View photographs from Fashion Week in this slideshow, by Ted Soqui.
It’s midnight on my fourth straight night of runway shows, and I’m trying to conjure the collective dream state (nightmare for some) that is Los Angeles’ contribution to the world of high fashion. Thus far, I have been scowled at by clipboard wielders. I have worn stilettos and acquired blisters big enough for Kate Moss to take a Jacuzzi bath in. I have mistaken a designer for a homeless man, a model for a porn star, a grunt girl for a movie star, a fake Chanel purse for a real Chanel purse, and a cutting-edge new look for an egregious fashion faux pas. There are four more days to go in L.A.’s Fashion Week. Depending on whether you see the glass as half-full or half-empty, a pair of $1,000 Fendi shoes as too expensive or a good deal, the week is almost over, or just beginning.
Every October for the past several years, Fashion Week in Los Angeles begins with the Gen Art show. Actually, it begins properly in September, with people going on diets and many frantic e-mails between fashion reporters, stylists, buyers and publicists, with a deluge of invitations in the mail, and with a general sense of excitement/foreboding/anxiety/elation about the shows to come and the models who will, by necessity, be skinnier and prettier than you, no matter how many cupcakes you sacrifice.
Gen Art typically launches the hottest designers in this city. It also runs Project Runway casting calls. If you recognize an L.A. designer’s name, chances are he or she or they were Gen Art alumni: Tarina Tarantino, Grey Ant, Jeffrey Sebelia, Rami Kashou, Eduardo Lucero, Ashley Paige.
Waiting for the runway Gen Art “Fashionably Natural” show at the Petersen Automotive Museum to begin, I stand next to three very young, very thin, very pretty Vogue interns. They colonize the empty seats of their nonattending editors and keep a running commentary on which dresses they like, which they would wear, and which are cute (whether those three states represent the same quality, it’s hard to say).
Girlie baby-doll dresses by Velvet Leaf are festooned with large primary-color circles that remind me of Egyptian scarab beetles. Popomomo’s models wear socks with their high heels and trouser-length nylons, the nude kind you buy at CVS, pulled up to midcalf, like they’ve just started getting dressed (or undressed) and are halfway through when they have to go answer the door or something. To the delight of the three straight men in the audience, Popomomo also did a micro-, micro-, micromini, butt-cleavage-revealing skirt called the “Less Than Zero Skirt.” Because it takes almost zero fabric to make it? Because you have to be less than size 0 to wear it?
The Battalion concludes its Spanish flamenco-dancer-inspired show with a magnificent white-bamboo-jersey flowing gown. It makes me think of mosques and Morocco. And ghosts.
New Talents, the Politics of Seating, and Slave Labor
Eight new designers debut at Gen Art’s Fresh Faces show the next day: Nanushka, Quail, Peonie, Wayf, Laeken, Maxine Dillon, Wayne Hadly and KZO. For KZO, designed by a bashful young man named Joel K., the men are futuristic grunge warriors. One guy is shrouded in head-to-toe flannel, as if he’d run through Kurt Cobain’s laundry line in a desert sand storm. I’d also like to report that Doc Martens are back. And pegged pants. Smells like the beginning of a ’90s resurgence.
People are accreting around host actress Mandy Moore in the VIP area, trying not to look like they are accreting, while casting secret glances at her, which makes it look like Mandy is being snubbed by a crowd that’s gathered for the express purpose of ignoring her.
“Don’t you think she looks like Keira Knightley?” I ask June, one among the army of volunteer girls who work the shows. June is not her real name. She’s asked me to change it if I write about her, even though she’s so bored she could kill herself and keeps telling people she doesn’t care where they sit (despite being reprimanded every five minutes by her numerous supervisors).
June is 26, older and more jaded than the other volunteers. None is getting paid. But they do get to attend the after-party and drink champagne.
“Keira Knightley?” she says, squinting. “Which girl? You mean that volunteer chick? No. Not really. That’s being nice.” Free labor in exchange for access is the basic currency of the glamour trade. June has a full-time job at a major studio. She’s done Gen Art in the past because it’s her dream to break into the fashion world.
