July 2010

Tastemakers Sonia Eram

Style Savant

If Sonia Eram seems like an unlikely style guru, it’s probably because she never set out to have anything to do with fashion. She came to Los Angeles from Iran to attend college (an extremely private person, she declines to say where) and then stayed on for graduate studies in psychology.

When that did not turn out to be the career path of her dreams, she accepted a friend’s invitation to open a clothing shop. Within a year, she bought out her partner and was on her way to becoming possibly L.A.’s most highly educated, under-the-radar fashion arbiter.

Eram’s relative anonymity as a tastemaker and businesswoman is no accident. She never advertises, very rarely does press and mostly grows her business through personal relationships with designers and clients. Each person I queried about her replied with some variation on the same theme: “It’s about time someone figured out what a genius Sonia is.”

When you walk into Mameg (Kurdish for “breast”) on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, you get the sense there’s much more going on than simply the selling of clothes. The word curated is tossed around far too often these days, but in this case, it is right on the mark. Art is installed throughout the store, and the clothes themselves are not of the hottest-new-thing variety.

Each garment plays a part in a larger narrative. From the small Japanese label Wonder Collective to avant-garde fashion-world faves like Hussein Chalayan and Viktor & Rolf, the mix at Mameg is certainly not what you find on trendy Robertson.

The proprietor and I meet in the garden adjacent to her store, where even the trees have been turned into an art installation—tiny bells on long red strings dangle from the branches. Eram is a master at steering the conversation away from herself to the designers she admires so greatly. She speaks of Chalayan’s pure vision and how he finds inspiration in technology, culture and the human body, calling him “the center of my universe in terms of fashion and design.”

She feels Los Angeles holds a unique place in the fashion world because of the diversity of the city’s population. And then with some reluctance, she describes her own philosophy: “I’ve tried so hard to make Mameg a place where the love for hospitality, genuine curiosity, tolerance for new ideas, as well as past mistakes and purity of design, are welcomed and cherished.”

Much like Ikram in Chicago or Linda Dresner in New York (back in the day), Mameg is a mecca for those who think long and hard about what they wear and plot their own course regardless of where the fashion lemmings are heading.

Chalayan sees Eram’s special appeal as a function of where she’s from and where she now finds herself. “She’s Iranian Kurdish, and that affects her way of thinking,” he says. “She and I come from similar places and live in the West. We are displaced, but we also appreciate the cities we live in. Being an outsider creates a sort of floating eye. It could be rootlessness—she belongs nowhere and everywhere.”

He goes on to identify the peculiar quality one senses standing in Mameg listening to Eram lovingly describe each and every piece she touches. “Sonia’s personality and what she does are completely intertwined. Because she makes the work an essential part of her life, there is an intense, personal passion.”

And it’s just that passion that keeps her friends, clients and collaborators coming back not just for sartorial artistry but for intellectual nourishment. —Cat Doran