Clothes Ponies

The ladies from High Class Cho are fighting the urge to fall into hysterics.

Although it’s just 8:45 in the morning, they’re convinced that they’re too late for a chance to meet buyers from the New York department store Henri Bendel, and they can’t get their new clothing rack assembled. Right now it’s a heap of jangling metal poles in the parking garage of the downtown Standard Hotel.

Waiting on the second floor — some of them since 6 a.m. — are hundreds of competitors, all obscure designers and salespeople who have come from as far away as Tennessee for a chance to sell at Bendel’s, one of New York’s shopping meccas.

This is what’s known as an “open see,” and there are no appointment slots for people like Ava Stander, designer for High Class Cho, the line Stander has created with comedian Margaret Cho. It’s first-come, first-served, kind of like an American Idol for fashionistas, except in this case, one Bendel’s rep assures me, there is no Simon Cowell.

Hopefuls are given numbers and told to wait. Everyone who shows up will be seen. This is the fourth time the New York–based store has visited Los Angeles on the occasion of Fashion Week; perhaps six to 12 new designers will be chosen.

Back in the bowels of the parking garage, Stander’s assistant, Dawnne Aubert, tries to put together the rack using a long, red-and-black fingernail as a screwdriver. It doesn’t work. (Earlier, Stander had tried a pen, and it exploded. Her fingers are tipped in dark blue.) Cho couldn’t make it, so Stander and Aubert are modeling High Class Cho designs.

After maybe 10 minutes of screwing around, the High Class Cho team has MacGyvered enough of a solution to get their clothes into the elevator. Up in the lobby, they find the line of designers, their clothes, unlike Stander’s, neatly stored in garment bags. Every single one of them is wearing fabulous shoes.

“OH my G-O-D,” moans Stander.

“It’s okay!” declares Jason de Sah, a member of Stander’s team who arrived early to get a decent spot in the line. “As long as someone is here to sign in! Otherwise it’s, like, five hours of waiting.”

Partially pacified, Stander explains her line. “With most clothing lines, you have to be either a size zero or tent size,” says Stander, a bodacious, half–American Indian woman whom partner Cho calls “a sexual scientist.” “These clothes,” she explains, “are for the woman in between.”

Her signature piece is a reversible red-and-black “skirt of shame.” The wearer can feel respectable the morning after a one-night stand simply by turning the skirt inside out and leaving in a “different” outfit.

The skirt of shame will be up against the creations of labels like Primp, a partnership between two cute fashion-school graduates in their mid-20s, with Britney bodies and Olsen Twin personalities. Wells Butler and Emily Kersman are here to show their ’80s-inspired micro-minis and off-the-shoulder knit tops, splashed with bleach and appliquéd with ribbons and pictures of ice cream cones and ghetto blasters.

“Our clothes are very girlie girl,” Butler says. “And edgy.”

When their turn comes, the Primp partners giddily approach the fashion gods. Bendel’s ready-to-wear buyer declares the minis to be extremely short — but she likes them. She likes the tops, too, and asks when the designers could deliver a shipment for the spring buying season.

Butler and Kersman are then asked to model some of their designs for Polaroid snaps the buyers will take back with them. One of the buyers offers the designers her card, whipping it out from what looks like a white leather cardholder.

“Oooooh,” the Primp girls say, almost in unison. “That’s so-o-o-o-o c-u-u-u-te.”

Up next are Ava and High Class Cho. Designer Richard Tyler, lending his expertise as one of several “celebrity panelists,” reaches for a black button-down blouse. Massaging it from the bottom up, he seems to be trying to crush it. Bendel rep Janet Kim and some of her colleagues dubiously eye the rest of the offerings, including a stoplight-red cocktail dress with a square-cut neck. It is not lined.

“Is this lined? Is it going to be?” Kim asks. “This really should be lined.”

“You need to think about softer fabrics,” Tyler declares. “Fabric is really, really, really important.”

At a nearby table, a tall, sexy blond is being asked to model knit shawls for the Polaroid.

“This may be a little mature for our customer,” Kim concludes. “We would be doing an injustice to you if we brought you in and the clothes didn’t sell well. You have to have the right customer.”

The panel recommends that Stander try the buyers at Bergdorf Goodman or Saks.


And that’s that.

“We needed the feedback,” de Sah says brightly.

“I know that no one else is doing what we’re doing,” Stander chimes in. “We’re punk. We’re like the Clash to all the Poison-type hair bands out there.”

Later, back in the examination room, a Bendel’s buyer pads over to celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, also a guest panelist.

“I just saw a line that’s being done by that comedian, Margaret Cho,” she tells the two of us. “So bad.”

“Well,” Bloch replies, “Margaret Cho doesn’t dress so well herself.”

And they said there was no Simon here.

