In This Corner

Illustration by Cliff Pershes

Los Angeles is the ugly stepsister when it comes to fashion shows — despite the hype over L.A. designers such as Rick Owens, Michelle Mason and Jared Gold, not to mention Paris transplant Jeremy Scott. Poor organization and production values have kept buyers and press away. Moreover, the international fashion pack, which started traveling in February for fall shows, is road-weary by the time L.A.'s collections finally roll around in April, so many don't bother coming. And booze-fueled sportswear soirees and ill-conceived art experiments have given L.A. a rep of being too much ghetto, not enough fabulous.

All that is about to change — while simultaneously making L.A.'s Fashion Week more controversial and more complicated than it has ever been. Two separate entities — New York-based 7th on Sixth and L.A.-based Smashbox — enter the ring for the first time this April with competing fashion weeks. And the match is on: Both are digging deep into their pockets to attract key talent and become the brand name for L.A. Fashion Week; both have impressive lineups. The heightened buzz has resulted in more than 60 designers showing over eight days — twice the number of those who did last season. And it has brought out established designers such as Trina Turk, who had never bothered with runway presentations previously.

"The real question is why Mercedes-Benz and 7th on Sixth are coming to L.A., a town they know nothing about, and putting on fashion shows," says Dean Factor, who owns Smashbox with his photographer brother Davis. "It is the typical New York story. Almost every restaurateur that has come to L.A. and tried to do what they do in New York has failed. The reason being is that they are not from here, they do not know what people from L.A. want, nor do they care."

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"There was a lot of 'We need you guys out here,'" says Fern Mallis, a V.P. at IMG who is heading up 7th on Sixth's effort. "We came out to L.A. to see the shows over the past two years, and we came back to New York to decide what we could do to improve them." IMG, the global sports marketing and management conglomerate, was also keen to add another fashion week to its portfolio; it already runs, or is involved with, official fashion weeks in India, São Paulo and Singapore as well as New York.

"The more the merrier," says Alisa Loftin, whose Aero & Co. boutique carries clothing by designers showing in both events. "But there's no way I'm going to get to every show," she notes, referring to the overlapping schedules. "I'm going to go to 7th on Sixth and have an employee attend the Smashbox shows I can't get to."

Seventh on Sixth hopes to make Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week L.A. business- rather than party-oriented, and ultimately profitable. There will be daytime shows (standard in other cities but new here), an event-specific daily tabloid, and the kind of high-profile sponsorship IMG knows how to wrangle (Vogue is among its sponsors). MBFWLA will show 26 designers in three separate spaces at the downtown Standard Hotel April 1 through 4.

Across town in Culver City, Smashbox, the photo studio/cosmetics company/fashion talent agency, will host Smashbox Fashion Week Los Angeles, with some 13 shows, including several during the day, in three studios April 2 through 5. Smashbox, which is the sole sponsor, is also viewing the business potential.

Mallis has been careful not to come across as a carpetbagger, but she says "to do something across town seems counterproductive" to the overall goals of the fashion industry, and that she wishes Smashbox "had decided to do it before rather than wait until we came out." Factor says he had long wanted to organize L.A. Fashion Week but waited until he had the wherewithal to underwrite the launch and then commit to more seasons; coincidentally, that moment came for him at the same time it did for 7th on Sixth.

Factor also says he approached a 7th on Sixth "show runner" last year to float the idea of teaming up but was rebuffed; Mallis responds that she never received any kind of official proposal and was genuinely surprised when she found out that Smashbox had planned shows.

She adds that MBFWLA doesn't want to produce every L.A. fashion show — other events around town start March 30 and continue through April 7: "Right now we want to be small and exclusive." That meant turning away some of L.A.'s most established, and original, designers — such as Monah Li — in favor of three lines that are not based in L.A. (Ghost, Paul Hardy and Heatherette).

To jump-start L.A. fashion week, 7th on Sixth is assuming major costs. For example, a show venue in L.A. costs designers $750 to $3,500, whereas in New York's Bryant Park, tents run from $14,000 to $39,500. The group is even underwriting the venue cost for four hot-ticket shows — Michelle Mason, Cornell Collins, Grey Ant and Magda Berliner.

Although Smashbox wouldn't release any figures, various designers report that the Factor brothers are committing a large sum of money to underwrite the shows — designers just have to bring models and, of course, the clothes. Although Smashbox rounded up some of L.A.'s top names — including Eduardo Lucero, Rami Kashou and Corey Lynn Calter — 7th on Sixth appears to have the edge: more names, more shows, plus non-show designers are getting suites at the Standard so press and buyers can conveniently check out other lines. Thus Factor is playing the hometown card, calling the Smashbox lineup "more authentically L.A." and guaranteeing that their designers are "100 percent L.A.-grown."

Deciding on Smashbox instead of MBFWLA "was a question of loyalty," says Lucero, who showed there last year. "They were so great to me, and they made everything so easy by providing hair and makeup people." Another designer who requested anonymity said she chose Smashbox because of their laid-back L.A. attitude. "It's enough work to get a collection together," she says. "I don't have the energy to then go fight some New York-style battle to get a good time slot."

Though the backbiting and bitching continue — it is fashion, after all — it's a turning point, albeit with a certain amount of growing pains, for L.A. Ultimately, the designers win — more shows mean more buyers and press — as does L.A. fashion, which is finally getting taken more seriously.

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