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Clothes Ponies 

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The ladies from High Class Cho are fighting the urge to fall into hysterics.

Although it’s just 8:45 in the morning, they’re convinced that they’re too late for a chance to meet buyers from the New York department store Henri Bendel, and they can’t get their new clothing rack assembled. Right now it’s a heap of jangling metal poles in the parking garage of the downtown Standard Hotel.

Waiting on the second floor — some of them since 6 a.m. — are hundreds of competitors, all obscure designers and salespeople who have come from as far away as Tennessee for a chance to sell at Bendel’s, one of New York’s shopping meccas.

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This is what’s known as an “open see,” and there are no appointment slots for people like Ava Stander, designer for High Class Cho, the line Stander has created with comedian Margaret Cho. It’s first-come, first-served, kind of like an American Idol for fashionistas, except in this case, one Bendel’s rep assures me, there is no Simon Cowell.

Hopefuls are given numbers and told to wait. Everyone who shows up will be seen. This is the fourth time the New York–based store has visited Los Angeles on the occasion of Fashion Week; perhaps six to 12 new designers will be chosen.

Back in the bowels of the parking garage, Stander’s assistant, Dawnne Aubert, tries to put together the rack using a long, red-and-black fingernail as a screwdriver. It doesn’t work. (Earlier, Stander had tried a pen, and it exploded. Her fingers are tipped in dark blue.) Cho couldn’t make it, so Stander and Aubert are modeling High Class Cho designs.

After maybe 10 minutes of screwing around, the High Class Cho team has MacGyvered enough of a solution to get their clothes into the elevator. Up in the lobby, they find the line of designers, their clothes, unlike Stander’s, neatly stored in garment bags. Every single one of them is wearing fabulous shoes.

“OH my G-O-D,” moans Stander.

“It’s okay!” declares Jason de Sah, a member of Stander’s team who arrived early to get a decent spot in the line. “As long as someone is here to sign in! Otherwise it’s, like, five hours of waiting.”

Partially pacified, Stander explains her line. “With most clothing lines, you have to be either a size zero or tent size,” says Stander, a bodacious, half–American Indian woman whom partner Cho calls “a sexual scientist.” “These clothes,” she explains, “are for the woman in between.”

Her signature piece is a reversible red-and-black “skirt of shame.” The wearer can feel respectable the morning after a one-night stand simply by turning the skirt inside out and leaving in a “different” outfit.

The skirt of shame will be up against the creations of labels like Primp, a partnership between two cute fashion-school graduates in their mid-20s, with Britney bodies and Olsen Twin personalities. Wells Butler and Emily Kersman are here to show their ’80s-inspired micro-minis and off-the-shoulder knit tops, splashed with bleach and appliquéd with ribbons and pictures of ice cream cones and ghetto blasters.

“Our clothes are very girlie girl,” Butler says. “And edgy.”

When their turn comes, the Primp partners giddily approach the fashion gods. Bendel’s ready-to-wear buyer declares the minis to be extremely short — but she likes them. She likes the tops, too, and asks when the designers could deliver a shipment for the spring buying season.

Butler and Kersman are then asked to model some of their designs for Polaroid snaps the buyers will take back with them. One of the buyers offers the designers her card, whipping it out from what looks like a white leather cardholder.

“Oooooh,” the Primp girls say, almost in unison. “That’s so-o-o-o-o c-u-u-u-te.”

Up next are Ava and High Class Cho. Designer Richard Tyler, lending his expertise as one of several “celebrity panelists,” reaches for a black button-down blouse. Massaging it from the bottom up, he seems to be trying to crush it. Bendel rep Janet Kim and some of her colleagues dubiously eye the rest of the offerings, including a stoplight-red cocktail dress with a square-cut neck. It is not lined.

“Is this lined? Is it going to be?” Kim asks. “This really should be lined.”

“You need to think about softer fabrics,” Tyler declares. “Fabric is really, really, really important.”

At a nearby table, a tall, sexy blond is being asked to model knit shawls for the Polaroid.

“This may be a little mature for our customer,” Kim concludes. “We would be doing an injustice to you if we brought you in and the clothes didn’t sell well. You have to have the right customer.”

The panel recommends that Stander try the buyers at Bergdorf Goodman or Saks.

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