Photos by Ted Soqui“Fuck Milan. Fuck New York. And fuck Paris. This is L.A.,” says celebrity bikini-and-knitwear designer Ashley Paige through her fake gold tooth.As Paige’s models get primped and the champagne flows backstage at her show Tuesday during Mercedes-Benz/Smashbox Studios Fashion Week, she talks about how she’s tried to incorporate as many different elements of L.A. culture as she could into her collection — biker bandannas, surfer chicks, the whole ’70s rock vibe with knits and beads, and, yes, gangsta gold teeth. Overall, there’s something of that Easy Rider sunglow and the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’ ” woven into her clothes, and her show’s theme is described as “rebellious surfer girl goes camping in Topanga.” Just to punctuate her statement, Paige has Bijou Philips walk her runway.She also had Cristina Bartolucci and Laura DeLuisa of Duwop cosmetics create a blush and eye shadow just for tonight’s show — “Skeeter,” a dewy coral blush, is supposed to mimic a post-hiking flush, and the green and gold eye shadows called “Hopper” represent the green of the mountains meeting the sand at the beach.Paige admits all this back-story stuff might sound “cheesy” — most of her customers just want something hot to wear — but she loves L.A.’s whole “mountains meets the sea” thing, and it really does inspire the strategically revealing designs that have attracted the likes of Anthony Kiedis, who is already milling about before the show, and Tommy Lee, who is supposed to show up. There’s almost a tour-bus atmosphere back here. Three guys covered in tats and wearing denim shirts with a green patch that reads “Vagos” surround me. Boston has real gold teeth — the word “PAIN” is inscribed in gold on his lower front teeth. And his palms are tattooed with “FUCK” on one hand, “COPS” on the other. Then there’s “Mr. Pretty Smile,” who tells me he likes my purse no less than five times, and Dee, who says he’s Paige’s mother’s bodyguard. The guys offer me absinthe, and I jokingly request Quaaludes, in keeping with the spirit of the ’70s.“They don’t make it anymore!” Dee tells me.“We just did absinthe today,” Boston says. “It’s this strong shit from Czechoslovakia.”“Doesn’t that shit make you lose your mind?” I ask.“It did,” says Mr. Pretty Smile, “but luckily I found it again.”I glance at my watch; it’s 5:30. The show was supposed to start at 5, but I see some of the models are still under the curling irons and some still without makeup. I decide to grab my first-row seat before someone else takes it.The tent goes dark, and here and there, like lighters at a concert, is the faint glow of digital camera screens. The spotlights hit the runway, and AC/DC, Led Zeppelin remixes and other ’70s classics, including Rush, roar from the speakers as the models strut their stuff. Ashley Paige has come a long way from knit bikinis; now there are plunging knit body suits, knit dresses, T-shirts, and even terry-cloth short jump suits with chunky wooden-beaded halters. The audience howl, clap their hands and tap their feet to the music. This is the most fun I’ve seen people have at Fashion Week so far, and it reminds me of all the reasons I moved here: the clothes, the music, the models selling that California dream of the tan surfer girl, of the promise of eternal youth, of cowboys, outlaws and manifest destinies.When the show is over, I try my luck going backstage again, but everyone is headed to the VIP lounge, and you need a green wristband to get in. Just when I think it’s hopeless, the Vagos boys appear and ask me where I’m going. I play the Cinderella card.“Home,” I say, looking at the floor. Poor me.“Bullshit, you’re going home; you’re coming with us,” says Boston.“Can’t,” I say and point to my naked wrist. “No band.”Suddenly, I’m handed a wristband and whisked toward the lounge. On the way, a squabble among the Vagos boys has them stepping outside together, so I enter the party a free agent. I chat with Bijou Philips, introduce myself to her beau Danny Masterson from That ’70s Show and dance with Ashley Paige herself. I run into people I’ve been meeting all week. L.A. suddenly feels like a small town.When I eye the clock and realize it’s time for me to go back to work, I really do feel like Cinderella. I leave the scene just as the party is in full swing and the skunky smell of grass starts to perfume the patio. Waiting alone for the shuttle that will take me to my car, I’m kind of sad thinking about life after Fashion Week. Then I remember . . . I live here now. This kind of shit happens all the time.
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