By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In any case, the lack of pretense and expectation is the best and worst thing about designing here. Fashion in California remains a lot more open-minded than in New York or Paris. There is a lot more room for designers to play around and explore. But we're still hampered here, in part, because L.A. has yet to develop the kind of support that fashion designers in Italy or France can count on: generous loans for production, state-financed fashion shows and affordable studio space.
Obviously, L.A.'s burgeoning design talent didn't replace the likes of lowest-lower-low-end manufacturers such as Forever 21, H&M, Rampage, XOXO and moderate pricers such as BCBG, Bebe and Bisou Bisou — companies whose sole function in the universe is to get knockoffs out faster than the original creators can even get their own designs into production.
Tulle with embroidered silk velvet
Manufacturers can compete with designer-driven outfits like mine by hiring 9-year-old girls in Bangladesh to sew and embroider and bead their "designs" for 10 cents a day. Even in L.A., the people who sew in legal sweatshops have problems getting paid. Workers who must endure forced and unpaid overtime, the denial of breaks and being cramped together with 50 machines in a sweltering, unventilated sample room continue to be the norm. It's the ugly side of fashion. (By the way, the organization Sweatshop Watch, www.sweatshopwatch.org, does admirable work in this area.)
Of course, it is very seductive to shop at Rampage or Forever 21 trolling for that superhot item that you won't feel guilty about wearing only once. Naturally, when anything is that cheap, you can bet somebody's getting fucked on the deal. And it isn't management.
Tired of competing with giants who blithely rip off our designs — and don't forget, it can take weeks and sometimes months of fittings and alterations to get a perfect design and sample — some of us, such as Imitation of Christ, ALF and Show Pony, have resorted to working with vintage or just plain used clothes. Imagine writing a novel and having another author slap her name on it before your publisher could get your book on the shelves, and you'll begin to comprehend the frustration designers live with.
The companies I mentioned above work with recycled garments not because at one time this was new and fun — or not just — but because those unique, one-of-a-kind almost-art pieces are nearly impossible to rip off. It's essentially a defensive maneuver. So garmentos (and this pejorative slang term is the best description for companies such as Mica or XOXO), eat your heart out. Don't even think about trying to copy my reworked slip made out of six different fabrics, with embroidery from the '30s, beading from who knows where, and all hand-dyed.
It's not that different from hip-hop, where one artist can sample another's virtuosity — while still respecting it — and assemble it in a brand-new way to come up with something original at the other end. All that and you never have to learn an instrument — be it a sewing machine or electric guitar.
I started with cashmere cardigans and lingerie slips. In 1982 they were plentiful and cheap. I grabbed them at the Vienna flea market where they were sold by the pound. The flea market also happened to be the prime heroin cop spot. I could feed my smack and fashion-design habits in one convenient location.
Since the sleeves of the moth-eaten cardigans were always too short, I began adding a piece of velvet to the elbow, and for a tighter fit I sewed long corset-shaped seams and darts from the bust to the hips. Which, in a kind of reverse deconstruction, transformed a dowdy, ill-fitting rag into a sexy, modern jacket. I'd replace the grandma buttons with hook and eye closures to make it look even more like a corset.
In order to banish the dirt and the stink — you could smell the desperation of whoever owned these clothes in the first place — I needed to wash them. But washing was never enough to make the stains disappear, so I added dye to the wash. And then the most interesting thing happened: Since the various fabrics in my cardigan took on the dye differently, the result was a unique garment.
These reworked slips, tops and sweaters flew off the racks of the boutiques that were willing to sell something new (don't forget, this was 1982). No matter how many pieces I made, they were gone by the end of the day.
Stretch silk with tulle godets
After a while, though, the constant stink of mold in my loft and the weird bugs that crawled out of the stuff began to get to me. I tried to imagine where the clothes might have been before they ended up on the flea-market asphalt. It was never pretty.
When you cut up old rags, you don't need to know how to design, drape, make a pattern or sew. A shredded T-shirt does not a designer make — though it might make a faux designer wealthy. Hello, M.R.S. These days, design also offers a way to live a rock-star life. Just look at Tom Ford. When it comes to fashion, you can create it, wear it and become your own two-legged gallery. All of which makes for fertile ground for every kind of wannabe to rip out a wardrobe and call herself Coco the Designer.