About Me

“Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.”
~ soren kierkegaard



Cari Borja approaches her work like an anthropologist ~ looking at various aspects of cultural production and interaction through the lens of understanding what makes humans human. She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in anthropology and film in 2000. She has spent 20 years thinking about and creating art out of gathering ~ whether through her work in fashion, film, or food, she has sought to understand the world, communities and culture through applying her personal twist to design, writing, art-making and creating community. She has designed clothing collections over the past 15 years inspired by film (My Fair Lady, Dracula and Hitchcock Collections), food/drink (Chez Panisse and wine/cocktail Collections) and an immersive Oscar de la Renta-inspired installation/runway show “Becoming Me” for the Around the World with Oscar series at the De Young Museum. As a salonniere (after apprenticing with chef Cal Peternell at Chez Panisse in 2011), she has curated and hosted 94 salon dinners in the Bay Area, LA and NYC (#95 will be a filmmaker’s soiree at 32Ten Studios in San Rafael) and did an “Art of Gathering” edible installation at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this past December. She also did an installation called “Four Walls” for ArtHotel Sacramento this past February. Most recently she is working on a how-to book around the “art of gathering” as well as other visual essay and book/memoir projects on food, fashion and transformation, and a novella called “First Kiss.” As a creative director she is working with the non-profit She-Can, creating the look and feel of their fall gala at the Green Room in the San Francisco War Memorial. As a Chief Connecting Officer for World Wide Women she is currently co-curating the Maker Space and producing the runway show of Girls Festival at Fort Mason October 15th. She also is on the advisory committee of the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Triennial BEAUTY at the San Jose Art Museum.

Cari lives in West Oakland with her husband Lloyd Bernberg, who has been a technical director at Pixar for over a decade, working on such memorable films from The Incredibles and Ratatouille to UP and Wall-E . They have two children ~ a thirteen year old daughter Royal and ten year old son August, and a two year old pugston named Ponyo.



I make clothes. This is how many people have come to know me in the bay area over the past decade, and I them. Fluid and feminine, sexy and sinuous, my clothes are full of movement and whimsy. But my process is also collaborative ~ whether with clients or co-designers. My recent creative alliance with Project Runway’s Jake Wall on the runway and for photo shoots, has inspired new ways of designing for an expanded audience.


“Four Silhouettes” ~ from an article on West Berkeley designers in their studios, 2009. Photo: Lea Suzuki, for the San Francisco Chronicle


“Tug of War” ~ My gowns and Jake Wall’s Artful Gentleman suits, shot on location at the Legion of Honor, SF, 2013. photo: Kelly Puleio


“Dress up” ~ Jake Wall and I, with Kimberly Rosselle, McCroskey Mattress Factory, SF, 2013. photo: Kelly Puleio

I love film ~ and all things cultural. Film-making culture, as well as art, dance and music too, have always been a huge part of my life. An escape, a way of learning, sometimes aspirational, almost always a yearning, it’s a way to connect with all kinds of inspiring people.


“Main Street USA” ~  Telluride Film Festival, 2011. With friends/mentors Tom Luddy/TFF, Alice Waters/Chez Panisse, Dieter Kosslick/Berlinale and Peter Sellars/opera director.

I think about food ~ and all things quaffable. It’s how I structure my day. As a ritual, I open it with coffee in the morning, and close it with cocktails or wine in the evening ~ in between I indulge in the art of eating ~ situated, contextualized, many times alone, mostly in company.


“Cutting Table Transformed” ~  salon dinner #34, 2013. photo: Guthrie Dolin

Cultural anthropology is a perspective and a way of doing, or better yet, being. For me, it’s not only about fashion, film or food, but the people. As an anthropologist I see connections and kinship everywhere, and I take pleasure in connecting the dots and weaving together the stories I’ve heard or want to know through the intriguing people I encounter through these worlds.


“Discovery” in Ephesus, Turkey, 1996. photo: Christian Huband

photo 2

“Being Hooded”… Getting my Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology and Film in Zellerbach, University of California, Berkeley, 2001.


With my UC Berkeley mentors Dr. Laura Nader and Dr. Nelson Graburn at salon dinner #19, December 23rd, 2012.

“You collaborate all the time anyway.
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
Did you get the full impact of that?
The way you do anything, comma,
is the way you do everything.”
~ Tom Waits, on his partnership with his wife (1999).


“Self-portrait” of my husband Lloyd Bernberg and I, on our first date in Jamaica ~ in Villa Chica (where both Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn would stay) at Noel Coward’s Blue Harbour, 1997 ~ during preliminary fieldwork for my doctoral thesis entitled “Jamaican Art Worlds: Encounters, Transofrmations, Metamorphoses.”

Whether through fabric, film, food, or the people I encounter, my goal is to sculpt raw ingredients into something greater than its parts, in order to create something fit to be shared. These are the building blocks and voices of inspiration that have continually inspired, shaped and helped transform my thinking and the way I translate them into my clothes, my dinners, my family and who I have become. Moving continually backwards and forward in time, and juxtaposing disciplines and ways of doing and being, this blog will serve as a catalogue or field report of these raw materials, recipes and acts of sharing. This is my story.


“Looking backwards” in my 4th Street Berkeley studio, 2012. photo: Nicolo Sertorio

contact ~
cari@ cariborja.com
(website / old collections only ~ www.cariborja.com)

Mailing Address ~
31 Covent Lane
Oakland, CA  94608

For more information on my Salon Dinners and Moveable Feasts, you can read this article/CAL Alumni Magazine or this article/SF Chronicle, and email me for more details…