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Photos by Jenafer Gillingham
“There’s a lot of strippers in L.A. — it’s a totally different backstage scene than at rock shows in New York,” says designer Ligia Morris, whose ensembles in leather, fabric and hand-painted silks have been sought after by rappers and rockers alike for the past 14 years. “Here, going after all the rocker guys, it’s the blonds with the hair, the poof and the perm — and the boobs are a balloon fest. It’s crazy, like a scene out of Spinal Tap.” Last year Morris moved from New York to L.A. and opened Eat My Leather, where she carries some ready-to-wear, although she prefers to customize. “I feel like you can buy certain pieces of leather off the rack, but that option should only be if you can’t get it custom made,” says Morris, who uses cowhide when thickness is called for, although she favors the lushness of deerskin; she also works in goat, chamois and lambskin suede.
Willam wears a deerskin tunic shirt and deerskin pants with perforated lambskin side insets and spray-painted motorcycle boots.
Her references range from Road Warrior to Victorian-era pieces, such as a cape-ette that’s layered with panels of handmade lace. She’s working on a leather cocktail dress that stays true to some of the Victorian details like hand-stitching and separate under-panels, but the tailored fit accentuating the curves is anything but. Her tight leather pants often have Lycra butt panels to keep a bubblicious shape, and her signature crotch zipper goes underneath, almost to the butt. Besides looking erotic, it’s designed to help get the pants on. “I’m very body conscious in my patternmaking,” she notes. “I have a total three-dimensional vision of design. I’ve always made sexy clothes. It doesn’t have to be explicit to be sexy, but I’m definitely into the wild thing.”Phyllis wears deerskin pants with stretch canvas and a recycled silk scarf bustier.
No surprise, considering her career is rooted in the nightlife of Brazil. At the age of 23, she opened her first boutique and eventually had a satellite shop inside one of Rio’s massive early ’80s new-wave clubs. She took ’60s bikinis and punked them up using metal O-rings, plus real and stenciled safety pins. She put on fashion shows that incorporated live music and performance art, and was eventually lured away to São Paulo, where she designed for the biggest jeans line in Brazil. She honed her design, illustration and pattern-making skills but burned out on corporate life and moved to New York to study sculpture in 1989. For work, she joined the design team at Liquid Sky, who were then making clothes worn by kids in the rave scene, as well as running a record label. With designer Claudia Ray, she invented the “beeper pocket jeans,” a pocket placed over the crotch that made it into a two-page editorial in Vogue. “We were the crossover — punk rock, hip-hop, street, very urban.”Phyllis wears a recycled flannel shrug and miniskirt with a hand-painted lambskin and leather lace vest, and calfskin boot covers over $60 Hollywood Boulevard hooker boots.
Within a few years Morris began constructing custom leather pieces. Cher, her first celebrity client, ordered 15 pieces, prompting Morris to open her own shop, Primal Stuff. “It was the modern version of couture, the stuff is so high quality,” says Morris, who also ventured into styling for the stars, dressing and doing design work for Shakira, Mary J. Blige, Aerosmith, Iggy Pop, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears. “I wouldn’t categorize my stuff as Western, or rock & roll. I think my stuff is really high fashion.”
Besides her own line, she also carries the tailored clothes of Zaldy, the graphic black-and-white line of musician-turned-designer Kembra Pfahler (with whom Morris has performed), and the minimalist creations of puppeteer Elisa Jimenez. Morris’ latest project is in some ways a return to her early days in Rio. “I’m doing this ready-to-wear bikini line, made with recycled T-shirts and new fabrics. Some of the suits are plain and some are beaded with rhinestones. I’m doing another bikini line that comes in painted silk or leather, for posing in, something to wear to a yacht party. I love bikinis, and I feel like this is the place to do them.”Designer Ligia Morris
Models: Phyllis Kwan (Dragon Models); Willam (Dragon Models)
Eat My Leather, 6671 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 350-4100.