Beauty and Madness 

How I learned to love L.A.’s Fashion Week

Thursday, Mar 31 2005
Photos by Michael PowersI admit that I was ready to give up on L.A.’s Fashion Week. Last year at this time I questioned if L.A. even needed it — a heretical view, I noted, given that it had been only a year since we got our own big-deal sponsored week. We got two in fact: New York’s 7th on Sixth/Mercedes-Benz at the Standard, and Smashbox at its Culver City studios (the two subsequently joined forces). The shows in November didn’t change my mind either. Even though Los Angeles has long been a setter of trends — for better and worse, from Edith Head, Rudi Gernreich and Bob Mackie to Juicy Couture and Frankie B. — as well as the country’s second-largest garment manufacturer, there’s still the sense that a designer hasn’t really made it unless he or she shows in New York or Paris. Which should be a laughably provincial notion except that certain East Coast fashion editors have been known to advise L.A. designers not to mount a presentation here. This is one of the reasons our fashion weeks haven’t created the kind of buzz that would make L.A. a must-see for press, buyers and stylists. And timing, to some degree, is an issue: L.A. comes at the end of a long circuit that includes New York, Paris and Milan, when many buyers have already written their orders. More than that, however, is the critical challenge of getting a handle on L.A.’s notoriously eclectic scene — from red-carpet dazzlers to thrift-shop chic to boundary-pushing futurists. L.A. designers are a wildly independent lot who don’t play by anyone’s rules. But the biggest problem has been quality. Although innovation and imagination defines the best of L.A. design, you wouldn’t know it from many of the designers chosen by 7th on Sixth and Smashbox over the past few seasons. It’s true that some of our brightest talents can’t afford to put on a show every season, and I recognize that in order for our iconoclastic design scene to flourish, we need an organized week of shows that includes some sacrifice of art for commerce. But why did so many shows look like Old Navy? And don’t even get me started on the Fall 2004 show that consisted of dozens of hoodie-and-sweatpant ensembles. Yes, cute sweatpants reflect a certain L.A. aesthetic — after all, we gave the world surf and skateboard looks — just not one that needs a runway presentation. But the rant stops here. While I still miss the wild-style days of fanciful, independent shows — Eduardo Lucero in a parking lot using car headlights to light a show, Jared Gold presenting his collection in a downtown alley, Michelle Mason in the Second Street tunnel — I’m delighted to report that this month’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2005 at Smashbox Studios was the most polished and profoundly L.A. experience yet. There were fewer shows (and fewer misses among the hits), a more carefully considered and consistent lineup, and sponsorship deals that made it possible for some of L.A.’s leading lights to show, including Grey Ant, Magda Berliner and Michelle Mason. There was a divine appearance by Vogue’s Anna Wintour. And there was lots of attitude — the theme of the week, as proclaimed by the T-shirts worn backstage by Eduardo Lucero’s hair and makeup team, said it all: “Just make the bitch pretty.” So what will you be wearing this fall? No doubt something in brown — maybe a slim or full-cut skirt with a shiny turquoise or plum blouse. Lots of tweeds and pinstripes. Pants will be low-slung and flared, or natural-waisted and skinny, or high-waisted and full — you get the picture. Or you will, if you join me and photographer Michael Powers over the next eight pages for a backstage and best-of-the-runway glimpse at the March madness and beauty that was Fashion Week Fall 2005. There’s a lot of pretty coming.

(left): Goretti, (lower right): Edith Palm

Michael, Can You Hear Me? Boozers, cruisers, schmoozers and the Beautiful People who love ’em — in other words, all the L.A. tribes — cram the MOCA Geffen Contemporary for Gen Art’s rump-bumping Fashion Week kickoff “The New Garde.” “Oh, the humanities,” I murmur to costume designer (and constant front-row companion) Susan Matheson as we contemplate the impenetrable mass gathered around the first installation — Monica Goretti Behan’s line of slinky starlet wear — which evokes a decadent scene straight from The Damned. I love the idea of fashion being presented in a museum — at its best, fashion is art — but the combination of three separate installations and heaving hordes makes this a bit of a logistical pickle. Well, better than a metaphysical one. To top it off, I can’t find my photographer, whom I’ve only talked to by phone. “Is your name Michael?” I ask every man I see carrying a camera. More than one tells me, “It is if you want it to be.” Evidently, some of these guys don’t get out very often. I never carry my cell phone with me — an idiosyncrasy that drives everyone I know crazy — so I borrow Susan’s and call Michael. Who can’t hear me over the music. And so I become that L.A. type I loathe: the person who screams on a cell in a crowd. At least I try to do it to the beat. And I’ll find plenty of other reasons to hate myself this week. Meanwhile, Susan and I seem destined to see only the backs of the crowd’s (mostly) well-coiffed heads as the weeks-old rumors about Anna Wintour attending Fashion Week reach a fever pitch. But then Louis Verdad to the rescue. Not only is he one of L.A.’s most talented designers (and a Gen Art alum), but he knows how to part a crowd like the Red Sea. He propels us from Goretti to the Edith Palm exhibit, which involves stuffed deer in a kind of factory setting — an oddly beautiful and edgy environment that nicely reflects designer Sarah Aaronson’s finely detailed and playfully dark vision. (Full disclosure: I was on the Gen Art selection committee.) A woman next to us enthuses over the clothes — it is the strongest collection of the eve — and mentions that she was Aaronson’s childhood babysitter, and, “There’s Sarah’s mom over there.” Beaming, of course. The real Michael catches up with us — at least briefly — he’s off to go lens-to-lens with the photogs on a platform in front of Konstantina Mittas’ Bytinaxxx display. “Spaghetti-Western bordello!” exclaims Aero & Company owner Alisa Loftin. And that about sums it up. Enough fabulousness for one night.

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