Within moments of greeting Emily Current and Meritt Elliott, it becomes clear to me why everyone in the style sphere seems to want a piece of them right now. All tousled hair and slouchy, faded jeans, they breeze into the conference room of their West Hollywood HQ, and each proceeds to wrap me in a big, unexpected hug. I’ve met them only once before, six or seven years ago, so the fact that they remember me at all is kind of disarming—never mind that they’re welcoming me like I’m an old friend from their UCLA days. (The pair met there while studying sociology and bonded over their shared obsession with vintage Levi’s.)
Their small-town sweetness is rare in the fashion industry, yet it totally befits the Emily + Meritt brand, which currently spans a women’s clothing line, The Great; wardrobe styling for celebrities such as Jessica Alba and Chelsea Handler; creative consulting work for major fashion brands; and home collections for kids, teens, and, as of this month, adults in collaboration with Pottery Barn. Their point of view is deeply rooted in classic Americana, but with a whimsical, feminine slant—a dichotomy that has set them apart from their peers since they first started out as stylists back in 2000.
“At the time, fashion was very ‘fierce,’” Current recalls. “Our aesthetic was slightly more thoughtful and included a lot of vintage references that weren’t happening at the time. The same thing has happened over and over in our career—we felt differently, and we wanted to express that.”
Take their 2008 entrée into the design world with Current/Elliott, the denim label that put the now-ubiquitous boyfriend jean on the map. “There wasn’t anything in the market that felt soft and easy,” Current says. “Denim was very slick, tight, and dark. We wanted something that looked like vintage, but wore differently on a woman.”
The ripped, baggy, low-slung jean became a runaway success, especially after Katie Holmes and Reese Witherspoon were photographed wearing it. “We had to do an in-store appearance at Barneys, and there was a fight in the dressing room over a size of a boyfriend jean,” Current recalls. “We were like, OK, there’s a demand.”
As it turns out, that magic touch extends way beyond jeans. The pair launched a handbag capsule, with Kate Spade in 2011, and, after leaving Current/Elliott in 2012 following a private equity buyout, published a coffee-table book on denim and linked up with Pottery Barn’s PBteen to create a home collection. The interiors collab was meant to be a one-off thing, but proved so popular with both teens and adults that the partnership is in its fifth season and is now expanding into adult bedding and tableware.
Just as in the fashion realm, the pair’s approach to decor aims to turn tradition on its head. “We’re drawn to things that are American but with an unexpected twist,” says Elliott. “It’s like, what does a jeans-and-T-shirt girl’s bedroom look like?” Adds Current: “We’re taking familiar things and making them a little bit off, like putting bunny ears on a clock or playing with nostalgic prints like dots and bows. These are all things that people feel emotional about.”
Same goes for The Great, the womenswear line that Current and Elliott launched in 2015. Its mix of drop-crotch denim, cropped army jackets, and ruffle-hemmed tees masterfully blends masculine and feminine, avant-garde Japanese edge and Goodwill treasure hunting, for an end result that’s like nothing else in the market right now. The designers credit their tight bond with giving them the courage to take such big risks—a challenge in the unforgiving fashion industry.
“We’ve succeeded a lot, and we’ve failed a lot too, and we’ve done it together,” Current says. “I hope we can [inspire] young women to have a sense of fearlessness and have friendships that will help them become the people [they want to be], like we were able to.”
Elliott likens their relationship to a marriage. “There are times when we read each other’s minds, but really, it’s one big, long, respectful conversation,” she says. “We’re always challenging each other to be better, more fearless, and more creative.”
But after nearly two decades of being inseparable, aren’t Current and Elliott ever tempted to launch solo projects? “No!” Current exclaims. “We’re together all the time. We live on the same street. Our kids play every day. We really have built a community in a big city. That’s not easy to do, but we made it happen.”