Unapologetically Himself: David Dartnell’s Son Remembers His Father

As of Wednesday, January 24, 2024

David Dartnell, multiple winner of the California Designer of the Year award, has passed away at the age of 61 after a long battle with cancer. Dartnell created David Dart, which became an iconic California brand in the 1990s and helped popularize linen. The brand operated two retail stores, in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, and was carried in Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and other major retailers. In 1994, Kellwood acquired the brand for a reported $70 million, and Dartnell stayed on for a time before eventually leaving due to creative differences.

In an exclusive interview with California Apparel NewsDevon Dart, the designer’s 29-year-old son, who works in Los Angeles in creative endeavors in the apparel and automotive sectors and is currently working as a manager at Buck Mason.

CAN: Your father’s life journey after leaving the brand he founded sheds some interesting light on him. Tell us what he did.

DD: He lived all around the world before settling in New Orleans, where he truly found peace in the horticulture and landscaping business, which was his passion outside of fashion. He worked with uptown ladies redesigning their gardens and had a lot of community involvement. I would walk down any street with him and people would always say hello. He has a true green thumb and could change how people view gardening and make them happy.

CAN: He seems to have a very interesting combination of qualities, as a visionary designer and entrepreneur, but was also highly sociable and possessed a variety of creative skills. He was also hailed by the industry for his independent spirit and very Californian attitude.

DD: He was very multifaceted creatively, and while he liked people he was very opinionated about them. My father was unapologetically himself. If people didn’t like him he didn’t care, and if they loved him he gave them everything he had. He definitely had an eye for the direction of fashion, anticipating where it was going by combining the input of other people around him with his opinion and then creating products he knew people would want to wear. And once he had his mind on something he wasn’t stopping until he saw it through and then was off to the next project. We were working together on a line with a plan to launch in February.

CAN: Will you still do it, and can you tell us more?

DD: I’m 100 percent going to do it, and it’s going to be an accessories brand geared toward New Orleans and Mardi Gras, but I’ll still be based here.

CAN: Do you have a special set of memories of your dad that will stick with you? Something you did together, or something he always says?

DD: He was probably the funniest person I knew. People grow up saying they’ll never be like their parents, but I am my father—his resilience in life and taught me how to get through anything and that anything is possible. To be able to speak as I am, with maturity, confidence and intelligence, is a lot due to my father. I go back to saying he was just unapologetically himself, and you don’t find that honesty and rawness often in this day and age. He was a breath of fresh air for everybody, a light that just made people feel good when they were around him.