—Leslie Gornstein

Medium Rare

Movie-theater mogul Sid Grauman was not a man enslaved by either subtlety or restraint. His wild premieres, first at the Egyptian Theater, which he founded in 1922, then at his Grauman’s Chinese Theater, featured everything from harem-clad dancing girls to elephant parades down Hollywood Boulevard.

So what better way to celebrate the Egyptian Theater’s 81st birthday than by contacting Sid — and, with luck, some of the departed stars who are said to be hanging around the lobby — via a live séance?

Birthday cake, wine and nauseatingly perfume-y “exotic” ice cream were set out in the Egyptian’s courtyard when I arrived at the celebration hosted by American Cinematheque, the theater’s current resident. This dubious repast was followed by a magic show with a lady fire-eater, a performing pigeon and someone doing drumrolls in a donkey outfit. It was not a pre-event even remotely worthy of Sid Grauman. You could almost hear his ghostly groans — “And they call this a SHOW?”

In the theater, a long, imposing séance table adorned with candles and an old fringe lamp took up the stage. On the big screen, a huge photo of Sid in his younger days beamed down upon the audience like the pope on Easter Sunday.

An odd, fascinating assortment of films and newsreel footage from the ’20s and ’30s got us in the mood. Then a historian took the stage to give us the news of 1922, followed by another historian, who gave a long-winded account of Sid’s career. By this time it was 11:30 p.m. and tushies were really squirming. “Sid! Sid! Sid!” someone began to chant.

At 11:35, “paranormal investigator” Michael Kouri appeared. For the next half-hour, Kouri told the audience stories about his TV appearances on The View and the Sci Fi Channel, his books, his childhood, his lunches with the mayor, and all the other tidbits that his mom would have thrilled to. He held up a “genuine séance trumpet,” a megaphonelike instrument that ghosts could supposedly talk through, and said it would be very useful for the evening’s proceedings.

Then he showed us what he described as “very amazing” photos of ghosts. One was of a grave at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. In the foreground was a mysterious mist. In front of the mist, a hose and sprinkler were barely visible.

“That right there is ectoplasm,” Kouri announced in deep, profound tones. “That vaporous substance in front of the grave. Ectoplasm is a spirit form that may or may not take the shape of a human being. It is wet and misty to the touch.”

“It’s coming from the hose!” someone from the audience shouted.

Kouri ignored the snickers and flashed a slide with portraits of famed stars of


“There’s Gloria Swanson, who loved the Egyptian and went to all the premieres. And Rudolph Valentino, who’s said to haunt the singers’ boxes. And Rock Hudson . . . And here’s Fay Wray, who came through to me once . . .”

“She’s not dead yet!” someone yelled.

“Well, you have to be very careful with spirits,” Kouri fumbled. “You can’t always take what they say seriously. It might have been a spirit who liked Fay Wray, or who was just being mischievous.”

Then Kouri announced that we would take a break, during which everyone was free to go to a table next to the stage where he was selling his self-published books on haunted L.A. and his own “first-edition, signed” sculptures of the Sphinx (for $20 and $30) in commemoration of this eventful night.

By the time the séance got into gear, it was 12:15 a.m. and most of the audience had blown the joint. So had the spirits — Sid was not on hand, and neither was Rudy, Gloria or any other illustrious graveyard escapee. The spirit trumpet was glaringly silent.

“That Michael Kouri’s so boring, what ghost would want to show up for him?” someone near us whispered.


The evening ended with Kouri doing personal readings, à la John Edward, for the lucky $50-a-seat patrons at the table, while the rest of the audience alternated between sizzling, yawning and bolting.

Poor Michael Kouri should have known better. In life, Sid Grauman was an incorrigible practical joker, and if you’re going to conjure up a spirit, that’s the worst kind. And besides, everybody knows you can’t make spirits come when called, like dogs. They’re more like cats — they show up when they feel like it, and especially for food.

We decided that Sid was probably at Canter’s, having a pastrami sandwich, and decided to join him.

—Mary Beth Crain

The Mensch-Making of Irv Rubin

If Irv Rubin could have planned the unveiling of his own headstone, he’d have called in regiments of reporters — even if it required a stunt or a provocation. Rubin, the in-your-face leader of the Jewish Defense League, best known for duking it out with neo-Nazis or throwing stink bombs at Russian ballerinas to protest the treatment of Soviet Jews, never missed a chance to push his agenda.

But Sunday’s memorial for the volatile activist was strangely quiet. Only one reporter was on hand to witness the procession of impromptu speakers, which included a civic gadfly, a cable-access TV host, and also the Libertarian candidate for governor, a pagan who carried his druid staff with him. Rubin would have appreciated that the ceremony was videotaped — indeed the proceedings were halted when it was time to change the videotape, and Rubin’s widow asked well-wishers to sign releases so the video could be disseminated.

