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Baja East designer Scott Studenberg is sunning himself on the balcony of his home-office in Laurel Canyon. “I’m multitasking,” he says with a laugh. “I’m tanning and talking to you.”
By his side as he catches up with The Wildest is Donatella, his French Bulldog of five years. She’s asleep at the moment, allowing Studenberg to do this interview and tackle the mountain of work before him — finishing the collection and organizing the look book shoot for Baja East’s Spring 2023, launching his new men’s swimwear line, Baja East Beach, and putting the final touches on his forthcoming collaboration with luxury weed manufacturer Drew Martin — but come 5 p.m., Donatella will emerge from her day-long slumber ready for his attention. Nay, demanding it.
“I neglect her during the day, and then I’m confronted,” Studenberg says. “She walks into my office and sits on my desk and just stares at me. She’s a Sagittarius, so she has no problem getting in my face.”
Studenberg is probably best known for designing Billy Porter’s iconic 2020 Grammy’s look — the one with the retractable beaded fringe hat — but his fashion bona fides go much deeper than that. Before co-founding Baja East eight years ago in New York City, he worked as sales director at LANVIN under the late creative director Alber Elbaz, whose lighthearted approach to fashion had a major impact on him. “[Alber] never took fashion too seriously,” Studenberg says. “It was always about having fun, and that is my philosophy as well.”
Studenberg describes his brand’s ethos as “loose luxe” — luxury materials rendered in a laid back SoCal cool style with just the right amount of NYC-inspired grit around the edges. And comfortable. Everything should always be comfortable. “I just feel like you feel sexier when you’re confident, and you are more confident when you’re comfortable,” he says.
Despite his red carpet successes, at the moment, Studenberg is more focused on building his online business and making his brand more sustainable. The fabrics used in his new swimwear collection are made from 80-percent recycled plastic bottles and since the start of the pandemic, he has taken to upcycling pieces and materials from past collections to create new, seasonally-relevant garments. “I did an entire tie dye collection for Coachella, taking old styles and reinventing them,” he says.
He also went vegan a couple years ago — “specifically for the planet” — and has been working to eliminate many of the animal bi-products in his collections as well. “In the very beginning, I used snake skins and things like that, which I am definitely avoiding moving forward. Instead, I do a snake print — more of a celebration of that creature, instead of harming it.”
Of course, Donatella couldn’t care less about any of this. “She only cares about herself,” Studenberg says with a wink. Outside of work, Studenberg’s life more or less revolves around his firecracker Frenchie. “I don’t go out much,” he says. “But when I do, I usually take her with me.” She accompanies him to dinner with friends and on trips to Baja East’s factories in downtown Los Angeles. They go on hikes in Runyon Canyon and play fetch in the park.
Named after fashion designer Donatella Versace, Donatella the Frenchie has a lot of energy and demands a lot of attention. “She’s an attention-wh*re diva for sure,” Studenberg adds. “When other dogs are around trying to get attention from a person she’ll snarl or growl at them.” She doesn’t like to share.
Despite her rejection of the “sharing is caring” philosophy, Donatella does have other dog pals. She grew up rough-housing with the dog of one of Studenberg’s friends and until recently, she had Studenberg’s other dog, Bala, to keep her company while her daddy worked. Bala passed away in June, following a year-long battle with cancer. “The guilt [over not giving her more attention] is built up even more because Donatella’s just kind of alone now,” Studenberg says. “Bala was much older, so she didn’t necessarily entertain playtime all the time, but at least they were together.”
Studenberg would love to welcome a new dog into their home, but he’s got some concerns. “Donatella is really territorial,” he says. “She’s like a power-top alpha, so it gives me anxiety to bring another dog into the house not knowing if it will be submissive or not.”
Although he got Donatella and Bala from breeders, he says he’d like to adopt moving forward. “I’d love to foster a dog and see how that goes.”
In the meantime, Donatella has playdates with one of Studenberg’s friend’s dogs and takes regular trips with her dad to the dog park. Her territorial nature and rough play style sometimes get her and Studenberg in trouble, though. “I can never be on my phone. I always have to keep an eagle eye on her every movement to make sure everything is okay. And she’s a terrible wing man,” he says. “Recently, I was like, ‘Please go over and talk to that guy’s dog,’ and she went and started a fight with him. I mean, it was something, but it didn’t really start things off on the right foot.”
Her beefs with other dogs aside, though, Donatella is her dad’s sweet — and fashionable — sidekick. She’s especially stylish in her assorted outfits and harnesses, a collection of which Studenberg keeps in the trunk of his car so they can coordinate their looks when they go out. Studenberg also creates one-of-a-kind outfits for Donatella to wear for events and photo shoots and recently produced a run of dog onesies for Baja East. They’re a one-off at this point, but if they sell, Studenberg says he’d love to design more pet-wear moving forward. It will be cashmere pet-wear, if Donatella has her way.
“She loves cashmere,” Studenberg says. “Wherever we go, she always manages to find a piece of cashmere to lay on. It’s my fault. There are cashmere blankets in her beds. I don’t give her new ones — they are just samples [from my home collection] — but I’ve shown her the finer things, and she likes them.”
Her namesake would approve.
The Collina Strada designer’s pup is the ideal NYFW sidekick: He models, has great hair, and fits in a stylish bag.
“Blackie was a friend and a collaborator. I never saw him as a pet and I don’t see Bosko as one either — they are family members.”