The End of Fashion Week as We Know It: Wailing Outside Lauren Conrad, the Dead Ferret Con and Other Scenes From L.A.'s Last Smashbox Catwalks

Green Initiative
Ted Soqui

It will never be like this again. The final three days of Los Angeles Fashion Week are like the last days of school, like The Breakfast Club, only everyone is playing Molly Ringwald’s character. It’s not just the end of a season, it’s the end of an era. Producers IMG and brothers Davis and Dean Factor have parted ways after playing host to L.A.’s experiment in runway fashion. The shows will no longer take place at the Factor boys’ clubhouse Smashbox. The future of high fashion in the city remains unclear.

A certain not-unpleasant regularity sets in after a couple of days. You get up, schlep over on the free shuttle with the makeup artists, hairstylists and photographers. Then get in line for your ticket. Then get in another line to wait for the stage doors to open. The similarity between Fashion Week and Disneyland is remarkable. There’s a lot of standing in various lines for what feels like hours, followed by the joy of claiming a seat and the special thrill that signifies the start of a show, when the burly men peel back the plastic runway tarp to reveal a landing strip the exact texture and whiteness of a boiled egg. Then the bright and shining cacophony of light, color, pattern, movement, clothes and sound, which lasts the length of a sigh.

 
Velvet Ropes and Dead Ferrets

“It’s not like it’s Julia Roberts or anything,” says a photographer standing on the curb near the back entrance of Smashbox. “It’s fucking Kim Kardashian. She was begging everyone to take her photo a year ago. I’d rather photograph a real thespian, a real artist. Not a booty artist.”

In the line for Joseph Domingo, I stand next to a veteran velvet-rope jumper, a woman wearing a bouclé suit and a dead ferret. Along with the ferret, who wears a mournful but friendly expression and whose name is Harry, the woman is accessorized with a 1940s veiled hat and a suitcase. She’s been telling people that her suitcase is filled with condoms. Her ebulliently drunk stylist friend has a front-row ticket. The woman has none. It doesn’t matter, she assures me. She’s been successfully sneaking into fashion shows for 10 years. She will work the magic of the dead ferret to get herself into the show. Her foolproof method involves looking fabulous and taking any available seat and refusing to budge. “Though this might be the year that breaks me,” she says dubiously, as her drunk friend begins to lick the ink off the tickets.

Inside, minutes later, she is being interviewed by a camera crew, so her technique seems to work. Soon the models issue forth in beautifully tailored shifts cut in layers to resemble koi fish scales; in asymmetrical one-shouldered gowns that zip cleverly up the side of the torso along the seam; in peach and sand and coconut white and aqua and sapphire — a warm, milky, sweet tropical drink of a collection. Domingo emerges for a bow, humble and gracious.

Sometimes, even those of us who are supposed to be inside the shows don’t make it in. Such is the case later with the free-for-all melee that is reality-TV star Lauren Conrad’s show, her second collection. A rumor circulates that MTV overbooked the event, because nothing makes for better reality television than real-life chaos. Crammed into the fashion reality scene tragically unfolding at the door, I despair of ever seeing Conrad’s designs, despite the talk that she doesn’t do any of the designing herself. I despair for the guy bawling his eyes out on the street, shouting, “Lauren! Lauren! I love you, Lauren!” I despair for the 20-plus hours I spent engaged in “research” watching The Hills. I will never get those hours or brain cells back.

 
Would You Wear That?

At Lana Fuchs, I sit next to an importer. “I’m about the bottom line, which is: Will it sell? How much money can I make off this? There are maybe 10 good looks here,” she says of the 30-some outfits and then adds, “I’m confused. Is she designing for older women or younger women? Older women would never show their upper arms.”

Fuchs sends out flouncy, frilly dresses, one festooned with a mass of cutout flowers, another with butterfly prints — butterflies, ruffles and ribbons are a burgeoning trend for next spring. A model in a red gown with braided fabric dangling like snakes saunters by. “Let’s see if she gets any buyers for that one.”

“That’s great for editorial,” the girl on my other side opines about a white halter dress vaguely reminiscent of the coffee-filter-esque collars Spanish Conquistadors wore. She’s a stylist. She cheers when Saleisha from America’s Next Top Model walks down the runway. Saleisha winks.

 

“Would you wear that?” I ask the importer, regarding the coffee-filter dress.

“You’re kidding me, right? Would you?”

There’s a surprisingly good quantity of stuff I or almost anyone in the proletariat could wear that showed at Fashion Week. (This would decidedly not be the case at Paris Fashion Week, where it’s a Balenciaga gown or down payment on your house.) The new line Crispin & Basilio, by Donny Barrios, has a fresh, clean, elegant, slightly preppy yet laid-back air perfectly suited to the SoCal lifestyle — it’s ripe to be ripped off by Banana Republic if he’s not careful.

