Rational Exuberance 

Thursday, Feb 17 2005
Corinne Grassini creates clothes that command attention — not easy to do in a culture that confuses double-D silicone with a sense of style. But for all the edgy, sexed-up elegance and imaginative shapes — a leather halter tops a floaty asymmetrical dress; teasingly placed cutouts crisscrossed with leather straps adorn a blouse — the most striking element is Grassini’s exquisite tailoring. This woman understands fabric: how to drape it, how to play off contrasting materials. You might expect these skills from a designer, but these days even some fashion big shots have the ideas but not the technical competence to pull them off.

Which made the runway debut of Grassini’s line, Society for Rational Dress, last April at Gen Art’s “The New Garde” show all the more a star-is-born event. Her presentation — put together in just three weeks, no less — displayed a sophisticated understanding of how to build a collection. She sent out, for example, a bolero jacket with a simple peplum, followed by a second with a more substantial peplum, and then a third with an awesomely overwhelming peplum.

Photographs by Julie Pavlowski
Makeup by Dawn Broussard
Hair by Bo Mattie
Shayne Eastin, Shay Londré (Photogenic), Eric Luken

Given that more experienced designers often fail to deliver a cohesive vision, you’d assume that Grassini — one of three designers featured at Gen Art’s Fall 2005 show in New York earlier this month — had been working toward this moment ever since she could thread a needle. But even though she started whipping up outfits as a kid, designing clothes was always just a hobby.

Shayne (top) is in a cotton twill
and poplin hooded dress with leather
ballet flats. Shay (middle) wears a
cotton blouse with leather straps,
cotton stretch-twill jodhpurs and
leather strappy sandals. Designer
Corinne Grassini (bottom).

“I grew up really athletic and academic, and I never thought the arts could be a fruitful career,” says Grassini, who was raised in L.A. and studied sociology at the University of Washington. “I learned American Sign Language and thought I’d be an interpreter.”

After graduation, her mother encouraged her to take design classes. She studied pattern making and draping for a year, first in Santa Barbara where she was living with her then-boyfriend. “I wanted to learn the technical side of design — I think you have to cultivate the creative side on your own.”

After moving back to L.A., Grassini continued her studies while creating clothes and styling fashion spreads for a group of Brooks photography students. She also began making patterns for designer Ina Celaya while still in school and then later for other L.A. labels such as Steinberg and Sons and Maryam Nassirzadeh. In fact, she was still making patterns for Nassirzadeh when she got the Gen Art show. And she taught herself how to make shoes, which are now an essential part of her provocatively avant line.

Society for Rational Dress (it alludes to the Victorian-era Rational Dress Society, which championed practical clothes for women) came into being two years ago after she took a jacket she made for herself into the store Naked, and they ordered a few.

“I don’t remember the specific moment I found the name,” says Grassini, whose spare downtown studio reflects the clean aesthetic that informs her design. “The thing that attracted me to the name was the idea of rationality and how it can be interpreted by anyone in any different way, depending upon their viewpoint or where they come from. A lot of people might look at my clothes and say, ‘These are rational?’ ”

“I like to imagine someone wearing my pieces a long ways down the line and looking even better because they’ve been worn and have more of a history behind them.”

Now that’s rational.

Society for Rational Dress is available at Naked, 181 Martel Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 964-0222; Scout, 7920 Third St., L.A., (323) 658-8684; H. Lorenzo, 8660 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (310) 659-1432; and Diavolina, 156 S. Robertson Blvd., L.A., (310) 550-1341; or check out www.societyforrationaldress.com.

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