Photos by Larry Hirshowitz
WHEN MARLENE SALCIDO WAS A LITTLE girl growing up in Montebello, she would use her Playskool sewing machine to make her mother outfits -- a skirt fashioned from a red-and-white vinyl tablecloth stands out. "My poor mom just wore it to be nice, but there's a picture where she's dying in agony," she says, laughing at the memory.
Salcido always wanted to be a designer, but dropped out of L.A. Trade Tech after a week, discouraged when a teacher told her she was wasting her time. She was straight out of high school. Now, just five years later, she has her own line, Prospect 44, radically recycled garments that conjure a punk-inflected Issey Miyake: delicately pleated sleeves shaped like huge bells on a paint-splattered blouse; secretary skirts hacked apart and sexily safety-pinned back together at odd angles, with unfinished hems. The '80s, with all its overblown glitz, sparks her -- witness a recent blouse created from a tacky appliquéd Dynasty-era sweater -- as does late-'70s punk rock, Le Tigre and her longtime obsession, Hello Kitty. "I started off recycling," she explains, "because I felt more inspired by seeing the actual garment and figuring out what I could do with it, rather than just seeing a piece of fabric." She's graduated to cutting her own patterns, which she learned to do studying design at Pasadena City College -- after a posthigh school year of working three jobs. Sweet baby doll: Salcidos vintage-fabric hand-painted blouse with wool gabardine skirt
Last August, Salcido began selling her clothes at Sirens and Sailors. She had gone to the store one day wearing a blouse that she made, and owner Jennifer Phillips liked it. "I didn't know how to start my own label," Salcido says. "I don't know how other people have started their labels. Have they just started in their kitchens like me, or did they go downtown right away and get sewers?" She's been learning a lot since then: the value of PR, the nature of consignment, the desires of the customer. Her first pieces, she says, were more avant-garde, and didn't sell. "I learned how to compromise, but not too much." Her clothes are still edgy and complex, and many pieces require photos to show how they should be worn.
Eventually Salcido, who's also in a band called Operation Kitty Project in which she "screams and programs," would like to open her own store, and continue to do one-of-a-kind garments as Prospect 44. She's also considering another small-production label that would feature multiples. She just had her premier show, part of a group presentation at Star Shoes during Fashion Week; getting particular oohs and aahs from stylists and models backstage was a blouse, the first, that she made from her own pattern.
"Has L.A. always been so fashionable?" Salcido asks. "Maybe it's just my age, 23, but now I'm noticing. I love L.A., I love the energy here, especially in Silver Lake, downtown, Chinatown, Highland Park." She's not quite at the point where her designs can support her -- she temps and stays up until all hours working on her clothes -- but she's hopeful. "I'm taking it day by day."
Sweatshop politics: "No way, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I have so many friends whose parents worked in sweatshops, and where I grew up I would hear about people getting paid pennies for what they do."
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Who's buying: Shirley Manson, Thora Birch, Static X, 'N Sync.
Rebel, rebel: "My technique is an expression of rebellion -- I'm not structured, I do what comes freely to mind."
Prospect 44 is available at Sirens and Sailors in Silver Lake.
MODEL: Amber Cantung