Introducing Carmen Popa of Andrea’s Fashions
In the new location of Andrea’s Fashions in Sunset Plaza, you can’t help but feel the presence of grandeur. It’s a subtle, invisible energy moving everywhere in the spacious store, wafting from the myriad racks of gowns and dresses and resting near the high ceilings. No two dresses in the boutique are exactly alike; a few are styled the same but sport different colors.
Carmen Popa, founder of Andrea’s Fashions, primly sits on the divan in the center of the floor where she can observe the passing pedestrians and vehicles on Sunset Boulevard.
“It’s been a fantastic journey,” she says. “I’ve made dresses for Nancy Sinatra. Eartha Kitt. Ann-Margret. Dinah Shore.” She wipes the wet from her eyes and tells us what led her here, to the busy corner where Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Plaza Drive touch.
Carmen started out in the diamond and jewelry business in New York City on 5th Ave and Rockefeller Plaza. It was 1971 when she bought a Brother knitting machine at the behest of her husband, who had told her that he didn’t want to spend money on dresses – so she began to knit her own. All of her early dresses were personal items and were not for sale, and she often stayed up all hours of the night to add and subtract fabric, to match and cut.
“Knitting is mathematics,” she says. A simple, yet effective, mode of thinking.
Eventually, while on 55th Street and 5th Ave, she showed one of her dresses to Adolfo Sardiña. He requested an order of the dress and asked if she could make more. She agreed, and promptly went home to tell her husband to make the dress. He was the one, after all, who didn’t want her to spend money on dresses, so she delegated him the responsibility of knitting the dress while she watched.
The dress was well-received, as were others. In 1972, a year after purchasing her first knitting machine, Carmen moved to California.
California Living and Fashion
Carmen remembers having a 6-month-old daughter at the time and the prospect of a blossoming business and opportunity in front of her. “I had to take the chance, take a risk.”
As a result of the move, she lost Adolfo as a designer (he remained in New York City) but gained a designer from Saks Fifth Avenue and Jean-Louis from I. Magnin. During this time, she frequently created custom made-to-order dresses and gowns for celebrities and regular folks alike. She opened her own store, Andrea’s Fashions, in 1974; by 1975, it was incorporated.
As all trees grow limbs and branches that spawn more sticks and leaves, so does a successful, expanding business. Andrea’s Fashions eventually moved into men’s sportswear, trunk shows, everyday looks, and more. By 1990, though, Carmen split her interests and stuck with special events about 70% of the time. Since 2005, it’s been closer to 90%. She currently specializes in cocktail attire, gowns for the mother of the bride or groom, black tie events, and other special occasion outfits. She’s crafted gowns for everyone from teenagers to centenarians – always exactly customized to the client’s orders.
During the morning of our brief talk, proof of Carmen’s personalized creation of the dresses – and the appreciation of her clients – popped up a few minutes apart.
As Carmen relays aspects of her past journey, a client walks in. They greet each other with a hug and a simper, exchanging pleasantries and how-are-you’s. The woman asks about her dress for her daughter’s wedding and Carmen brings it out for consideration. It’s white as an eggshell, but the strategically-placed flowers are a warm tangerine hue. The wedding will take place in May 2022, but the prep time is to hammer out every specific detail and fit every stitch to the client’s needs.
The second client comes in to also check on the status of her dress. This one has no flowing train; it’s cherry-blossom in color with white lace around the back of the shoulders. Simple in design, yet still striking.
What stands out about this second dress is the time it took Carmen to craft it. She had 5 days to make the dress from scratch. Initially, Carmen made a long gown for her client to wear for the wedding, which the client loved. But upon seeing a certain pink dress, the client asked for a similar one to be made. She planned to change out of the long gown and wear the second dress to church, as it would better match the atmosphere there. Unfazed, she matched her client’s measurements and went to work, finishing with time to spare.
“You stop the whole factory for a client. You make it and you’re done. That’s the way to do it,” Carmen says matter-of-factly. She’s no stranger to rush orders or emergencies, and the fashion industry is rife with both. It’s no surprise, then, why she earned the nickname “The Magician of Dresses.”
The Future of Andrea’s Fashions
Andrea’s Fashions has been in business for 47 years. In 2024, Carmen will celebrate her 50-year milestone, the golden anniversary in the operation of her brand. Given the move to Sunset Plaza, it’s apparent that Carmen has no intentions of retiring from fashion. Her clients, of course, are overjoyed that she’s stuck around, as she was previously based at the junction of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, on Robertson Blvd.
Carmen is excited for the future of her boutique. A lot of interest has piqued with the store’s new location, both in terms of attracting customers and attracting potential business opportunities. The location and visual allure of the store is appealing enough that there has been some interest in using it for a filming location for a piece of media, whether a show or a movie.
As for Carmen herself, the past year has allowed her a lot of time to reflect on her journey and where she’s ended up. She spent time at home considering writing a book.
“When I say I’ve got stories, I mean I’ve got stories,” she says.
Regardless of the writing project, Carmen is still staying busy, and Andrea’s Fashions in Sunset Plaza is poised to remain a central location for fashion in Los Angeles.