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Beauty and Madness

Photos by Michael PowersI admit that I was ready to give up on L.A.’s Fashion Week. Last year at this time I questioned if L.A. even needed it — a heretical view, I noted, given that it had been only a year since we got our own big-deal sponsored week. We got two in fact: New York’s 7th on Sixth/Mercedes-Benz at the Standard, and Smashbox at its Culver City studios (the two subsequently joined forces). The shows in November didn’t change my mind either. Even though Los Angeles has long been a setter of trends — for better and worse, from Edith Head, Rudi Gernreich and Bob Mackie to Juicy Couture and Frankie B. — as well as the country’s second-largest garment manufacturer, there’s still the sense that a designer hasn’t really made it unless he or she shows in New York or Paris. Which should be a laughably provincial notion except that certain East Coast fashion editors have been known to advise L.A. designers not to mount a presentation here. This is one of the reasons our fashion weeks haven’t created the kind of buzz that would make L.A. a must-see for press, buyers and stylists. And timing, to some degree, is an issue: L.A. comes at the end of a long circuit that includes New York, Paris and Milan, when many buyers have already written their orders. More than that, however, is the critical challenge of getting a handle on L.A.’s notoriously eclectic scene — from red-carpet dazzlers to thrift-shop chic to boundary-pushing futurists. L.A. designers are a wildly independent lot who don’t play by anyone’s rules. But the biggest problem has been quality. Although innovation and imagination defines the best of L.A. design, you wouldn’t know it from many of the designers chosen by 7th on Sixth and Smashbox over the past few seasons. It’s true that some of our brightest talents can’t afford to put on a show every season, and I recognize that in order for our iconoclastic design scene to flourish, we need an organized week of shows that includes some sacrifice of art for commerce. But why did so many shows look like Old Navy? And don’t even get me started on the Fall 2004 show that consisted of dozens of hoodie-and-sweatpant ensembles. Yes, cute sweatpants reflect a certain L.A. aesthetic — after all, we gave the world surf and skateboard looks — just not one that needs a runway presentation. But the rant stops here. While I still miss the wild-style days of fanciful, independent shows — Eduardo Lucero in a parking lot using car headlights to light a show, Jared Gold presenting his collection in a downtown alley, Michelle Mason in the Second Street tunnel — I’m delighted to report that this month’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2005 at Smashbox Studios was the most polished and profoundly L.A. experience yet. There were fewer shows (and fewer misses among the hits), a more carefully considered and consistent lineup, and sponsorship deals that made it possible for some of L.A.’s leading lights to show, including Grey Ant, Magda Berliner and Michelle Mason. There was a divine appearance by Vogue’s Anna Wintour. And there was lots of attitude — the theme of the week, as proclaimed by the T-shirts worn backstage by Eduardo Lucero’s hair and makeup team, said it all: “Just make the bitch pretty.” So what will you be wearing this fall? No doubt something in brown — maybe a slim or full-cut skirt with a shiny turquoise or plum blouse. Lots of tweeds and pinstripes. Pants will be low-slung and flared, or natural-waisted and skinny, or high-waisted and full — you get the picture. Or you will, if you join me and photographer Michael Powers over the next eight pages for a backstage and best-of-the-runway glimpse at the March madness and beauty that was Fashion Week Fall 2005. There’s a lot of pretty coming.

(left): Goretti, (lower right): Edith Palm

Michael, Can You Hear Me? Boozers, cruisers, schmoozers and the Beautiful People who love ’em — in other words, all the L.A. tribes — cram the MOCA Geffen Contemporary for Gen Art’s rump-bumping Fashion Week kickoff “The New Garde.” “Oh, the humanities,” I murmur to costume designer (and constant front-row companion) Susan Matheson as we contemplate the impenetrable mass gathered around the first installation — Monica Goretti Behan’s line of slinky starlet wear — which evokes a decadent scene straight from The Damned. I love the idea of fashion being presented in a museum — at its best, fashion is art — but the combination of three separate installations and heaving hordes makes this a bit of a logistical pickle. Well, better than a metaphysical one. To top it off, I can’t find my photographer, whom I’ve only talked to by phone. “Is your name Michael?” I ask every man I see carrying a camera. More than one tells me, “It is if you want it to be.” Evidently, some of these guys don’t get out very often. I never carry my cell phone with me — an idiosyncrasy that drives everyone I know crazy — so I borrow Susan’s and call Michael. Who can’t hear me over the music. And so I become that L.A. type I loathe: the person who screams on a cell in a crowd. At least I try to do it to the beat. And I’ll find plenty of other reasons to hate myself this week. Meanwhile, Susan and I seem destined to see only the backs of the crowd’s (mostly) well-coiffed heads as the weeks-old rumors about Anna Wintour attending Fashion Week reach a fever pitch. But then Louis Verdad to the rescue. Not only is he one of L.A.’s most talented designers (and a Gen Art alum), but he knows how to part a crowd like the Red Sea. He propels us from Goretti to the Edith Palm exhibit, which involves stuffed deer in a kind of factory setting — an oddly beautiful and edgy environment that nicely reflects designer Sarah Aaronson’s finely detailed and playfully dark vision. (Full disclosure: I was on the Gen Art selection committee.) A woman next to us enthuses over the clothes — it is the strongest collection of the eve — and mentions that she was Aaronson’s childhood babysitter, and, “There’s Sarah’s mom over there.” Beaming, of course. The real Michael catches up with us — at least briefly — he’s off to go lens-to-lens with the photogs on a platform in front of Konstantina Mittas’ Bytinaxxx display. “Spaghetti-Western bordello!” exclaims Aero & Company owner Alisa Loftin. And that about sums it up. Enough fabulousness for one night.

