By Elizabeth Liberatore / Photos by Mark Morgan
In some iteration, you may have heard this quote leave the lips of a parent, friend or mentor – “The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing.” Kenny Lange, a born and raised Phoenician, is no stranger to this sentiment. In fact, his intellectual curiosity, or hunger to learn, is the catalyst for his successes in the fashion and retail industries.
Lange had a pretty solid upbringing in Phoenix with good friends and a family that cherished spending time together. Some of his fondest memories include Sunday tennis with his dad and twin brother at the Arizona Biltmore, orange wars in the citrus groves, and selling Christmas trees at Whitfill Nursery during his winter breaks from school. Home is where the heart is, and for Lange, that’s right here in the Valley.
“I enjoy the ease and quality of life here,” he says. “I also really love how Arizona has developed a sense of identity and civic pride.”
During high school and then college at Arizona State University, Lange worked at Biltmore Fashion Park’s Ralph Lauren. His creative mind found high school and college curriculum somewhat antiquated. Eager to learn something new and totally different and gain real world insight, he turned to retail.
“Ralph Lauren taught me things that were a part of the adult life like how to dress and interact with successful and educated people. It also taught me the history behind clothing since I was learning about patterns, fabrics, tailoring, color stories, visual merchandising, styling and window art.” Lange adds, “It was incredible; I got paid to learn, basically.”
At work, Lange took on a whole new persona. He would dress to the nines, rub elbows with the elite, like Stevie Nicks and Alice Cooper, and assist all types of people from around the world. Ralph Lauren’s main goal is to create a world that everyone aspires to be a part of, and Lange considered himself extremely fortunate to already be a part of it as a sales associate in his early twenties.
In an effort to learn more and dive even further into the retail world, he applied and got accepted into Ralph Lauren’s highly competitive and extremely rigorous Executive Training Program. The one-year corporate retail training program took the recent college grad to the fashion big leagues, a.k.a. New York City.
“My training, which focused on retail (buying, planning, operations, and visual merchandising), centered around the inception and launch of Rugby,” he explains.
Lange was perfect to help launch the Rugby line since he was familiar with Ralph Lauren and embodied the brand as a young, educated, preppy (yet edgy) professional. After completing his training program and helping to open 14 domestic stores nationwide, he was hired as the creative coordinator of the flagship store in New York City. This position led to manager and eventually director of creative services where Lange oversaw all Rugby visuals (windows, interiors, styling, concepts and training). After five years in the Big Apple, he moved to Los Angeles to continue his work with the company and be back on the West Coast, which he desperately missed.
Shortly after moving, Lange launched his own creative company called WAYL.A., an acronym for What Are You Looking At? Lange and his team of artists blend the line between art and commerce by designing retail merchandising with purpose. They tell stories with just the right amount of lighting, styling, custom builds for store displays and clothes. The concept blossomed between 2011 and 2012, coming to fruition in 2014. Some of his clients include Under Armour, The North Face, Sportiqe, Robert Graham and Specialized.
WAYL.A. Studios — as Lange likes to call it, “the creative house of worship” – is a recent extension of WAYL.A. The Studios serve as the company’s world headquarters and admin office, operating out of two massive rooms in the Paris Dry Cleaning building on 7th Avenue in Phoenix. Translation: Lange has moved back home full time.
“I tried the dual city living situation between Phoenix and L.A., but it was just too much work,” he explains “I’m on the road a lot for installations and Arizona was always the place I wanted to come back home to.”
WAYL.A. Studios’ primary goal is to make anyone’s ideas come to life. Whatever the market calls for, The Studios will accommodate with creative services like development and design, styling, visual merchandising, project management, installation and execution. Not to mention prop rentals for special events, such as weddings, private dinners, retail pop-up shops, showrooms, editorial photoshoots and more. The sky’s the limit here, and that’s exactly how Lange intended it to be.
“Everything is changing today, and retail is incredibly fast and multifaceted,” he says. “To have a place where we can help curate many different ideas and experiences to me feels appropriate. We need to be able to change at the drop of a hat. We need to embrace the importance of experimentation within retail and fashion so that conversation is had. The idea is to create healthy friction as friction creates fire, and fire creates energy.”
The creativity for this creative never shuts off, as he admits that he finds his work fun. But on the off chance that he isn’t building a visually stimulating narrative with his team, you’ll find this Phoenician watching (and cheering for) the Phoenix Suns and hanging out with his 7-year-old French bulldog, his fur child, Knuckles.
For more information, visit www.waylacreative.com.