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With her colorfully inked arms and customized threads, handbag designer Allison Burns is the quintessentially cool flash-trash L.A. rock chick. She‘s one of those women who throws it all together so perfectly -- an effortlessly unique way with makeup, clothes and accessories -- that you want to hate her, but she’s just too nice. And to top it off, Burns, a New York--born, L.A.-based makeup artist, has usually designed whatever eye-catching creation she happens to be sporting -- she started sewing her own clothes and bags when she was 11. Nearly every day she gets asked, ”Where can I get that?“ Usually, the answer is the same: ”Nowhere, I made it.“ One day on a set, as she was toting a half-moon-shaped purse embellished with patches and safety pins that she‘d designed, Good Day L.A. host Jillian Barberie not only asked the question, she insisted that Burns make her a similar bag.
For two years now Burns has been crafting her distinctive carryalls, each model inspired by rock & roll divas of yore. It began with ”The Cherie,“ the purse Barberie coveted, named after Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie. Next was ”The Stevie,“ a roomy gypsy-woman bag with a long, thick shoulder strap and hippie-ish pocket design, followed by a chic clutch with a sequined butterfly called ”The Debbie“ (Deborah Harry owns two). Even the dudes are represented with ”The Morrison,“ a biker-style wallet embellished with band names.
All the early designs of her eponymous line were made from denim -- she searched through thrift stores and friends’ unwanted-clothing stashes for old jeans to take apart -- but she‘s since abandoned the fabric. ”I still like it, but it’s oversaturated,“ she says. ”When the Gap started doing denim bags, I stopped.“ These days, she‘s working in leather, which adds an edgy elegance to her purses: There’s ”The Flying V,“ a small evening bag in white, black or fuchsia (all with hot-pink lining) modeled after the flamboyant guitar. And there‘s ”The Pearl,“ a modified version of her denim ”The Janis,“ with a metallic hoop handle and a more spacious gathered pouch. These are purses for girls with plenty of attitude to spare. She also does an exclusive collection for the Chinatown gallery Shop Chuey, featuring silk-screened works of its showcased artists -- so far she’s done totes emblazoned with the art of sultry psycho-pop tart Niagara and photos by Ann Summa from her recent ”L.A. Punk Revisited“ show.
Although her bags evoke a certain spirit of the ‘70s, Burns is a proud out-of-the-closet metalhead who lets the ’80s guide her now and again, especially on custom pieces. During a five-month-long stint as the makeup artist for The Osbournes, she made Kelly a Janis, but with a hesher twist: black-and-white stonewash adorned with a skull-and-crossbones patch. Other fans of Burns‘ bags include Aimee Osbourne, Kelly’s spotlight-shunning sister, and Rob Zombie‘s wife, Sherry Moon. Of course, Burns’ successful makeup career -- she‘s done video work with everyone from the Smashing Pumpkins to N.E.R.D. -- puts her in the perfect surroundings to show off her designs to high-profile fashionistas.
Still, non-celebrities -- funky femme fatales who love rock & roll and want to look hot -- are her main customers. Burns not unexpectedly champions the purse, along with makeup, as the ultimate form of self-expression. ”Your life is in there,“ she says. ”Even if it’s a mess on the inside, you want it to look good on the outside.“
Allison Burns is available at Jennifer Kaufman in the Beverly Center, (310) 854-1058; Blest Boutique, 1634 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-0191; Beige, 7274 Beverly Blvd., (323) 549-0064; Shop Chuey, 437 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown, (213) 625-3789; and www.allisonburns.com.