The woman who squeezes into the seat next to me, a real alpha-wolf, no-nonsense business-executive-producer type from Chicago, says she’s here primarily for the goody bag. She was at the Gen Art show in Chicago a couple days ago and their goody bag was, in her opinion, vastly superior to L.A’s. It had a full set of Lancôme cosmetics, gift certificates up the wazoo, perfumes, body lotions and other yummy things she can’t remember.
“My grandmother has a housedress just like that,” alpha wolf says when a model slinks by in a peach Nanushka tank dress. Snideness, which alternates with drop-jawed awe, is the second basic currency of the fashion biz.
Your Own Personal Whitley
On Sunday, Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios begins in earnest. A full day at Fashion Week feels like a trip through the various subfactions of Los Angeles. Day 1 begins with luxurious gowns from elegant Kevan Hall; moves swiftly through the deconstructed, cerebral model wear at Suh-Tahn; does an about-face with Sheiki Collection’s hooker hair, tight jeans and push-up bras — the outfits your Catholic mother would hate. Then it finally ends with the kooky, gamine traveler waif silk jump suits, bloomers and chiffon dresses at Whitley Kros.
Whitley Kros, a hipster and Gossip Girl favorite, is one of the “it” shows that everyone wants to see. The line is designed by Marissa Ribisi (Giovanni’s twin sister and Beck’s wife) and Sophia Coloma. Whitley Kros is an imaginary girl. Someone so cool and perfect and clever and effortlessly stylish, she doesn’t even exist. The idea of her pervades the entire Fashion Week apparatus. It’s not Whitley per se, as imagined by Ribisi and Coloma, that drives us to don blister-inducing stilettos, to fill our bladders with the free bottled water and sugar-free sodas distributed in liberal quantities in lieu of real food, but our own personal Whitley. That ideal person in our mind’s eye who we long to be.
Maybe she’s an Art Deco socialite like the models walking the runway at Julia Clancey, where we’re transported to the St. Tropez world of kaftans knotted loosely at the waist, and 1920s drop-waist shifts with flower petals for skirts, where everything is vanilla white and orange sorbet. Or maybe she’s to be found at Beach Bunny swimwear’s implied poolside party, where a bikini worn with mittens isn’t moronic, but apropos. Where a quartet of blonde pinup models, tanned legs crossed in the same direction, giggle in the front row — bunnies awaiting their Hef. “Sometimes you think that IQ is related to heel size,” says the man beside me gazing at them, “’cause once they take ’em off, IQ is gone.”
The Photographer Mafia
The music is loud and percussive enough to alter your heartbeat. And when it’s not, you’ll hear a strange sound. Like beetle wings fluttering. It plays over Philip Glass’ violin concerto — swelling, emotional, with one foot in darkness — in a way Glass himself would appreciate, the sound of camera shutters clicking. The photographers cluster at the business end of the runway, in numbers so great it’s as if they are a single living creature. A guardian Argus with a hundred eyes.
Bunched in the exact center of the media riser pit, claiming the best spots and refusing to budge, is the Photographer Mafia. “They are vicious,” says L.A. Weekly’s Ted Soqui, who’s staked out a spot on the Mafia’s periphery. The Mafia are mostly Italian and are employed by Getty Images and Women’s Wear Daily. If you jump out in front of them in a vain attempt to steal a shot, they yell, “Jumper!” The Mafia won’t talk to lesser photographers, who crouch at their feet like dogs.
Us vs. Them
“Who are all these people?” a fashionista waiting in line for her badge says. “I’ve been coming to these shows for five years, and I used to know everybody in there.” She gestures toward the tent, shifts her Chanel purse to the opposite shoulder. Everybody, she believes, has gone to the shows in New York and Europe.
Critics say that Los Angeles can’t sustain a week of high-fashion shows. It’s too disparate. The traffic sucks. Earlier this year, the news broke that IMG, the company that runs Fashion Week, is giving up its annual Smashbox Studios shows. What happens in the long run remains to be seen.
Yet even as Paris lays claim to everything from Comme des Garçons, Galliano, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, and Bryant Park to Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren and other fashion heavyweights, Los Angeles still has the single most visible runway in the world — the Hollywood red carpet.
Further reading from Gendy Alimurung's Fashion Week coverage in Style Council: