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Lani Trock | Free People

How They Wear It: Lani Trock 

February 26, 2016

Los Angeles, CA 


Walking into Lani’s space was like walking into a cloud of fresh air. She works out of her home, a naturally bright and calming sanctuary that feels more like a trip to the spa. Long, stringy green plants hang from the ceiling and big-leafed potted gardens are growing in the corners of her room. Her home is full of natural elements and everywhere I turn, I see more species of lush greenery. Outside, her patio explodes with more plants and she has two hillside garden beds beginning to erupt with vegetables and herbs. She walks me through her gardens as she points out and describes each plant. She even picks a leaf from her growing strawberry-mint sprout to give to me to try. (It’s delicious.) Lani laughs when I ask her just how many plants species she has. “Oh my goodness, I have no idea! Too many to count!” And before she moves onto another plant, she picks a growing bud and hands it to me. “This is a native California orchid – you can pick the bud, plant it again, and a new one will grow.” I put it safely in my pocket and we move onto the next one.

Lani Trock is a special one. She is an absurdly talented photographer and multi-disciplinary artist. Her current exhibit with Tappan Collective’s Spatially Speaking is a nod to the place where nature, technology, and art intersect… and it becomes clear why her home is immersed in plants. She moved into art in an abstract way, majoring in philosophy at UC Santa Cruz. The fact that she’s smart – remarkably quick – is as clear as day and I understand why no one wants to leave her company. She leaves a little bit of herself with the people around her – whether through her art, her kindness, or her intellect. I have a budding orchid on my desk to prove it.

Take a step inside Lani’s beautiful home, read about the artist herself, and see how she wears her favorite Free People pieces below.


Where were you raised? Tell us a bit about your journey to where you are now, artistically and geographically…

I grew up in Hawaii and then went to high school in San Diego. I always had a great deal of freedom to wander alone in wild spaces. I’ve realized recently how this experience instilled in me a deep love and curiosity for the natural world, and how it clearly influenced the subject matter and aesthetic of my work now. When I was young, we swam in the ocean most nights at sunset, and went home to cook dinner together. We lived almost all the way at the back of Palolo Valley, up on the right side. We always had an edible garden of some sort and our backyard was pressed up against a nature preserve, so I had free range to explore miles of beautiful trees, caves and a bamboo forest. I even had a treehouse there. From a young age, I was very interested in technology, but i am very grateful to have been born in the brief window which allowed me access to it, but also granted me a childhood unencumbered by its omnipresence.

Do you think growing up where you did influenced your personal style in any way?

Yes and no. I don’t think I really connected with my personal style until much more recently. In the past few years, when I began working as a photographer, and shooting a lot of street style, I started to pay attention to it more. To do that job well, I had to develop of deeper understanding of what good style looked and felt like. As a natural result, my personal style began to evolve and refine alongside that understanding. As a kid, I mostly wore shorts, slippers and baggy t-shirts from brands like Town & Country and Hawaiian Island Creations, because that was the style in Hawaii at the time. I was definitely a tomboy back then. When I moved to San Diego, I began to reconnect with my feminine side. Funny enough, I think my style now is more like my 3-6 year old self than any other period in my life. Sometimes in photos, I see things I wore then, and wish I had them now.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become an artist?

This has been a more recent realization for me, and a very interesting, challenging and constantly evolving process. The last five years of my life have brought a lot of change and transitions in pretty much every area. I went from music to web design to photography to art- almost by accident. About two years ago, Tappan approached me about selling prints of my photos after we met when I photographed the founders as part of a story about gallerists for Refinery 29. Before that, I hadn’t really considered myself as an artist and was still getting used to calling myself a photographer. Soon after that, I was invited to create an installation for The Box at The Standard Hotel. Everything in my life trajectory began to shift from those two occurrences. Last year, I was granted the opportunity to create my next installation, “Trust in the You of Now,” at Space 1520, and my third, “Biophilia; a Public Service Announcement,” is currently on view at the new Tappan gallery in Culver City. There’s a funny thing about calling yourself an artist that somehow implies that you are a good artist. This isn’t true for other professions. You can say I’m a dentist and it does not imply the sense that you consider yourself a talented dentist, although one would hope! When you call yourself an artist, it gives the impression that you must be good or how can you make a living as one? I realize that this is a somewhat ridiculous way of seeing things, but it feels impossible not to. It was much easier to call myself a photographer and sometimes I still do, depending on who I’m talking to. I’ve begun to release this perspective through a growing understanding of art as a way of life, and a way of seeing and being in the world. Not something I have chosen, but something that has chosen me. Because it really did happen that way. Connecting to a deeper understanding of the potential of art to serve as a tool for social change has helped to shift my feelings too. I can now recognize art as the most effective method for me personally to communicate and explore solutions for the challenges facing our society. When I frame it that way, calling myself an artist gets much easier; when I can see it more simply, that it is who I am, not what I do.


