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Fashionation 

Gloria Ohland on the dog days of fashion

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Les Deux Café’s Michelle Lamy was renowned then not as a restaurateur but as a designer who previewed her line on lip-synching drag queens vamping down the runway at a steamy transvestite bar in Hollywood. Designer Hillary Beane held Tupperware parties to get rid of leftover pieces of her extraordinary jewelry. There were memorable fashion shows debuting ensembles that converted into beach chairs or picnic blankets with a basket and dishes. And the best and most extravagant fashion was being born and bred, as it always is, in the nightclubs, where local bon vivants such as Jennifer Bruce — costuming ‰ then-boyfriend Anthony Kiedis, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins as well as all the caged go-go dancers at the nightclub Power Tools — worked fashion’s far frontier. Most memorable was Ms. Bruce’s vivid the-Flintstones-go-to-the-nightclub look: Her multicolored bangs plastered straight up in the air and her long, neon-yellow ponytail bouncing down to her rump, she was robed in fake fur over skintight Lycra in neon colors and stripes, her makeup applied as if it were war paint.

These antics were all lovingly chronicled in the Weekly, the styles modeled by the bands and scenesters who made them famous. There were fashion spreads on vogueing at Christian Farrow and April La Rue’s club the Apartment; we got in for an up-close look at the tats and piercings shown off to best advantage when worn with G-strings and leather underwear at the post-punk/death-rock/S&M Club Fuck; the Weekly was there when the pre-rave Cat-in-the-Hat-meets-Pippi-Longstocking look evolved at Sit and Spin and Dirtbox.

The vim and vigor of the ’80s was such that even local commercial designers were getting noticed: Richard Tyler, Katayone Adeli, Leon Max and Monah Li got some of their earliest press coverage in the Weekly, as did David Dart, Tom Mark, James Tarantino, Karl Logan, Glenn Williams, Pepito Albert. There were so many new designers and showrooms that they spilled out of the California Mart and filled up a nearby building called the New Mart. The fashion biz was so busy that a club catering to it was opened in the monumental old Stock Exchange building downtown on Spring Street, which unlocked its mighty bronze doors for fashion shows and parties several nights a week.

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Meantime, in a faraway land at the beach, Paul and Nancy Kauffman’s Na Na, a punk/goth store and design collective, had expanded into three buildings on the brand-new Third Street Promenade. Their venture was briefly funded by an exclusive and highly lucrative contract to sell Doc Martens in the U.S., which permitted them to make a brilliant run at clothing and especially shoe design. Remember their popular Pole Climber, a boot that made all the appointments of the blue-collar work boot — steel toes and oversized eyes, double-stitched lasts and lug soles — an essential part of the design idiom? And the Kauffmans copied and updated vintage styles, adding Doc Marten or English golfing-shoe-style soles or platforms or King Louis heels. It was a pity they lost that contract to Skechers, and you’ve seen the sad result.

 

I had lobbied for the job of fashion editor when Joie Davidow left to begin L.A. Style, not only because I was a dedicated follower of fashion — which I am — but because I love what fashion can be in a publication like the Weekly. Fashion can celebrate invention, it is theater and tribal identification, and more often than not it’s an expression of defiance. And fashion can provide intimations of immortality: At least you can strike a pose and have a laugh in the face of death — or unemployment or a lovers’ breakup or boredom on a Saturday night. And I love fashion because it can’t ever take itself too seriously — it’s just clothes, after all, so get over it or become a mockery of yourself — and because it’s non-linear, non-intellectual, nonverbal, and mostly for fun.

I loved the transformative ritual of the photo shoot, a carefully choreographed mini-production involving a cast of a dozen characters. The models would walk in off the street looking ordinary in jeans and no makeup. The music would be turned up. Pots and tubes of makeup would be spread out and racks of clothing rolled in, and the hair and makeup artists would get to work. Cameras and lenses and film would be assembled, and the photographer’s assistant would arrange backdrops and lights. And then it was showtime, and the models would become larger than life in their dialogue with the camera, unleashed from reality and given license to project an idea of self.

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