was so much customization involved.

Q: Working in the industry before branching off on your own, what were you aiming to achieve when starting your own line and company?

TT: I studied apparel design in college and my first job was working with Brittania Jeans in Seattle. It was a really large company and I started as an assistant designer. After that, I worked at OP down here in California and that’s really where I learned the great use of patterns and textiles. It was where I learned to work with print.

I decided to go out on my own because I wanted to design something that I wanted to wear. During those previous opportunities, I spent a lot of time in low-priced junior apparel, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. I just wanted to be my own boss, and see what it would be like to work for myself.

Q: How would you describe your personal style?

TT: My style is a mix of vintage and Trina Turk. I’m also very into a menswear vibe. I like to mix things together. If I had to describe it in a concise way I would say that my style is fairly simple with touches of textile use and a menswear influence.

Q: How does Palm Springs influence your designs?

TT: I grew up in California until I moved to Seattle with my parents when I was young. Then in the ’80s I couldn’t stay away and moved back. California is so unique, between its climate and landscape, there is so much variation. California has endless inspiration. As for Palm Springs, I have this Slim Aarons photograph of these women sipping cocktails by the pool and they just seem so glamorous. To me that represents Palm Springs so well, and I just want to recreate that glamour that existed in the Palm Springs heyday.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your designs in general?

TT: Being on the West Coast is so different from the East Coast. We are outside of the New York fashion mecca and things are a lot less traditional. I draw inspiration from this area in general. It lets you wear whatever you want, like the bright prints and vibrant colors we are identified by. There is a lot of optimism represented in my designs, as well. We do dark colors and we have black pants, but in general our lines are sunny and optimistic just like the Golden State.

Q: Why did you choose to open your first retail store in Palm Springs?

TT: My husband and I had been going to Palm Springs a lot, and we were looking for a house to buy — which we eventually did in ’98. Most of the wealth had moved south to Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert and people had left Palm Springs behind. But a bunch of creative types were moving in, from up north like Portland and Seattle, and there was excitement building up around the area again.

So when we all moved down there, there was no place to shop. If you forgot an outfit, you either had to go thrifting, which wasn’t that bad then, or drive to Palm Desert. I had that Slim Aarons picture in my head and thought of the style of old Palm Springs and what it could be again. I told my husband that if we found a space we liked, then we should open a store. We then came across this modern furniture store, and I just loved the space and it worked out that their lease ended in September 2001 and we opened up shop that spring of 2002. It’s now our biggest store and has the largest selection from our Mr. Turk line, as well.

Q: Why do you think you’ve been such an influence in fashion in and around Palm Springs?

TT: When we first opened up, there was nothing out there. It was a no man’s land. If people were in the area, our store was their destination, it wasn’t like they were just walking by. Soon after though, we sparked a revitalization of the area, and neighborhoods began filling in around us. That wasn’t on purpose, we had no idea that was going to happen. The neighborhood is now vibrant, though, and is a fun place for people to walk around and shop. I do think we helped give an identity to Palm Springs fashion. When you go to the desert, you have to wear color and bright prints. It feels funny to wear black in Palm Springs. Trina Turk gives a nod to vintage resort wear, as well, and we helped men embrace color and print with our Mr. Turk line.

Q: How do you think the Trina Turk brand has evolved in the last 20 years?

TT: Well, we are a much bigger company. I started the line working out of my house and now we have 150 employees and 10 retail stores. That is big, because we used to be solely a wholesaler, which we still are in a large part, but now we have our own stores on top of that. Honestly, stylistically we haven’t changed much, we’ve stuck to our brand’s identity and if I brought back an old collection, it wouldn’t be out of place. Our designs have become much more detailed, of course, but we have maintained that effortless style. We have always made simple silhouettes that let the patterns, prints and textiles speak for themselves.

Q: You’ve expanded into so many sectors of the industry. Do you have a favorite line to work on?

TT: I enjoy the styling, but for me the most interesting and enjoyable part to work on is the fabrication. We develop all of our own prints, weaves and color combinations. We make our own versions of fabrics, to our specifications and liking. I also love figuring out which print works best for which category. Some of the prints we produce work better on a smaller scale like a bikini, while others could work on a large scale and could be used on a home furnishing piece.

Q: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not working in fashion?

TT: I love architecture and interior design. We go on architecture tours all the time, in both Palm Springs and Los Angeles. I love looking at midcentury modern homes. I also love to shop vintage fashion and furniture. Being in fashion, I’m really involved in the art world, too, because those interests are so similar.

Q: You’ve traveled around the world, so where is your favorite place you’ve been?

TT: Bali was amazing. Morocco was amazing. Italy was amazing. My mom is Japanese, so the whole family went to Japan during the Cherry Blossom Festival, which was a really cool experience. I really enjoy traveling and I think it is one of the most inspiring things. There really isn’t a place I’ve been that I haven’t liked. You just have to have an open mind.

Q: Do you have favorite places in your home state?

TT: I love Los Angeles because it’s my hometown, but I grew up in San Jose. So, San Francisco was the first big city I had ever been to as a kid. Visiting there when I was younger was like I had died and gone to heaven. It’s really just a special city and I didn’t realize that when I was a kid. Not all cities have cable cars, bridges and big zoos! That city will always have a special place in my heart.

Native Knowledge: Stop inside the Trina Turk Palm Springs store for a map of her favorite shopping destinations in and around Palm Springs.

Trina Turk’s favorite Palm Springs vintage furniture shops:

  1. Modern Way
  2. Flow Modern
  3. Palm Canyon Galleria

Sitting down with design icon Trina Turk

About the author


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