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
When all else failed, I thought up wacky ideas for the column. I was made over and made under more times than I can count, and I shared my most unattractive moments with my readers. I had my best colors defined for me half a dozen times, my makeup application improved over and over again. I had my body measured and analyzed, potbelly and all. The current rash of TV makeover shows are but a pale reflection of the self-improvement I endured in the name of fashion, often with Elsa Braunstein in tow.
Elsa and I shot a story featuring clothes I bought at a supermarket in Koreatown and modeled myself — including a dog collar I wore as a necklace. To commemorate the opening of the Marciano brothers’ MGA store — the precursor to the Guess? empire — I did a story with the photographer Orah Moore in which I was encouraged by a salesperson to try a pair of jeans in a size I hoped to someday diet down to. “When I tried to put them on,” I wrote, “the two rows of zipper teeth stared longingly at each other across an imposing expanse of belly, and I feared that never the twain should meet.” But I was determined to get into those jeans “even if I broke every fingernail trying.” Finally I lay down flat on my back, sucked in my stomach with all my might . . . “and lo, the zipper crept slowly up.” I looked like I’d lost 10 pounds but I feared a medical problem might arise if I wore them for any length of time.
My friend Jean Johnson and her then-teenage daughter, Holly Krassner, posed for Victoria Pearson tarted up in fashions I pulled from an Army-Navy surplus store on Hollywood Boulevard, making evening looks from men’s pajamas and raincoat liners decorated with “strategically placed jewels.” When the L.A. Times began a feature called “Closet of the Week,” touting the luxurious and impeccably organized closets of the stars, I countered with “Closet of the Weekly,” displaying my own disastrous sagging clothes rod, shoes piled on the floor.
The Weekly’s style supplement for spring 1981 celebrated a coming of age with a feature called “L.A.’s Bad Kids Make Good,” which included a series of portraits of designers and their models shot by Pearson. I chose four designers whom I had written about when they were just getting started, all of whom had gone on to design respected lines.
When I first encountered Elke Lesso, she was making loose, rough-edged tunics, pants and sashes from T-shirt jersey. Richard Tyler was designing outrageous costumes for musicians like Rod Stewart and Diana Ross; I met Marlene Stewart when she was making paper jumpsuits doctored up with shoulder pads and snaps and decorated with rubber stamps and Xeroxed images; and when I first profiled Gregory Poe, he was making clear-vinyl wallets, neckties and purses filled with sawdust, confetti and plastic fish.
So where are they now? Elke Lesso, who once designed all the clothes in her Melrose Avenue shop, Zoe, continues to produce whimsical printed dresses and separates under the Zoe label, sold in stores nationwide. Richard Tyler’s immaculate tailoring and elegant designs became the toast of New York and Europe. His fashions sell at stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, and he has maintained an atelier on Beverly Boulevard for many years.
Marlene Stewart created costumes for Madonna before establishing a career as a costume designer for films, including To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, Oliver Stone’s JFKand The Doors, even Terminator 2, The X-Files and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Her newest film is Tears of the Sun, out this year.
Gregory Poe was discovered by the Tokyo mega-manufacturer Wacoal, and became a star with 17 boutiques across Japan. Now back in his native L.A., he has begun to design funeral urns. He says he is finally embracing the legacy of his ancestor, Edgar Allan Poe. “My friend, the late Lance Loud, is in a wooden shoe box on his mother’s shelf,” he explains. “Something just had to be done. Besides, they are beautiful objets d’art, which could be used for non-death things.” Cookie jars?
The L.A. look and the California craze faded away sometime in the ’90s. New York experienced a resurgence, and the fickle eye of fashion turned its gaze elsewhere. Melrose Avenue is still a destination, with tourist shops to the east and high-end designer labels such as Miu Miu and Costume National to the west. But Melrose is no longer the only place to find the new and interesting. Beverly Boulevard, Third Street, Vermont Avenue, Hillhurst Avenue, Silver Lake Boulevard and Pasadena’s Raymond Avenue have their share of trendy boutiques. L.A. is far from a fashion wasteland.
The city continues to produce world-class designers. And as celebrities have become the new fashion icons, actors who shop locally, such as Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Meg Ryan, have given their favorites a boost. The August issue of Bazaar magazine featured the work of Richard Tyler, along with L.A. labels that boast celebrity followings — Imitation of Christ, Tree, Magda Berliner, Michelle Mason, David Cardona and Cornell Collins. The descendants of the Melrose Avenue pioneers, they create a distinctive blend of glamour and funk that is the hallmark of L.A. style in the new millennium.
Joie Davidow, a founder ofL.A. Weekly, developed its listings and edited its style pages from 1979 to 1986. She went on to foundL.A. Style andSí magazines. She has published four books, including a memoir,Marked for Life (Harmony, 2003).
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