 

(top left): Lucero's Fabu moment.

Hello, Darlings Many of the usual fashion press suspects are at the Mercedes-Benz “Rock the Runways” benefit Tuesday night for the City of Hope, hosted by Cindy Crawford and featuring the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (or No No Nos, as one fashionista described them to me the next day). But with just hours to go before the Wednesday opening of the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox, I’m headed to the Pacific Design Center to check out the final night of the P.KaBu series of runway and trunk shows, started by designer José Angel a few seasons back. While I admire Angel’s independent spirit and the fact that the shows are open to the public, neither Erica Rose nor Monica Nahum’s Szulika, tonight’s designers, needs a runway show. Oh well, onward. Or rather, to the closet first for the usual try-’n’-toss Fashion Week morning dressing routine, with a call or two to Susan. We do our best to turn it out — which means there are always a few people each day who assume we can’t be from L.A. Well, check this — I’m a native Angelena, and I don’t own a pair of jeans. I arrive early at Smashbox, do the accreditation shuffle and start the “Hello, darlings.” Fashion Week is a little like returning to summer camp, the joyful reunions with people you see only a few times a year. I pop backstage to say hello to Eduardo Lucero, who’s opening the week — the first time an L.A. designer is doing the honors. Flocks of dressers (mostly fashion students from local schools) in flamingo-pink tees surround Lucero, who moves serenely through the chaos explaining the three outfits each is responsible for. The hub and bub — half-dressed models, hair and makeup crew putting on finishing touches — hubbles and bubbles when “10 minutes to showtime” is announced. I find Susan, and in we go. You know that feeling you get when you’re watching something transcendent and magical? This show is all that and more. Exquisite tailoring, aggressive silhouettes, incredible colors. And so damn sexy. I’m misty-eyed when it finishes. Eduardo Lucero has set a gorgeously high standard for the week.

Tight Ends and Gift-Bag Grifters Trying to get into a show during Fashion Week is like trying to get on a delayed flight, as imagined by Sartre. You’re either being herded from one place to the next or left to wait. For the moment, we’ve made our way to Pegah Anvarian, whose darker colors and use of tweeds — she’s known for her body-embracing jersey — signal a new direction. If only she were more sure of that direction. A quick break for dins — overpriced sushi from Geisha House — where Michael tells me he needs to get paid more. Apparently some of the other photographers don’t shower often enough. Meanwhile, for any of you who’ve ended up on Mr. Blackwell’s worst-dressed list one time too many, Kevan Hall is your designer — safe red-carpet dresses. Maybe even a little too tasteful. At Saja, I spot a new breed of Fashion Week habitué: the gift-bag grifter. This type differs from the gift-bag snatcher by a more discreet approach. Susan and I watch as a well-dressed older woman sits in the front row as if she belongs there. She casually picks up the gift bag under the seat and stuffs it into her tote, then wanders off. In the crush outside Nony Tochterman’s Petro Zillia show, I now decide that getting into a show during Fashion Week is like a scene from one of those news reports of masses trying to catch the last plane out of Saigon. “This is why I don’t go to the Spider Club,” one guy remarks when the black velvet rope comes up at the main tent. I can’t figure out why the NFL channel has a reporter here. Then a really big fellow sits down next to me, leans over and introduces himself as Tony. From the Kansas City Chiefs. Apparently, I still look blank. Tony — tight end Tony Gonzalez, I later discover — tells me Marcus Allen is also here. “You know who he is?” Barely. It turns out Tight End Tony is here as part of some promotional gig. After a glitzy Paula Abdul–choreographed dance number — bands, opera singers and more dancers open a number of shows this week — Tochterman’s seductive, colorful, tough-but-tender vision for fall saunters down the runway. Lights out. Okay, so how adorable is this? At Meghan Fabulous’ “Fashion Es Jesus” show on day two, her mom — a sixth-grade teacher — checked in the journalists and her stepdad handed out programs. And the clothes? Beautiful coats, bright ethnic elegance, but stick with daywear. Then to the extravagant spectacle that is a Sue Wong show. The theme: “Venetian Carnivale,” complete with a glitter-tossing harlequin at the end. She has one enthusiastic national sales rep, who hooted and hollered at every über-elegant ensemble. Wong does give one much to cheer about. The other highlight of day two is veteran New York–based designer Morgane Le Fay, who put out a beautiful mix of the grand and understated. Susan and I — both fans of ’80s Japanese design — lust madly after her layered and draped skirts. Of course, runway shows aren’t only about clothes — there are the models. Though Los Angeles doesn’t often get the celeb catwalkers — no Naomi Campbell to keep us all waiting an hour — Suss Design has the one big name of the week: Kirsty Hume. As beautiful as she is, she doesn’t make the clothes any more interesting.

