By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s a strange time for fashion. The 500-pound gorilla threatening to squash all the 98-pound models in the room is, of course, the crappy economy. You may remember that our city’s semi-long-standing Fashion Week at Smashbox died a sad death last October, just before the nation’s banks started self-destructing. The arts collective BOXeight has since thrown itself into the breach. So how do you do Fashion Week if belts are tightening and nobody has any money to spend?
At this season’s GenArt show at downtown’s historic Los Angeles Theater, there’s no celebrity guest “host” reading from a cheesy speech, just marketing guru Jennifer Egan in a short black dress, her long, straight, brunette mermaid hair streaming down her back, humbly thanking the people who actually bought tickets to tonight’s show. The young women at the check-in table are a tad less haughty. As are the older cougars lingering by the bar. Even the fashionistas angling to be the prettiest girls in the room seem more somber, despite having added obnoxious new words to their vocabulary (“recessionista”: yuck!). Undeterred, the photographer mafia once more jockeys for position on the risers.
There are even the requisite few celebs. Clint Catalyst, looking handsomely vampirelike, is sitting across the aisle. As the lights go down, one of the contestants from Project Runway Season 2, Nick Verreos (the nice one you want to hang out with at parties), scurries to his seat. What comes through with much of the bullshit scraped away is people’s dedication to fashion, glamour and beauty despite the rough times. It’s Scarlett O’Hara sewing herself a ball gown out of the green-velvet curtains with the war of Northern aggression raging and Tara smoldering in ruins around her. It’s touching, really.
GenArt, which every fall hosts the Fresh Faces show for emerging talent, this time presents three collections from designers whom insiders have had their eyes on for a couple of years. Society for Rational Dress does a vaguely military collection for fall ’09. Shirts are chopped up and tucked beneath bomber jackets. Fluttery, feminine chiffon dresses are harnessed with butch leather shoulder straps. Several of the girls — in cream cowl-neck sweaters and little chain-mail shawls — look like modern-day Joans of Arc.
Raquel Allegra does a kind of lonesome-Mexican-cowboy thing. Models come out with wide-brimmed black Zorro hats pulled down low over their eyes. There are little leather culottes and chocolate-brown leather tank dresses, which the girls wear with black ankle socks and oxfords: cute and eclectic.
But to my mind, the standout collection is the one from Grai, the line designed by Otis College grad Maya Yogev. According to her Web site, Yogev is interested in the Victorian era, Russian ballet, punk rock and goth aesthetics. She lives in Los Angeles with her “devil cat,” Kiki.
Looking at Grai’s clothes, I pretty much forget about the dire state of the world. The silhouette is long and tall — so tall the models look like they’re on stilts — with big, trapezoidal coat collars. The Grai line, I later find out, is based on the designer’s quest for the perfect coat. So, there are bat wing–sleeve leather coats and flowing black kimono wraps paired with slinky, floor-sweeping skirts.
The serious, unsmiling models are post-Apocalyptic Dune priestesses, all ascetic, pale faces, a smidge of black eyeliner and heads wrapped in black turbans. What hair is visible is shellacked into triangles, and feet, shoes and ankles are mummified in swaths of cloth. This is how to do goth if you want to seem like you are grown up and have gobs of discretionary income.
The overall impression is of layer upon complex layer of slanting, asymmetrical hems, and different textures of black — gleaming, dominatrix oil-slick black next to dull, light-sucking black-hole black. It is dramatic and emotional and simultaneously luxe and minimal.
“So, did you pick out your prom dress?” asks the guy sitting next to me. “I was thinking something in black. I had a smile on my face because one of my longtime friends is Elvira.”
Yes, for sure.
This fashion event is rough around the edges and has a sense of humor about itself. That last bit alone puts it leaps and bounds ahead of most other fashion events I’ve been to. For instance, the DJ at the COA show is playing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” (“36-24-36? Only if she’s 5 feet 3 ... my anaconda don’t want none unless she’s got buns hon”). I was waiting for the skinny girls to come out to fully appreciate the irony, but alas: COA is a men’s line.
The clothes are fine and wearable and should do well in the stores — any girl would be happy to have her boyfriend show up for a date in one of COA’s quilted biker jackets over crinkly acid-wash jeans. (Though, maybe not the peach-colored jeans.) One jacket is made of black-patent lambskin so shiny it looks like it’s been licked. Also, there are men — okay, gay men — in the ladies’ restroom. And what a restroom. There is nothing like peeing in a room done up in marble and gold.