“Are you a smoker?”

The suit-wearing doorman at the Peterson Automotive Museum wouldn’t allow us inside for the Gen Art Fresh Faces fashion show and party up on the roof until we answered the question. Some people seemed afraid to declare themselves smokers — would an affirmative answer bar you and your nicotine-stained fingers from getting too close to the clothes? I don’t know why, but I told the doorman, “Yes,” without hesitation and was handed a black bracelet to put on. At least it was more discreet than a scarlet letter.

More conspicuous was my outfit. Everyone in the crowd was dressed up — and I mean New York dressed up, not L.A. dressed up. But I was wearing skinny jeans and high black boots, making me the only person in denim. And worse, because of the misty rain, I had a jean jacket on — that’s right, I was committing a denim-on-denim faux pas, known in certain circles as the Canadian tuxedo. (Later, when it was pouring rain, I was almost vindicated for my fashion choice.)

On our way to the main tent upstairs, we walked through the museum, panting at a Mach II, oohing and ahhing over the tiny Eshelmans, Messerschmitts and Isettas, and made it to our seats just in time to grab a glass of wine. The entire fashion community and a few celebrities were packed inside the tent. (Paula Abdul sat in the front row, wearing a terrible silver leather cap, which still probably looked better than my ensemble.) The mix of faces made the event feel something like a cross between a Freemasons meeting and a debutante coming-out party.

Former Gen Art Fresh Face Jeffrey Sebelia was MC and introduced a short film honoring the past 10 years of Gen Art’s place in Los Angeles fashion. We saw Louis Verdad, Ashley Paige and other Gen Art alums talk about their first shows and the success that followed. After showing at Gen Art, they booked big accounts — Fred Segal, Nordstrom — and opened their own stores. Gen Art is all about rags to riches — it’s the fairy godmother that every L.A. fashion designer hopes for.

Then it was time for this year’s Fresh Faces to take their first trips into the spotlight — CW Christian Weber, Dorothy Lee, Endovanera, Marlova, Orthodox, Rhys-Dwfen, Suh-Tahn and Wren. Some of my favorites were Endovanera’s cropped men’s pants and loose tees, Marlova’s knits, Suh-Tahn’s billowy hoods, and Wren’s sweet Lolita-like dresses.

After the show, I felt lucky that I had the foresight to cop to my disgusting smoker’s habit. My black wristband gained me entry to the Dunhill smokers lounge, where I had the best cigarette of my life, made with fire-cured tobacco that tasted ever so faintly of English pipe tobacco. I walked away with three boxes of smokes, a sleek silver cigarette case and an intensified habit. It was an evening of anniversaries. Dunhill was celebrating its 100th year of killing people slowly; Gen Art, its 10th year of harvesting L.A.’s emerging designers.

You Wear It Well Film Festival and Eduardo Lucero: Dino Dinco and Diane Pernet curated the fashion film festival, and Pernet sat in the front row at every show, obstructing many a view in an infanta headdress, and possibly her own with the black sunglasses she wore through the night.

A few of the short films were fabulous, but most had nothing to do with fashion. A lot were just self-indulgent art-house rants. I lost patience with the whole thing and left partway through to walk my dog. Luckily, I got back just in time to see Eduardo Lucero’s show.

The crowd gave Lucero a standing ovation, and the buzz later was that it was the best show of the evening. The gauzy, ruched dresses in heathered kelly green and apple red, and the laser-cut lavender silk, were a great move from the usual boring evening wear. The collection was ladylike but alluring. My favorite was a lavender off-the-shoulder getup.

Louis Verdad: No one does dainty lady like Louis Verdad. Everything was really pretty, flouncy and decidedly ’40s. The only problem is that it seems like this is all Verdad’s been doing for the past few seasons. Pantsuits, pencil skirts and floppy hats. It’s kind of become predictable. And though there were splashes of lavender and spring green, and his evening collection had plenty of color, there was a lot of safe beige. It’s hard to look sexy in beige. I just felt that on the whole, the collection looked a little too Stepford Wife–y. Still, there was a lot to look at in the crowd, including Oh Toni! Toni Basil, of “Oh Mickey” fame (how many times did you roller-skate to that song?). She sat front and center and looked exactly how I remembered her. What’s her secret? She said she dances every day and stays out of the sun . . . oh, and she has a great skin doctor.

Cosa Nostra: When we arrived for the Cosa Nostra show at 5 p.m., the courtyard of the old St. Vibiana was practically empty. Bartenders stood idle, a coffee bar sat untouched, and by 5:15 most of the seats for Jeffrey Sebelia’s Cosa Nostra show, scheduled to start at 5, were still empty. But in just 15 minutes, the place swelled with people and all the seats were filled. Vibiana was a great choice for a venue — it gave the collection a sense of grandeur, and while the sun set through the cathedral’s windows, we hunkered down for the show.

The theme was Into the Wild, one of my favorite books. And while there were a fair amount of T-shirts and jeans (the standard garb of the book’s protagonist), the theme really carried through more in the relaxed fit of the clothes, the tattered edges, and especially in the sun-faded dusty blue jeans. They almost looked like they were washed with sand, and reminded me of the desert. He also used a cool nylon-hybrid fabric that made jeans and rain slickers look wet. There were lots of silver, pearl and champagne.

Sebelia, of course, does dresses really well, and there were a number of pretty floral dresses, very sweet and sexy.

Front and center at the show were debonair designer Jared Gold and writer-slash-scapegrace Clint Catalyst. Gold gave us the scoop on his upcoming show this season — it will be held in his new home, Salt Lake City, Utah. The models were chosen by Catalyst and include some actresses (Busy Philipps). The collection, as he described it, is Nordic Belle Epoque through an old-school chola filter. I’m booking my tickets now!

We also chatted with actor Lucas Haas, and Ima Robot’s Tim Anderson, who is producing Haas’ new CD. And I saw 11-year-old Zoë Day, daughter of designer Jonny Day, dancing in the aisles of the church with sunglasses on to some Stevie Nicks song. I had to talk to her.

“I grew up around fashion,” she told me as she took off her shades. Zoë’s dad is one-fourth of the Elmer Ave. designing team, and he was there with fellow designer Ward Robinson. The guys are hard at work on their men’s line.

And who is Zoë’s favorite designer? “Well,” she said, already media-savvy, “he is my father, so I’m going to have to say Elmer Ave.”

For more Fashion Week coverage, check the Style Council blog at www.laweekly.com.

LA Weekly