 

(center): The designer's final touch

Shark Attack With the celebrity-ogling contingent of the style set trying to cram its way into the Marc Jacobs store opening, Susan, Michael and I keep our focus on new fashion ideas and head to Coco Kliks’ Circus Sublime show at Bliss in West Hollywood. It’s always a thrill when a previously unimpressive designer puts out a collection that makes you reconsider his or her talents — last fall, Coco Kliks was one of those designers who turned me around. I have high hopes for this year when she starts off with some strong skirts and dresses. But what’s with the pants with lace overlay, Coco? Not sure whether that is the circus or the sublime. The next morning, I arrive a few minutes late at the 11 a.m. Deborah Lindquist show. I should have slept in. “Whoever cast the models should be shot,” whispers the woman next to me about the models mugging on the runway. Susan wisely spent her morning choosing just the right hat for today — she’s become known at Fashion Week for her exquisite collection of headwear, and after two hatless days, people had started asking questions. When she finally arrives in a pirate chapeau by Paris milliner Marie Mercier, the photogs go snap happy. One starts, and the rest gather ’round, like the proverbial school of sharks. Once Susan escapes, we make our way to Magda Berliner, who creates little works of art and is presenting her 12-piece collection, Hunter/Hunted, as an installation. The quieter environment underscores the lovely and provocative juxtaposition between soft and hard — say, a lace-ribbon dress paired with a chain-mail-adorned capelet. When Susan and I arrive at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising show for six recent grads, we find two girls getting comfy in our chairs. This isn’t altogether unusual, so we show them our tickets and wait for them to move. And wait. Time to channel Kelly Cutrone, the fierce doyenne of People’s Revolution, which does PR and front-of-the-house production. Cutrone, who can give front-row crashers the heave-ho in a few languages, told me earlier about a run-in she had at Petro Zillia when she kicked Mrs. Eddie Murphy out of a coveted seat. When the Mrs.’s PR flack complained about the treatment of “talent,” Cutrone informed her that being married to an actor didn’t make her talent. Three cheers. Because the week was filled with too many people who confused their 15 minutes with being an actual celeb, when they’re not even tabloid fodder. The girls moved.

 

(center top): Runway debut: Carlos(center lower):Backstage: Juan Carlos

VIP Kisses More hunters, but this time versus fairies at Juan Carlos Obando’s show. An art director for many years, he made a strong debut last fall. “Modern garments with vintage construction” could be his motto. I stop backstage to say hello, and JC gives me a tour of the collection. His clothing is all about enhancing the body in the sleekest, sexiest way possible. “A woman needs the help of clothing for self-confidence — that’s where I come in,” he tells me. And does he ever. Stretch-silk skinny pants or skirts and bustiers with bias details ­channel that inner warrior goddess. After JC’s show, Susan and I relax in the Mercedes-Benz VIP room, which attracts a number of people who just seem to hang out. Free booze will do that. Of course we never make it to the real VIP room — apparently for the M-B honchos and their bimbos — though we longingly watch platters of food disappear into it. There’s not even a bowl of stale peanuts in our alcohol-stoked lounge. Suddenly, the velvet curtain flips back for a moment and I glimpse a flash of Prada skirt and a familiar bob. It’s Anna Wintour being escorted down the hall for Carlos Rosario’s debut show. I suspect her first-ever appearance at an L.A. Fashion Week has more to do with the induction of photographer Mario Testino to the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style later this week than anything else. When we walk to our seats, I immediately spot Wintour in the first row. Her hair, so thick and perfect, is riveting. The lights come up, Wintour’s sunglasses go on and Rosario makes a striking debut, despite the washed-out makeup and muss-fuss hair, even the cringe-making moment when a model strolls by with hanger straps peeking out the back of a dress. Somehow, we know that because Wintour is here, he’ll be judged more harshly than he would otherwise be. After, Rosario takes his bows and then kisses Wintour’s hand.

(center left): Grant's last pass (right): Kayne is able.

