By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photo by Orah Moore|
It was the winter of 1979. There was an unusual cold snap, and everyone in L.A. complained that it was freezing. At night, when the thermometer dipped down to the upper 40s, I stayed in and planned my spring wardrobe. I was in a decided minority. Nine months of the year, the prevalent L.A. costume was a T-shirt and board shorts, with sneakers or flip-flops. Now, in the extreme cold, many people had upgraded to jeans and sweaters. Some went so far as to wear socks. In Hancock Park, Pasadena, and the office towers of lower Wilshire Boulevard, where there was a dress code, written or implied, men wore conservative suits and ties, and so did most women. The female version was almost always navy or beige polyester crepe with an A-line skirt and a feminized tie of some sort, so as to imitate the male uniform as closely as possible without looking too butch. On festive occasions, some men wore Hawaiian shirts, while the women wore girly dresses, flowered cotton garments reminiscent of the Gold Rush days.
Melrose Avenue was a jumble of electronics-supply and auto-parts stores. At one end of the street, across from Fairfax High, Michelle Lamy, a Frenchwoman who would not be insulted by the adjective “eccentric,” opened Too Soon To Know, where she sold sunglasses, T-shirts and unique clothing of her own design to the high school kids. At the other end, a shop called Last Mango sold T-shirts and polka-dotted dancing skirts. In between, there was only Fred Segal, a pared-down version of the current multistore emporium.
(“Style,” May 9, 1980) Rain
smocks, circle skirts and
padded vests with cotton
flannel shirts by Marlene
(Photos by Jules Bates)
L.A. style was an oxymoron. But I was trying to convince Jay Levin, who was both my boss and my boyfriend, that the L.A. Weekly really needed a fashion column. This was a big leap. He was trying to edit a serious alternative newsweekly, which lured readers with the comprehensive entertainment listings I had developed for the center of the paper. Now I was asking him to give space to what must have seemed to him to be the most trivial and decadent of consumer traps.
But I knew I was on to something. Since the fall of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the great costume designer Adrian started a fashion revolution by dressing Joan Crawford in exaggerated shoulder pads, Los Angeles had had a minimal influence on the way the country dressed. Now young L.A. was developing a style all its own. I saw it in my colleagues, a determinedly hip staff who came to work at the Weekly’s ramshackle offices on eastern Sunset Boulevard in a combination of vintage clothing from the ’40s and ’50s, souvenirs of trips across the border to Mexico, and accessories handmade from unlikely materials — fake fur decorated with satin, plastic adorned with sequins. The women wore cowboy boots with their Donna Reed dresses. The men wore earrings. Someone had to report this. And without putting up too much of a fight, Jay agreed to let me have a shot at it.
(“Style,” January 27, 1984)
Exercise wear from Tickets.
(Photo by Claudia Kunin)
At first I was aided and abetted by Laurel Delp, the Weekly’s first managing editor, and her friend Pavla Partch. But soon I had a page all to myself, which I could fill with anything remotely fashionable. It was the most fun I ever had as writer. I called the column “Style,” defining the term as broadly as possible, and because I had no idea how to be a serious columnist, I wrote a first-person chronicle of the L.A. aesthetic as I saw it unfold and develop week after week.
By the time summer came along, I was beginning to contemplate my fall wardrobe, and Jay agreed to a special fashion supplement. In the issue of August 24–30, 1979, I introduced the section optimistically: “L.A. has created its own fashion aesthetic, and the rest of the world is buying it . . . These clothes are a rejection of elegance — torn
T-shirts, safety-pin necklaces. But they are an affirmation that getting dressed is a fun, un-boring form of artistic self-expression.”
L.A. style was nascent, far from the mature sophistication of Europe or the clean, sporty looks emanating from New York. The way we dressed was playful, demanding attention. “It’s hard to ignore a guy with fuchsia, slicked-back hair, black spandex pants, printed shirt, winged-tipped shoes, sunglasses and earrings,” I wrote.
None of the designers featured in that first fashion supplement have become household names. Shirley Karki, Kathy Martin and Flora Kung have not gone on to become Donna Karan, Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren. But their effect is still felt. All three were transplants — from Ohio, Detroit, the Republic of China — who chose L.A. for its unique energy. They captured the spirit of the city in the clothes they designed, opening the door for a stream of dozens of other young designers.
(“L.A. Style, Spring ’83”)
Cotton “skort” outfits
by Van-Martin Rowe.
(photo by Orah Moore)
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