MORE

Sneak Peak: Project Comeback

Empire (waist) strikes back

{mosimage} “What happened to Jeffrey Sebelia?” asked New York magazine last month in a story that portrayed the designer’s life as a hard-luck tale, another 15-minute flash in the reality-TV pan, with Sebelia failing to sign any significant clothing deals after his high-drama Project Runway win in October, losing touch with his Bravo producers, losing his girlfriend, and not even having $3 in his pocket to pay for parking. In the magazine’s view, his highest post-win accomplishment was snagging a deal to design clothes for the upcoming live-action Bratz movie.

“Those slutty dolls?” the reporter asked.

“Yeah, those slutty dolls,” Sebelia responded, not realizing that his off-the-cuff comment would cost him the job.

But Sebelia hasn’t just been sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Before Project Runway’s cameras sharpened his personality down to that of a tattooed bully who made mothers cry, Sebelia was one of Los Angeles’ leading designers, and his Cosa Nostra line was regularly spotted at Fred Segal and worn by celebrities. Since his win, he’s been hard at work on his Cosa Nostra collection for fall, which is about to debut in a runway extravaganza to be covered in several media outlets, including a team from Bravo.

“It’s in their best interests to continue to support contestants,” says Sebelia. “They can feed the show and promote it.”

So what’s the new collection all about?

“True love,” says Sebelia, explaining his inspiration. He’s referring to the discovery earlier this year of two 5,000- to 6,000-year-old hugging skeletons. “Just the thought of them embracing one another at the time of their death,” he says, “it touched me. It seemed like the eternal love people keep searching for. They’ve been hugging for several thousand years.”

The embracing skeletons also made him think of the color of bones and dust and dirt, all of which suggested a color palette for the designs, and also inspired simplified, stripped-down pieces.

{mosimage}“I know it sounds trite to say this out loud,” Sebelia says shyly, “but I wanted to get to the skeleton of the pieces, the skeleton of fashion.”

Casual Project Runway viewers who know Sebelia mostly for that demure, green-striped silk dress shown on the series may not realize how much of a departure the designer is making from the rock & roll embellishments of Cosa Nostra seasons past. In those collections, reflecting his earlier life as a musician, video-shoot production designer and successful drug addict (later, drug counselor), his designs were so full of ruffles, zippers, leather and lace they were described as Blade Runner meets Vivienne Westwood’s Sex Pistols. That’s how he got some of L.A.’s best-known musicians, including Tommy Lee and Dave Navarro, to become customers. He sees himself as a renegade John Galliano.

For the new collection, Sebelia took classic outerwear, dress and bottom silhouettes and reduced them to their essential shapes, adding only a few bare-bones details — a lone zipper, for instance, where a hood attaches to a jacket.

“Nothing is really over the top,” Sebelia says. “A large amount of the women’s line is derived from the men’s wear. I love jackets, suits and blazers, and I sort of subconsciously know that they’re going to have similar elements,” he says. “Like the men’s hoodie with the zipper — the women’s version is the same. From the waist up it’s identical, but there is a silk crinkle around the bottom of the women’s jacket and the hood is smaller.”

The upcoming fashion show will be held in a raw industrial loft space in downtown L.A., and will feature a projection screen at the end of the runway made out of white shirts and pants. “I’m going to project images of all the things I’m in love with, like my son. There will be lots of pictures of my son.”

{mosimage}Jewelry designer Sydney Evan will accessorize the women. Sebelia loves her collagelike pieces of different lengths of chain and charms that tell a story. There will also be a few big surprises involving a couple of video installations made with director Nixon, but Sebelia’s keeping those details under wraps. He’s also not discussing any future business plans — he’s a little gun-shy with reporters after the New York magazine article, and doesn’t want to screw up any deals by blabbing about them.

But he is looking ahead already to his spring collection — he’s finished sketching his designs and beginning to look at fabric.

“It’s sort of an expression of this line,” says Sebelia, “getting down to some simple silhouettes. To me it’s fun to remove myself from what I’m designing, to keep taking away, keep creating a void and get simpler and simpler. I feel like all I’ve wanted to do for the last three years was not add any embellishment, and it’s slowly evolving that way.”

He’s trying to peel back the layers of design and expose strong elements inherent in the shapes he uses. “If I can achieve an entire collection in one square of fabric and not look like [Martin] Margiela, I would.”

Mostly, Sebelia is trying to live up to the sentiment behind his label’s name.Before it became associated with the Mafia, Cosa Nostra, literally “that thing of ours,” had a less sinister meaning.

“It’s always meant, and I’m paraphrasing,” Sebelia says, “‘We’re doing our own thing.’ And that’s how I feel about fashion.”


Cosa Nostra is available in Los Angeles at J. Ransom, 151 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 936-1675; Stacey Todd, 13025 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 981-7567; Ron Herman at Fred Segal, 8100 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 651-4129; and Maxfield, 8825 Melrose Ave., L.A., (310) 274-8800. For more info, check www.cosanostrainc.com.