Stomp We knew it would happen. Esther Nash has shown up. We always recognize her because she usually has her name written somewhere on her clothes. And she likes to have her picture taken — a lot. Her BabyDoll/SugarDaddy Web site dubs her “Fashion Queen Esther Nash,” and says, “Esther is a dancer, a gymnast, an actress and a model, in addition to acting as a fashion designer and skilled businessperson.” But Nash is just one of several Fashion Week oddballs who seem to live for the photo flash. Meanwhile, Grant Krajecki’s Grey Ant show seems to have pulled in the photo-worthy A-List and beyond — way beyond. Or is that from the beyond? There’s Divine. And Michael Jackson. Boy George. Dolly Parton. Cher. The Cher look-alike is so convincing, she fools a few people — at least for a minute. It’s a clever comment on the star-chasing that goes on at many of these shows. Heck, the whole city. And it just gets better. Krajecki opens with a Friday the 13th theme, complete with young lovers, a chainsaw-wielding maniac and “blood,” which causes one woman to toss her Gucci bag behind her. Could be a new definition of fashion victim. For all the fun and games, including a cheesy ’80s-style dance troupe, the clothes more than live up to the production. I’m not expecting much at the Jenni Kayne show — I’ve never been a fan. But Susan and I are both blown away by her collection. It’s a focused, grown-up line with a beautiful sense of color, sophisticated . . . and wearable. Leaving the show, we notice Kimberly Stewart (daughter of Rod) performing the perfect H-wood-brat foot stomp when a guard doesn’t initially let her depart through the backstage. Then a fast-moving brouhaha breaks out. Fists are flying, people are screaming and we spot security hustling someone out the front. Apparently Anthony Kiedis wanted to get backstage but wasn’t let in. Later, a guard tells me that he punched Anthony’s friend. “But I’m not going to punch Anthony Kiedis,” he confesses. The perks of celebrity.

 

(center right): Before theapplause: Mason

Shlock and Blah

Today we should be touring the design suites at the Beverly Hilton, where some 30 clothing and accessories designers are showing, but fashion fatigue has set in so we go straight to Smashbox. I know Susan is exhausted because she’s making me circle every cape — she’s a freak for ’em — whether she likes the designer or not. And today is mostly not. “Shlock and blah, shlock and blah,” she keeps saying. Still, when I’m not being terrified by Esther Nash, who has her face silk-screened on the back of her shirt, I find myself liking Sheri Bodell’s rocker-chick chic. Michael reports from the camera trenches that he’s noticed a call-and-response interaction between the photogs — many of whom shoot only runway around the world — and the models. It’s not a construction-worker hoot, he says, but something more subtle. During the Shay Todd swimwear show, however, the calls become distinctly unsubtle. At Michelle Mason, nearly every ensemble gets applause. There’s a lot to clap about. Her Mason line is fresh and wearable, with powerful colors — turquoise, burgundy, ruby — and clean lines. Later, at Mason’s Beverly Hilton party there’s, whoo-hoo, free tequila. If you can get through the crush at the bar, that is. I overhear a guy brag about how he shoved his way to the front. I’m appalled, but I want to ask him to get me a drink. Better than booze is seeing designers such as Waraire Boswell here, as well as some of the PR and front- and back-of-the house production people, including Henri Myers and Lisa Elliot from EM Productions and Shana Honeyman and Jennifer Green from Genevieve Productions. Okay, I had a drink and I’m getting sappy. It’s time to go home.

Dog Divas No surprise that the accessory du jour — of every jour, in fact — is a small dog. Every other person seems to be toting around a pooch. I’d rather have the new Birkin bag. I think some of those dog divas carry their pets so they can cute their way into the front row. People spin shameless stories to get seats, claiming to work for publications that don’t exist or as stylists to stars who have never heard of them. But the most shameless of all are the outright crashers. My hat — and Susan’s latest Mercier — is off to one woman in particular, just for her chutzpah. She almost always ends up front row even though she usually has a standing ticket. As the producers of Cesar de la Parra’s show discover too late after handing out tickets by row, but without assigned seats, there is no honor among fashionistas. Can you say free-for-all? The end is near. Word around the runway is that Anna Wintour, at her second Fashion Week presentation, says she’ll leave if things don’t get started at Louis Verdad, the last show of the week. She needs to get to Beverly Hills for the Mario Testino ceremony. The models appear — Wintour still in her seat — and Verdad’s high-glamour collection, which draws inspiration from Frida Kahlo, is dazzling. Exactly what we need in a Fashion Week. Well-wishers crowd around Verdad to offer congratulations as the Queer Eye for the Straight Girl crew does its final set-up and a garishly dressed woman works the runway so a friend can snap her picture. Ignoring them, the staff methodically close folding chairs, row by row, and clatter them to the ground. The fabulousness is over until next time.


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