It's fitting that Brian Lichtenberg's big break came via a music diva wearing his designs, because now his body-conscious frocks are favored by pretty much all of 'em.
The Hollywood-based designer was a big M.I.A. fan and, since he knew a friend doing PR for her, he passed along some leggings. When he got to her sold-out show at the Echoplex a few days later, he got a nice surprise. “My friend said, 'Dude, she's wearing your stuff,' ” he recalls.
Though she was already an indie star, the Sri Lankan artist was about to get mainstream-huge thanks to the song “Paper Planes,” and Lichtenberg's hologram patchwork leggings became one of her signature stage looks. “I think we were vibing off each other,” he recalls of the period when she wore his stuff almost exclusively.
The shiny, futuristic garb became a signature for him as well, with everyone from Peaches to Katy Perry donning the paneled stretch pants and matching jackets. Eventually he expanded into more fabrics and textures: lace, nylon, net and cotton.
Though he had already been making clothes for a few years, selling bleach-splattered dresses — also worn by pop stars including Gwen Stefani — out of a friend's boutique, M.I.A. established Lichtenberg's rep in stage wear. That soon transferred to video, thanks mostly to pop music's current queen, Lady Gaga.
Lichtenberg's yellow crime scene tape outfit from the minimovie clip for “Telephone” is one of the most recognizable of Gaga's iconic getups. It isn't actually the cheap plastic tape used to keep people away from police investigations but yellow latex strips Lichtenberg had printed, which are more conducive to contouring, he says.
The South Bay–bred Lichtenberg has the distinction of being the first designer collaboration for L.A.-based mall behemoth Forever 21, with the crime tape referenced in his T-shirt line, launched last summer. T-shirts let him share his aesthetic affordably without compromising quality, he says.
But L.A. style isn't all tees, tanks and cheap chic. Despite the lack of respect fashion design and runway shows get here, Lichtenberg — among others — is doing some of the most eclectic yet wearable stuff on the market. His angular, one-shoulder mini dress (seen on Shakira, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian) is everywhere at the moment, and his work is all over the videos and stage shows of Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.
So who does the designer still want to dress? “Björk and Britney,” he answers immediately, the disparity between the two summing up the flamboyance and flexibility of his aesthetic. At the rate he's going, it's probably only a matter of time until the two B's bring it Brian-style.