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
In the next 10 years, Los Angeles would explode into a humming center of creativity, and the whole world would be focused on Melrose Avenue, on the newly reclaimed downtown lofts and on a coterie of fashion designers, decorators, architects and chefs whose influence reached around the globe.
European immigrants no longer flooded Ellis Island. Instead, they came to California from China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. They came from Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala. The restraint of Asia crashed headlong into the exuberance of Latin America, and in L.A. they all met the rock & roll culture left over from the glory days of the Sunset Strip, the Roxy and the Troubadour. They met the dream factory, Hollywoodland, where anything goes. Spandex met kimonos, sequins met serapes. From this glorious mix of wildly divergent cultures, a new breed was born. It was the L.A. aesthetic, fresh and irreverent and so attractive everybody wanted it.
By 1981, the new Melrose Avenue Association had a membership of more than 50 businesses. There were chic restaurants, like Patrick Terrail’s Ma Maison, which served up gourmet hamburgers, and where a young Wolfgang Puck could be found in the kitchen. There were trendy hair salons such as Miso Satu’s Platoon and Henry Abell’s Trampp. And there were the ateliers of L.A.’s young designers. Two years after the Weekly’s first fashion supplement, I could report, “A veritable forest of new stores is springing up in the fertile soil of Melrose Avenue.”
Sometimes reporting something can make it so. The Weekly told the city that Melrose Avenue was the place to go, and the city went there. With the new attention came new stores. Claudia Grau fashioned practical garments from nylon parachutes and sewed her labels on the outside. At Let It Rock, two English partners, Madeline Taylor and Allan Jones, designed a new take on the old zoot suit, launching a Nuevo Latino revival. L.A. Eyeworks, a Melrose Avenue pioneer, opened its doors in 1979, and a year later added a gallery space that showcased a collection of vintage fantasy frames. Just William featured the work of Julie Hewitt and Diana Espaillat, who fashioned high-tech silver-studded black or gray garments for their Darling I Love Your Dress line, while the Latino Rick Castro and his Asian partner, Michi, a quintessentially L.A. pair, made outrageous hats, taking the stylish chapeaux of Hollywood’s Golden Age to a comedic extreme and labeling them “I Love Ricky.”
I began to champion what would become a long list of young L.A. designers. Publicist Janet Orsi, who had started her career selling restaurant ads for the Weekly, catapulted many of these designers from the Weekly’s style pages to the eyes of the world, promoting Leon Max, David Dart, Karl Logan, Electra Casadei, and Robin Piccone’s Body Glove to star status.
At the Weekly, we began to develop a photographic style as modish and diverse as the clothes themselves. In the early years, Jules Bates, the Weekly’s photo editor, shot extraordinary graphic images using a backdrop of angular sets he built and designed himself, working with a team he dubbed Artrouble, which included makeup artist Phyllis Cohen and hair stylist Debbie Kaplan. A perfectionist, he was often unhappy with the quality of his work, produced on short notice with little or no budget. If, in desperation, I was forced to print a photo he didn’t like, he insisted on using a pseudonym. Credits like “Photo by Bermuda Schwartz” and “Patti Melt” appeared on our pages. Bates died tragically in a motorcycle accident, cutting short what should have been a brilliant career.
But by that time the Weekly’s style pages had developed a reputation, and young photographers began to come around with their portfolios. Matthew Rolston and Moshe Brakha shot some of their earliest work for the Weekly, then went on to develop enormous international reputations. The renowned still-life photographer Victoria Pearson came to the paper fresh out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Always ready to put something together on the spot and incredibly talented, she became my frequent collaborator. Orah Moore, who was finishing a master’s degree in photography at Cal State Fullerton, shot many of the style pages, including an entire special style issue which she photographed while several months pregnant. Today, she is a well-regarded landscape photographer living in Vermont, where she runs Haymaker Press.
I became ubiquitous on the scene, which was my job, after all. My sidekick at fashion shows, openings and events was photographer Elsa Braunstein, whose images often accompanied columns that began with a phrase like “Last night, Elsa and I . . .” We would go anywhere for a story, especially if it was an event involving free food and drinks. I teased Elsa, who was model thin, for haunting the buffet tables of every party or opening we attended. We frequented the trendy clubs, where people “got all dressed up to go out and see what everybody else was wearing.” When that monolith of downtown showrooms, the L.A. Fashion Mart, began hosting a semiannual fashion week for buyers and press, Elsa and I were present from start to finish, though we were battle-weary and bleary-eyed by the end, having covered a long parade of fashion shows, free coffee and pastries notwithstanding.
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