“I adore the old Hollywood movie-studio designers, all the special touches they did on clothes,” says Dana Pfeffer, who designs a line called Clothing Whore. “Edith Head, Travis Benton, Adrian — the way they made clothes move.” Her dramatic bias-cut coats, robes and capes are tailored with sweeping entrances and exits in mind: Think starlet in a black-and-white newsreel stepping out of a limo and disappearing in a burst of flashbulbs, or a rock & roll goddess flash-trashing her way through an MTV video.
Pfeffer’s interpretations of vintage glamour aren’t limited to just her line. She made ceremonial robes for the movie Birth Rite, and recently did some costumes for a yet-to-be-released film starring Karen Black, who plays a chanteuse in a seedy Midwestern carnival sideshow. Pfeffer — who’s been obsessed with movies since she was a girl growing up in Kansas City, Missouri — designed and made Black’s costumes.
Dana Pfeffer wears a satin-rayon kimono coat.
The work of Stephen Sprouse and Jean-Paul Gaultier has also fueled her creativity. “I used to make little punk rock outfits by hand for my Barbie dolls,” she says. “They had evening gowns and dresses and stuff, but the clothes they came with were never cool enough. I always liked to combine the unexpected — putting together elements you wouldn’t think of, making things you couldn’t find just anywhere, combining fabrics in unusual ways.”
By the time Pfeffer, who taught herself to sew at age 6, was old enough to take home ec, she used class time to make one-of-a-kind pieces for herself and her friends. In the mid-’90s she moved to San Francisco, where she attended the Pacific Design Institute, taking classes in draping, pattern making and marketing. However, she didn’t even complete a full year: Word of her design skill spread fast, and she was inundated with custom orders.
Pfeffer, who moved to L.A. four years ago, started a Web site to sell clothes to those who couldn’t come in for fittings. She constructs the clothes from the ground up, draping muslin patterns, and finishing items by hand-sewing in linings, sewing down shoulder pads and covering buttons. She’s also been known to make some wildly avant pieces, such as her “octopus corset,” constructed of bathtub mats turned inside-out so the rows of suction cups are on the outside.
Velvet dress with pearl buttons and cotton collar and cuffs with trim
Usually, though, she mixes up materials in a more functional way, such as her princess-cut riding coats made of blanket fleece, created with a high, deep pleat in back so the coat swirls out with every step, but the fabric is machine-washable and so cuddly it could double as a bathrobe. Recently, she’s branched out into doing men’s clothes such as Matrix-inspired long coats.
Her next step will be to expand from what is now a one-woman operation, making the move to designing madame from clothing whore. “I just liked that name,” she laughs. “Clothes have been my lifelong addiction, though it still took me almost two years to tell my Bible-thumping aunt the name of my business.”