Erin Kleinberg never imagined she’d thank Mischa Barton for her design career. But when Kleinberg bumped into the actress five years ago at a Toronto H&M (“back when she was O.C. cool, not all dried up,” she says), she gave Barton one of her homemade scarf-inspired tops. Kleinberg didn’t think anything of it — she was only 19 — until paparazzi snapped Barton wearing it the very next week. Kleinberg basked in the free exposure, and immediately took on the I’m Young and Have Nothing to Lose attitude, cold-calling stores while simultaneously studying journalism at the University of Western Ontario. Her Barton-inspired hustle landed her an order from Holt Renfrew. “Sometimes I come across as crazy, but it worked. You need to make it happen for yourself,” the 24-year-old says. After graduating, she was actually on her way to becoming a stylist in New York (she interned for Alexandra White at W, where she also befriended former Lauren Conrad rival Emily Weiss) until the recession left her jobless and back in her hometown of Toronto. That’s when she turned to design full-time. “It worked the first time — I had the product, marketed it, and now I want to do it again.”
She officially relaunched her line for fall 2008, and the celebrity set quickly latched on to her line of comfy, embellished tees, tanks, and tops that are ecofriendly (she uses fabric made out of wood-pulp cellulose). Everyone from Taylor Momsen to Jessica Simpson to Blake Lively has worn a piece by Erin Kleinberg, and by using connections she made while at W, Shanae Grimes, Theodora Richards, and Vanessa Traina have all appeared in her seasonal look books. The fall collection incorporates medieval inspiration with hardware, chains, and buttons, and features soft colors like aviator blue, raspberry, and heather gray. The spring collection is notably brighter and fresher, with mesh overlays and loose, boxy tops, as well as her first attempt at bottoms, with shorts and skirts. “I never wanted to be a designer. But I have a talent for making this work,” she says, noting that she works out of her bookkeeper/mother’s basement in Toronto. “I’m not Rodarte — I’m not trying to make these beautiful pieces of art. I’m a business person. I want to make easy pieces that are a little bit different. The price point is there. And that’s the reason I’ve been successful with this economy.” Last year, Barneys New York picked up her first collection exclusively, and 80 stores now carry the line around the world, including Blue & Cream, Intermix, and Zoe in New York, and she is a featured designer on Fadmashion.com. Check out the fall collection and a preview of the new spring line in the slideshow.