Do you feel your art and personal style are interconnected? How might these two aspects of your Self play with/against one another?

More and more, I’ve been connecting to how what I wear makes me feel. I think that is a really pivotal moment, when your personal aesthetic begins to reveal itself in all areas of your life; work, style, home, and even food. That’s when things really fall in step and align with your core self. What brings me great joy as an artist, is to take the things I connect with on an intuitive level, and express that across a multitude of mediums; from visual art to the way my life looks and feels, day to day. I think I first learned this from my grandma. She has always held a love for the beauty in tiny details; the shape of snowdrifts outside her house, delicate, collected objects and the spectrum of colors found in autumn leaves. As time passes, and I get to know myself better, I understand the many ways in which her aesthetic and artistic philosophy have shaped my own.

Style-wise, what are some of your necessities?

Lately, I’ve been wearing a lot of white and pale pink, but more than anything, I try to let my intuition guide me. By now I know my body and which shapes work best. Aside from that, certain colors and textures just feel right for me. With everything I do, I aim to move with feeling over intellectual thought. Also comfort is very important. One thing I know for sure is: How you feel inside, is reflected clearly in how you look outside. So I do my best to love and accept myself as I am in this moment and wear things that make me feel most relaxed, confident and most like myself.

What do you hope to communicate through your aesthetic?

One of my favorite quotes on art is by Matisse: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” In all I do, I aim to share a feeling of peace.

What assumptions might people might make of you based on your style?

I have no idea. I’ve heard it is dangerous to assume things. Something about a donkey.

If you could translate the work of any artist to your wardrobe, who would it be? Also, why?

I have a few. Cy Twombly paintings for his incredibly subtle use of color. Karla Black’s asymmetrical sculptures made of pale pink sugar paper for their texture and perfect imperfection. Eva Hesse’s mustard colored string sculptures from the 70’s for their emotion. And lastly, Ana Mendieta’s self portrait series: “Imagen de Yagul,” where she is dressed only in flowers. Clearly a woman after my own heart.

What makes your style “yours”? How do you set it apart?

I think it is the same thing that makes my work my own; an intuitive connection. Everything I do, I do because I am intrinsically drawn to the subject and/or aesthetic. Be it art or fashion, each of us comes from a totally individual combination of experiences, abilities and innate preferences. When we create and live from the space where all those elements intersect, our unique point of inspiration, that’s where the magic happens.


Best advice you’ve ever received?

The way you do one thing, is the way you do everything.

And the worst?

Don’t try to do everything at once. Actually this might be the best advice I’ve received but I was very frustrated to receive it and this has been the most challenging space for me to navigate in my work. I receive new ideas and opportunities frequently, so the challenge for me is cataloguing and prioritizing them all. I have a hard time saying no, which often results in me taking on too much at once and not being able to follow through properly and/or in a reasonable amount of time. I think this is my greatest challenge right now; how to thoughtfully and consciously choose the way I spend my time and to treat every project and collaborator with respect by not taking on too much at once.

What’s next? Anything exciting on the horizon?

For my next installation, I am exploring the idea of green space and good food as human rights. I am working to create public & digital spaces that are both beautiful and useful. Highly productive edible gardens intermingled with drought-tolerant natives to create educational spaces that teach permaculture and garden to table cooking- and then give the food away. Essentially, I would like to grow, prepare and give away healthy, delicious food. Everyone deserves that, regardless of economic status. Today, our society is not structured that way, and I would like to challenge our current paradigm through the exploration of alternative possible futures, that better serve the global community. What affects one of us, affects all of us. I am most interested in investigating the interconnectedness of the universe through my work, and creating spaces the support our collective evolution towards a more compassionate and supportive society.

As told by Free People




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