Even more, Rubin would have loved that his friends’ and family’s warm remembrances were interspersed with political harangues — and the accusation that Rubin’s death a year ago at age 57 was not a suicide, but a state-sponsored murder carried out by the U.S. government.

“The government wanted to silence Irv Rubin and they did,” said his widow, Shelley. “But we’re not going to let them get away with it.” She expects to file a lawsuit before year’s end.

Rubin died in custody under the cloud of domestic-terrorism charges, for allegedly plotting to blow up a mosque and the Orange County offices of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (Yes, the same Issa who bankrolled the Gray Davis recall.)

After Rubin’s death, his alleged co-conspirator, Earl Krugel, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and a weapons-related charge. He awaits a December 15 sentencing that is expected to put him in prison for 10 to 20 years, well past his 70th birthday.

The Rubin family has disowned Krugel, calling him a traitor and a liar for implicating Rubin, not to mention a racist, something they insist Rubin never was. They noted that Rubin once rallied community support for a Palestinian merchant whose Fairfax-area restaurant had been targeted by vandals.

At the memorial, as one loyalist rose after another, the home video quickly became a spontaneous image-building exercise.

Rubin a terrorist?

Oy vey, no — more like super-mensch.

One woman recounted how Rubin donated blood to her cancer-stricken daughter. Rabbi Zvi Block recalled how Rubin walked from the synagogue to the rabbi’s house in socks after Block admonished Rubin for wearing leather on Yom Kippur. One friend talked of Rubin’s love for Turkish baths, and how Rubin could stand naked in the steam with men of all creeds and colors. Melrose Larry Green, the well-circulated gadfly, upped the celebrity ante by asserting that Jewish comedian Jackie Mason also adored Rubin, even though Mason, unfortunately, has stopped talking to Melrose Larry.

Family friend Alan Epstein insisted that “Irv never allowed us to bring weapons with us” to protests, not even baseball bats. But Rubin made Jew-haters think twice, said Epstein. “He made them realize that Jews are going to fight back and maybe you’ll get hurt, too, and it won’t be so much fun.”

Among this group, it was easy to forget that investigators once linked the militant JDL to vandalism, hate crimes and a few murders. Rubin’s mentor, Meir Kahane, was assassinated in 1990 after helping launch a militant Jewish right wing, first in the U.S. and then in Israel. The Israeli government has banned Kahane groups as terrorist organizations, though some government ministers also have parroted Kahane’s anti-Arab rhetoric. It was hard to see the cold-blooded side of Kahane in the aging Rubin, a doting husband and father. And despite Shelley Rubin’s talk of resurgence, it also was difficult on Sunday to see much future for the JDL, which in recent years seemed to be Rubin, his megaphone, and not much else. Most of the 40-odd Rubinites were gray-haired, balding or stooped, though they harbored flares of the old militancy.


Orange County conservative Howard Garber, for one, railed against the statue that honors slain Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh. The statue, which sits outside Santa Ana’s main library, should be moved to a non-public setting, said Garber, because Odeh had been a defender of Yasir Arafat. Rubin and other JDL members were suspects in the 1985 Odeh murder, but never charged.

When one speaker, who barely knew Rubin, remarked that Rubin never threw the first punch, two others quickly corrected him. Yes, said Rabbi Aaron Parry, there was little doubt that Rubin sucker-punched a skinhead on the Jerry Springer show. But the neo-Nazi, Parry hastened to add, had it coming.

—Howard Blume

I’ve only met a few New York pigeons, and I once saw thousands of pigeons in some famous square in Italy. But none of those birds compare to L.A. pigeons.

We don’t have homing pigeons — we have homey pigeons. These birds aren’t afraid of anything or anybody. They may run, but they won’t fly away when humans approach — and when they do run, you better make sure you still have your wallet.

Hollywood has some pretty deep bird drama — ravens, conures, swallows, peregrines and sparrows chirping out some mighty fine bird soap operas. But the pigeons don’t even acknowledge other birds’ petty squabbles over nests and eggs and survival. Not when there’s a fresh flock of tourists every year to terrorize. Pens, watches, coins, hair accessories and money clips are only some of the items desired for the pigeon on the make.

There’s a little old man who drives around town in a giant old brown Cadillac and feeds these devious creatures. When he approaches certain corners, the little buzzards fly down to the street before the codger can even stop his car. I think he is some kind of pigeon pimp, but I don’t even want to imagine what kind of kickback he collects from his stable of beaked bimbos.

Beware of these birds. Don’t let yourself become a victim of a homey-pigeon flyby pooping or, worse yet, let one of these untrustworthy varmints get inside your house. There is no worse squatter than an L.A. pigeon. If you live here, don’t feed, look at or talk to these birds, and your life will flow along much easier. For those who are just visiting, I only have one word for you: Duck!

—Peter Fletcher

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