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The Dating Test

Photos by Issa Sharp

IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 1980s, BLITZ KIDS, GOTHS AND New Romantics put the peacock back into men's fashion in a way it hadn't been since the court of Louis XIV. While such dandyism mostly appeared in underground clubs, there were enough showboaters -- Boy George, Adam Ant and Klaus Nomi come to mind -- to draw media attention (and even to prompt the creation of a magazine, The Face). Inevitably, designers played out the flamboyant -- Vivienne Westwood pushed the pirate look, for example -- but of course this brief foppish interlude didn't last.

Although Andrew Dibben came of age in the London of Leigh Bowery and Trojan's club Taboo -- the ultimate costume spectacle -- and cites that era as an influence, he has moved away from the unisex garments that defined his design when he first opened his Silver Lake boutique in 1999. In fact, he's now putting out a conservative line of men's clothes that meets what he calls "the dating test": When your date knocks on the door, he should be wearing something low-key and appealing, and not look like a clown.

In part, his shift away from the androgynous is in response to how clothes are sold. "I've been beaten down by the market a bit," says Dibben, who worked as a design assistant to Helmut Lang and was the creative director for Mark Eisen. When wholesaling, clothes must ship either to the men's or women's department, and women are more likely to buy men's clothes than vice versa. But more important, Dibben believes that we've evolved beyond outlandish clothes, and that people are more concerned with comfort -- of clothes and self -- than grand, sweeping statements. "What was shocking is now kind of tired. Clothing doesn't have the same strength or importance that it used to have in the '80s. There was this whole sexual gender revolution, and we're now on the other side of that."

Even though classic design might be dull compared to, say, making metallic cat-suits with shoulder and butt pads, there is a statement to be made in working a formula. Dibben's collection is based on leisure wear, but with an eye to detail and references to surf, skate and cholo styles. A white dress shirt has a cuff trimmed with black; shorts are cut at a three-quarter length. He uses Japanese denim and manufactures there, since the same quality is not available here, he says. And he hasn't completely given up the dandy -- ribbon trims sneak in here and there.

He describes his clean-design aesthetic -- which also applies to his shop, although his ever-present Weimaraners Nathan and Violet add a casual touch -- as disciplined and edited rather than minimal. "Guys shop in a brutal and honest way -- it forces you to be very specific and concise. It used to be that the gay community was a large consumer of fashion, now they're all out of an A&F catalog. What I do is make clothes for people who don't want to participate in mass-market culture."

Living in L.A. has changed the way Dibben sees fashion. "Los Angeles is one of the most important places in the world for plotting the future of fashion. The whole sportswear and casual influence is California-based. You cannot knock Orange County -- OP and Quiksilver have influenced the high-fashion brands. Fashion has become really comfort-orientated. No matter how many times designers put women back in corsets, it's not going to stick."

Andrew Dibben, 1618 Silver Lake Blvd.; (323) 662-9189.

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