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Kara Saun

Photo by Ted Soqui

Photo by Ted Soqui

Not winning Project Runway was the best thing that ever happened to Kara Saun. In the show’s first season, the New York–bred costume designer shimmered like a pearl among reality-TV swine, and seemed like a sure thing to many obsessed viewers, myself included. But when her luxe aviatrix collection failed to win the big prize, it wasn’t sympathy calls she received, it was business propositions.

“I don’t want to say I’m glad I didn’t win,” Saun said backstage before her L.A. debut Monday in the Main Tent at Smashbox Studios. “But in a way it’s brought me so much more. People thought I was gonna win, and they weren’t going to call me!”

That includes the investors who made her current collection, titled “2056,” possible. Saun didn’t give numbers, but it’s safe to assume that she was working with a budget larger than the $8,000 allowed by Project Runway.

Inspired by Wong Kar-Wai’s film 2046, Saun imagined a dark, futuristic world where fashion is one of the few bright spots. In a more serious mood after Hurricane Katrina, she abandoned the metallics and furs she’s known for, instead trying to convey elegance and sophistication through the use of luxurious fabrics and fine detailing. Her cloth of choice was silk, bolts of it, in rich eggplant and navy and gunmetal gray, with a few vivid reds and greens thrown in. Many of the gowns were floor-length and backless, with feminine keyhole cutouts and high Victorian necklines. Sheer, pleated sleeves fluttered from the shoulders, while pleated ruffles cascaded down many a skirt. “I was a pleating fool this season,” laughed Saun, who offset the demure vibe with wide, obi-like leather belts.

Such elegant, labor-intensive looks are made for the red carpet — and will come with red-carpet price tags. Saun said a ready-to-wear line is planned for the future. And, unfortunately, it looks like Los Angeles won’t be able to keep her for long; the designer revealed that she had intended to show 2056 in New York, but the schedule of her job as costume designer on Amanda Bynes’ show What I Like About You made it impossible. Still, the longtime L.A. resident has no plans to completely abandon her adopted city; one possibility is showing on both coasts: “L.A. and New York speak kinda two different fashion languages, and I’m bilingual.”