Samora unveiled a spring-in-Paris-themed collection I’d imagine on young-at-heart divorcées contemplating a European sojourn. Samora’s line has pleated dresses with tight bodices, and full, swingy skirts. Models preen in high-waisted pencil skirts and flouncy organza blouses with little frilled collars.

For men in touch with their inner Gatsby, Elmer Ave has sleek vests, pinstripe black skinny jeans and tailored jackets anarchically spray-painted. Their “rebel” models flip off the pile of photographers at the runway’s end and send text messages on cell phones while on the catwalk.

The showiest show of the season, however, belongs without a doubt to Christian Audigier, king of the Ed Hardy clothing empire and the force behind the Von Dutch brand. He’s a master showman. Models walk a runway lined with live grass. Two British guards with big black pouffy hats stand at attention, then burst into dance. Models in distressed, screen-printed, blinged-out, shredded jeans strut in top hats with massive Great Danes in tow. Children wave American flags. Heidi Klum, watching with a serious expression from the front row, smiles enigmatically when a girl in black sequined leggings stomps out.

A cloud of glitter explodes, and Emperor Audigier appears onstage. That he’s come up with a way to sell a basic hoodie for $300 is testament to his genius. Depending on your level of cynicism, the entire circus act either represents everything wrong with American decadence, commercialism and excess ... or is a jolly good time. I’m pretty cynical, so I think it’s both.

 
Fashionistas in Training

After Amelia Toro’s show, 13-year-old Isabella Aviles, who’d been sitting quietly in the back row, informs me that she is pleased by the clothes she’s seen today. The languorous flowing chiffon trousers and shift dresses fluttering like giant monarch butterfly wings in Toro’s collection also seem to please Davis and Dean Factor, who slip into the seats in front of me. Isabella’s mother is a designer, so she grew up around fashion. Currently, Isabella is not so much a purse girl as a shoes-and-dresses girl. Though she isn’t wearing it today — having opted for a simple black trapeze dress and black ballet flats — she owns a Marc by Marc Jacobs dress, so, finances permitting, her foray into haute couture can’t be too far off. Other little fashionistas in training nervously mill about, like the blonde who couldn’t be more than 14 yet proudly carries her pale-pink Prada purse on bent arm, label turned conspicuously out. They’re unfailingly gangly, clear-skinned and pretty, and, if genetics play out as they hope, will remain so. Though I worry about them, too, those ticking time bombs of anorexia.

 
Your New BFFs

You get to recognize faces. Then personalities. Then preferences. “We went from not knowing each other to BFFs,” says one woman to another as they sit. After each show, I’d inevitably find myself in Smashbox’s central lounge, with the same few people, a regular lunch-time gang, debating the merits of one designer over another. We’d weigh heavy on things like which of Kevan Hall’s gowns are too prom-y, or whether Whitley Kros’ clothes are chic or sloppy, or if the spray-painting on Elmer Ave’s military jackets was overdone, or whether Lana Fuchs’ last several dresses — the ones with rose-shaped pillows sewn onto them — were avant-garde or ridiculous (I’m going with ridiculous). But I’m willing to fight to the death for her coffee-filter dress.

Fashion Week is a five-day (or, if you include the pre- and postevents, a 15- or 16-day) stamina test. Even the hardiest of goody-bag whores struggle at the end. They heft a largess of free lip gloss; free T-shirts, scarves and camisoles; free eyeliner; free nutrition bars; free lotions, sunscreen and spray-on tanning liquid. As a buyer from Fred Segal notes while I wedge myself exhausted into the sofa seat next to her, “It’s open bar and open makeup.” She chooses the $400 designer jeans the Hollywood socialites snatch up like candy, but she herself can’t wear any of the Fred Segal clothes, being of hearty Mexican stock and a size 1X. Instead, she shops at Macy’s. The fashion world is nothing if not a study in irony.

 

Just another example: At the concluding “Green Initiative” eco-themed event, where barefoot models tread the runway in silky bamboo dresses, with live animals even — a wolf, an albino python, a monkey — and designers speak earnestly of reducing carbon footprints and saving the planet, there in the audience I spot dead-ferret girl bopping one stiletto-clad foot to the African tribal music. Go figure.

And yes, Fashion Week tests your morals. Are you the type who will cut in line in front of 300 people to get into a show? Do you laugh when a model stumbles? If you are starving — and 99 percent of the people here are — do you steal an unguarded delicious-smelling burrito clearly meant for one of the hard-working volunteers? Do you sneer at a tall, thin and otherwise beautiful girl’s butt cellulite? On these matters, I have come up alternately virtuous and wanting.

There’s talk that next year, Fashion Week will be more like a trade show. Or that it won’t happen at all. Or that it will be spread out into lots of tiny, disparate venues. The Factor boys seem to be talking up Hollywood while snubbing downtown — perhaps leaving that territory to the BOXeight crowd? In any case, it’s hard to imagine that many of this year’s hard-learned lessons will matter next time. We start from scratch, everything new, the rules changed. And this isn’t a bad place for it, Los Angeles and reinvention.


Sponsor Content