Photos by Julie Pavlowski

In colors only a Venice Boardwalk cotton-candy concessionaire could dream up, Brian Lichtenberg’s tennis dresses evoke a mythical Southern California — the place of little deuce coupes, surfer girls and good vibrations. But like Lichtenberg himself, there’s a mischievous edge to his designs: A leather strap holds together a dress’ plunging V-neck; a patchwork blouse with a sheer panel offers up a good game of peek-a-breast. His pop-chic sensibility is for women with the bright, bold optimism it takes to live on the edge of the country.

The evidence of his exuberance can be seen all over his workspace on the top floor of a Silver Lake triplex — some 50 piles of fabric, grouped by colors, stacked on the floor and shelves. “I need to get some bins,” sighs Lichtenberg, who still sews every single garment himself, but is in the midst of getting his line produced downtown. At least he now has a table for his sewing machine. “I used to sew and do all my cutting on the floor when I lived at home,” he says. “It was hardwood floors, so it made it easier.”

Lisa (left) and Angel are in
cotton-jersey, mesh and tulle
patchwork kimono tops.

Lichtenberg, who grew up in Torrance, wasn’t one of those kids who sewed outfits for the family dog. “My mother dressed me and my brother in matching outfits,” he recalls. “Fashion came more as art, more intuitive.” It was in high school that he discovered design, when he took a clothing-construction class. “I kind of had this revelation that I didn’t have to be forced to wear these certain colors, certain tops that the stores were selling — before that, my favorite store was the Gap!” he says, with a can-you-believe-that giggle.

While Lichtenberg’s recent work cleverly captures the cotton-soft, body-conscious silhouettes that define “easy breezy” Southern California living — six months in New York were enough for him — his earliest pieces tended toward the über-structured (think Klaus Kinski), often made from paper or synthetic fabrics. In fact, Lichtenberg, who was one of Gen Art’s “Fresh Faces in Fashion” last October, raised eyebrows in high school when he drew inspiration from a paper dress Hussein Chalayan created for Björk and made clothes out of Federal Express envelopes.

Nika wears a lace, sequin,
lamé, cotton and glitter-ribbon
'metallicka' patchwork blouse
with cotton-denim culotte shorts.

But it was accessories that initially got his designs into stores, when he started making overstitched cuffs and bracelets. “Very geometric and monochromatic — these are the two main things I’ve found myself to be,” says Lichtenberg, who cites anime and Japanese pop culture as well as Helmut Lang, Junya Watanabe and Nicolas Ghesquière as influences. And then there’s the ’80s: “I was a kid during that time, so it’s just very He-Man and Return of the Jedi and cutesy-kid striped tops — a bit new wave, very pop, Blondie. The whole vibe is what I try to portray.”

Although he’s supported himself with his designs for the past four years, dealing with clients famous and not, Lichtenberg still gets an earnest joy from seeing celebs sporting his clothes. He recounts a Dixie Chicks show last summer when, according to friends, Natalie Maines said it was great to be in L.A., where anything goes, you can wear anything you want, and that
she loved wearing clothes by
Brian Lichtenberg.

Easy breezy: Brian Lichtenberg

“That was awesome,” he says, the thrill hardly diminished with time. “My little gift to the world.”

MODELS: Nika; Angel Clouthier (Ford Models); Lisa Katníc
HAIR: Tony Chavez (Cush Salon)
MAKEUP: Adrienne Herbert

Brian Lichtenberg is available at Aero & Co., 8403 W. Third St.,
(323) 653-4651; Vice, 3938 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 661-2741; Curve, 154 N. Robertson Ave., (310) 360-8008; and

LA Weekly