The consummate collector and polymath, Lisa Eisner is one of the most uniquely glamorous women in Los Angeles. If you are lucky enough to be invited to her Cliff May-designed, hacienda-style Bel Air home, your idea of eclecticism and style will be forever changed. To see an exquisite crystal chandelier hung from a gigantic tree in a vast one-acre garden was quite an impressive and unusual sight when I first met her back in 1988. Beneath it was spread an exotic carpet with an elegant sofa, a coffee table, and lounge chairs facing a large open fireplace.
Lisa’s daring way of mixing things is not limited to her stunning home. It trickles through every aspect of her life: the clothes she wears, her choice of friends, her love of places and countries, and the jewelry she makes, which she refers to as “wearable sculptures”.
In America where “bigger is better” and originality is king, Lisa has the creative smarts to achieve both. Her free spirit and joie de vivre can be seen in her work as a fashion editor, photographer, filmmaker, writer, and founder of Greybull Press, known for artfully cool books like Kustom, Height of Fashion, and Rodeo Girl. In the early ’80s she lived in Paris and studied the fashion of Mugler, Montana, and Yves Saint Laurent. She then moved back to LA where she was the West Coast Editor of Vogue and did a stint for Ralph Lauren. Sitting in her jungle-like garden we talked about why she is longing for her birthplace Wyoming and what fuels her constant desire to travel.
How do the places you travel to influence you? There is this thing about seeing things for the first time, where your eye is so fresh, because you don’t have a reference. That really is an amazing feeling. I can understand why people can get addicted to traveling. And you can leave all your worries behind.
Do you have favorite places to travel to? Every February I go to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. There are rock hounds and gem sellers from everywhere—Brazil, Germany, Australia, you name it. I get all my stones and turquoises there. Tucson is a cool, small town that’s nicely preserved, and I walk through there and think, “Oh, I would love to live in a small town.”
Do you collect from your travels? My house is overflowing with stuff from my travels. Stores don’t do it for me, so the first things I look for are any sort of antique or flea markets. I’ve learned history from going to flea markets; you can find out so much about a city at them. Once you know that you are good at picking things at a flea market you just go for it every time. It’s a hunt, and I love the hunt!
How did growing up in Wyoming influence you? It’s the third largest state of America and only half a million people live there. So you can imagine what that looks like driving through—there’s so much nature, incredibly vast skies, magical sunsets, and people who live a simple life and are happy. Today I appreciate more than ever how I grew up. It was a weird perfect world with no worries that gave me freedom and safety. Now I like to go places with a lot of nature. I need it for my soul.
How do the West and Native American culture influence you? I was born in Greybull, Wyoming. Between the two towns where my two grandparents lived was the Wind River Indian Reservation. It was a weird mystery to me when we went through.During the Cheyenne Frontier Days, the biggest rodeo festival in the US, the Native Americans would dance and they had this village set up—it was all very fascinating. Sometimes I think maybe that’s how I got into fashion: rodeo queens and Native Americans with all the feathers and sequences. It was the couture of my world and it was awesome.
You are a muse to Tom Ford… Well, first and foremost we are friends. We met in Paris a long time ago. We had a similar upbringing and we both love the West. I often visit him in Santa Fe. I once walked in his fashion show where he used different types of women of different ages. It was so much fun and he gave me an outrageous outfit with lots of jewelry—all the things I love.
What do you love most about your home? I bought this house because of the garden. I always wanted a small house in a big garden instead of a big house with no garden. I never understood why people wouldn’t want that. My house and garden are constantly evolving. Los Angeles is so much about outdoor living and there are no rules. Anything goes.
Where was your last vacation? This week with friends in a 1950s trailer on the beach in Point Dume, Malibu, hanging out in tide pools for hours.
Where will your next vacation be? Wyoming to see my family.
The thing you can’t travel without? I always carry my colorful, nineteenth-century, tie-dyed lawon (Indonesian shawl) to use as a scarf. It’s beautiful, keeps my neck warm, and wards off evil with its colors.
Plane, train, or automobile? Well, it’s a bummer that passenger trains don’t work in the US anymore. I’d choose a plane for work and an automobile to see the landscape, think, and daydream.
The people you’d most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight Besides no one: anyone that doesn’t talk.
What is your in-flight ritual? I have my headphones, my laptop and hard drive to edit with, and all the New Yorker magazines I have not read.
The language you wish you spoke? Spanish.
When were you happiest on the road? Driving through Wyoming in the fall with the trees turning, no one on the road, animals everywhere—elk, antelope, eagles, wolves, bears—there’s just so much beauty you can’t even handle it.
Desert island or downtown? A desert island near a downtown to have the yin and the yang.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be? I think it’s a hotel I haven’t found yet. An indoor-outdoor room that looks out to nature, with the doors and windows open, room service, an amazing bathroom, and a hot spring.
What is your room service indulgence? Blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night? The Grand Canyon under the stars.
What is your favorite market? The Wednesday farmers’ market in Santa Monica and the Rose Bowl flea market in Los Angeles.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be? I would love to see James Brown at the Boston Garden in 1968, Aretha Franklin at the Fillmore West in San Francisco in 1971, and a Ziggy Stardust concert anywhere in the 1970s.
What are the show-off spots in your hometown? The Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo festival in Wyoming.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year?
Weekend: The Esalen Institute along Big Sur in California.
Week: Inverness in Northern California.
Month: Sheridan, Wyoming.
Year: Kyoto, Japan.
Your biggest extravagance on the road? Buying antiques and vintage-hunting.
Describe a memorable meal from your travels. In the Therme Vals spa hotel in Switzerland where everything is farm-to-table; you can even hear the cowbells as you eat your yogurt and cheese.
Travel hell is? Missing a flight.
Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? Germany.
Three favorite stores on earth? Shiprock Santa Fe gallery, Mahnaz Collection antique jewelers in Manhattan, and any indigo store in Tokyo.
Most treasured travel memento? My giant lacquer bowl I had to buy a seat on plane for from Kyoto, made by a generational lacquer master.
Why do you travel? To change my eye and my brain.