"I LOVE DARTS -- DARTS MAKE THINGS POP OUT," says Antonio Aguilar. "Darts accentuate every angle of the body and create different dimensions. And I love to use contrast, like a dark or bold color, and then you get another dimension with the overlap of the fabric." His pieces are, in fact, multidimensional marvels: a wool blouse so finely pleated that it seems to ripple; a paisley dress with slit sleeves that reveal an audacious purple lining; a striped denim skirt with a belt attached to the side seam. Although he tends toward a hard-edged asymmetry -- blouses often feature a single long sleeve, for example, or a collar might be exaggerated with points going in different directions -- there's a spirit of the '20s, '30s and '40s in his work. Think Clara Bow, think Barbara Stanwyck, think Lauren Bacall. "You can be very sexy, and show skin, but in a subtle way," he says, "where it doesn't look sleazy. Living in L.A., it's like women need to expose so much. Women could be much more glamorous if they looked seriously at the way the body is expressed."
Aguilar, who was born in Mexico and raised in East L.A., took a roundabout path to becoming a designer. "I knew I was artistically inclined, but I wasn't sure what direction to follow," he says. He tried architectural drawing but found it dull, so he went to work at an art store, which led him to start painting, which in turn prompted him to go back to college -- where a teacher suggested that he try his hand at fashion design. His sister Teresa, who was making her own clothes from McCall's patterns, also inspired him. "I would do shorts for myself, and then I started getting more and more into it, and I liked it. It gave you the openness to be able to construct anything you want -- and you could go as far as you wanted to go with it." He transferred to Otis College of Art and Design, which proved too expensive for him to continue after the first year.
Then came five years of vegging out, feeling disillusioned and uncertain about the future. Aguilar worked as a waiter until he realized, while it's great to have money, his life wasn't getting anywhere. So he headed back to school, to L.A. Trade Tech, where he studied art and design. Now, at 30, after a brief foray into menswear, he has just started selling his first women's collection, every piece of which he makes himself. The various influences he brings from his past -- his clothes suggest the architectural, with an extreme precision in the cuts -- have helped to shape a sophisticated line with a surprisingly cohesive vision for a new designer. Despite the poor lighting at his first show, part of a group effort at Star Shoes during the recent Fashion Week, the exquisite craftsmanship of his designs caught the eye of a prominent Hollywood stylist, who was quick to ask for his card.
Cat scratch fever: Cotton stretch
twill blouse with gabardine
lining and denim skirt with
cotton lining; wool corset-
fitted top with cotton twill
lining and cotton twill pants
Aguilar hopes that five years from now his line will be selling in high-end boutiques such as Maxfield and Emma Gold. He's also contemplating creating a plus-size line, and perhaps going back to menswear. He's still waiting tables part time, though, while he continues to do everything from scratch. "It takes a lot of time," he says. "There's a lot of devotion."
Fashion heroes: "Alexander McQueen, because he takes it to levels that you wouldn't expect, and Jeremy Scott, because a lot of his stuff represents ideas that I've also conjured up."
Sweatshop politics: "I'm first-generation here, and my aunt would work in a sweatshop, where she would sew tons of pieces and make hardly any money. I know all the suffering, so there's no way I would expose someone to that."
Who's buying: Debra Messing.
Rebel, rebel: "I am rebelling against symmetry!"
Antonio Aguilar is available at Sirens and Sailors in Silver Lake; his work is currently being showcased at Renée Bardot on La Brea Avenue.
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MODELS: Juka Ceesay (pants), Emily Brandle (skirt)
STYLIST: Troy Greene
HAIR: Brent Buckhorn
MAKEUP: Xavier Othon