Meet the Retail Designer: Jessica Vargas

A San Diego store designer sets out on her own to set up shop
Jessica Vargas san diego

Just another day at the office for Jessica Vargas as she outfits forms and works on the merchandising displays at Rais Case in Oceanside.

A native of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Jessica Vargas made the great migration north to Chicago for an internship at Anthropologie, the women’s clothing and home decor brand. Working her way through the ranks there, she became a visual manager overseeing store designs and merchandising, eventually jumping at an Anthropologie job opening in San Diego—despite having never laid eyes on the city. After 10 years with the company, Jessica has branched out on her own, setting up San Diego boutiques with inventive, artful spaces, as well as taking on residential interior design projects. She currently has a popup shop in Rais Case in Oceanside, featuring her line of pillows incorporating African fabrics as well as curated thrift-store and flea-market finds. Jessica resides in University Heights with her French bulldog, Turk (short for Turkey).

Who’s your favorite designer?

Jessica loves timeless greats like Chanel, Calvin Klein and the late Karl Lagerfeld, and she’s interested in how some well-established houses are upping their game. “Virgil Abloh is reinventing and re-imagining some of Louis Vuitton’s classics while pushing the limits and disrupting the norm—all while sending a positive message to young artists trying to achieve their dreams,” she says. “I’m also obsessed with what Balenciaga has been doing with their marketing and social media campaigns. It’s a little out there and slightly uncomfortable, but in an artful way.”

Your style icons?

Audrey Hepburn, Diana Ross, Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Madonna and Gwen Stefani all get props from Jessica.

Favorite boutiques?

Oceanside’s Rais Case (pictured), where you can score a locally crafted handbag (as well as create your own leather accessory at the DIY table); Van De Vort, with its boho-chic womenswear (soon to open its third location at One Paseo in Carmel Valley); Aloha Beach Club in North Park, featuring made-in-Hawaii menswear; Shop Good, also in North Park (and also opening at One Paseo), offering clean cosmetics and natural skincare and wellness products; and Moniker General, Liberty Station’s one-stop shop for everything from furniture to bikes to coffee.

What’s the most Mississippi thing about you?

In addition to still rocking the Magnolia State’s 228 area code on her cellphone, Jessica also has a big craving for Southern vittles. Growing up an hour east of New Orleans, her tastes lean toward Cajun food: “I miss crawfish and crab boils the most,” she says.

Ashley Renuart

Photo by Aga Maru.

Who’s your favorite visual artist?

Jessica gives a shout out to her friend and sometime collaborator Ashley Renuart (pictured). “She does amazing sculptural art installations for many local businesses in San Diego. Her use of texture, color and movement blow my mind every time. Her creations are always stunning and elevate whatever space they’re in.”

What restaurant do you love?

That’s an easy one for Jessica: Cantina Mayahuel in North Park. “They have the best Mexican food; it’s really authentic. And then they also have the best mezcal selection in San Diego. The place is kind of small and the vibe is really amazing; you can’t go wrong.”

Top bar?

For a cocktail and small bites, Jessica is partial to Madison on Park, in University Heights. Her drink of choice is the Small Axe, a smoky mezcal and ancho-chili liqueur concoction.

Madison on Park Jessica Vargas San Diego University Heights

Where do you find inspiration?

“I kind of get back to myself and rejuvenate when I travel,” she says. “I love the desert—Palm Springs is one of my favorite places to go. The weather, the colors, the feel, the architecture, and the art and design out there are always so inspiring to me.” Internationally, Bali tops her list: “It’s truly magical.”

Palm Springs Jessica Vargas San Diego

Photo courtesy of Visit Palm Springs.

How do you unwind?

Jessica started boxing just for exercise at Title Boxing Club in North Park but has become more serious about the sweat science. “I care about my technique and my form and I want to be the best boxer ever. I would never fight but it’s a great workout, it’s challenging, and a great way to forget about all the stuff you have on your mind.”

What music are you listening to?

She’s currently grooving on Khruangbin, who play a mostly instrumental, trance-inducing style. “It’s low key and vibey and sets a good mood,” she says. The trio hails from Texas but their name is a Thai word that roughly translates as “airplane.”

What book is on your nightstand?

Shoe Dog, a memoir by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, chronicling the rise (and…rise) of one of the most influential and recognizable brands on the planet.