Several years ago, Alison Carroll and her husband, Jay, packed up their LA lives and headed into the Joshua Tree desert. Talk about “renewal,” right? There is something about the desert–specifically Joshua Tree–that inspires a sense of renewal, of mental clarity, and of commitment to a life forged solely by one’s own path.
Alison is the founder of Wonder Valley–an olive oil company that uses the freshest of northern California ingredients, hand-picked fruit, pressed within hours of harvest. She runs the company alongside Jay, who also happens to be a stellar photographer. We put him behind the lens to shoot this feature and caught up with Alison to hear more about their exciting desert life.
You split your time between Joshua Tree and Maine, two places with very different and unique landscapes and climates. Can you tell me how that came to be? And do you find your style is influenced by the landscape?
My husband, Jay, grew up in Maine and I grew up in New Jersey. When we got together 8 years ago, we started a family tradition of returning to Maine each summer and exploring new islands and parts of the rocky coastline. We are spoiled with California weather year-round but nothing beats an east coast summer; that fleeting, savor-every-minute-of-it summer! Maine is also the antidote to living in the desert for most of the year; mossy soft forests and bracing cold water, my skin and hair are so happy for the humidity.
My style does shift for our bicoastal life. I trade in my wide brimmed sun hats for knit and greek fisherman caps, my lightweight shirt dresses for vintage mens flannels. I really like the duality of place and the wardrobe change, both feel like home and I can’t have one without the other. My jumpsuits are about the only constant no matter the landscape.
We’re talking about the idea of “renewal” on the site this month. The desert, for so many, is one of the most sought after places when one craves a sense of renewal. Why do you think that is?
It’s really special to have an open sightline without tall buildings, billboards or trees, there’s so much open space out here. Looking out at an ocean is like that too, a visual reset. I think that does something internally; there’s a mental decluttering that happens, an immense calm. It’s a big blank canvas out here – which I find to be powerful and a big catalyst for creativity.
You own a lifestyle company, Wonder Valley, that sells a mix of goods and you’re launching a line of jumpsuits. What drives your design and creativity (that seems to encompass so many different elements)?
I feel like I have more ideas than time and there’s so much I want to do in this lifetime! All the projects and businesses are just an extension of me and I’m simply designing for things that I can’t live without. When I started working in the olive oil industry 8 years ago [as the former marketing director for the California Olive Oil Council], I became fanatical about California olive oil production; that was the spark that started Wonder Valley Olive Oil. I cook, drink, cleanse, and moisturize with olive oil. I believe that it is the fountain of youth and a cornerstone to the Good Life.
The jumpsuit line, Al’s Big Deal, is just another obsession taking shape in the form of a business. The jumpsuit I designed is based off of a beloved vintage one I own that feels like a superman cape every time I put it on. I love that feeling of being unrestricted, put-together, and totally myself. I hope other people feel that same way when they wear them.
I love working on physical spaces; building our home by hand, putting together the Wonder Valley OIL SHOP, and the re-design for our hotel El Rey Court. I really enjoy that combination of design, creativity, and physical labor and the five sensory experience that can be had in a tangible space versus online.
I love working together with my husband, Jay, on these projects and creating little worlds around each brand. That drives a lot of the creativity. They all start with a story, sometimes a real or made up place and we build a narrative around the characters; what they eat and drink, the music that is playing, what their daily life is like. It is my favorite part of working with him, what a beautiful imagination he has.
How would you describe your style in three words?
Tomboy. Utilitarian. High/ low.
I notice you tend to lean towards paired down, functional clothing. Have you always dressed this way or has it developed over time?
It has developed over time. We spent a year living in a vintage trailer while building our home here in Joshua Tree, only having a slim locker of a closet. After moving out of the trailer and having more space, everything else I owned felt so unnecessary and I started really honing on what makes me feel most comfortable in my skin, the most like Alison. I love having a palette of fabric materials and colors to work with, I find a lot of freedom with those kind of restrictions. I love a uniform!