Traditionally, the purpose of a fashion week is to show a clothing designer’s latest collections. This showcase (hopefully) leads to press attention and eventually buyers.

But it’s not all about money. In New York, it’s very much about celebrity and the spectacle of the front row, but it’s also about creating something that builds or solidifies a designer’s reputation much in the same way an artist’s exhibit — even if no work is sold — would do. People talk, bloggers blog, and the elite publications (Vogue, The New York Times) take note. This eventually leads to success if done right. Same goes for London and Paris.

But what about L.A.? For many fashion followers, Los Angeles isn’t and has never been part of the conversation. Even when Mercedes Benz endeavored to do something akin to NYFW on the West Coast back in 2002, eventually joining forces with Smashbox Studios and showcasing some great designers, it couldn’t get Anna Wintour (or her subordinates) on a plane to Cali. Ok, we did see Andre Leon Talley one season, but he was probably meeting with networks about reality TV gigs.

Even when Smashbox was happening, there was GenArt and BoxEight and countless indie designers showing their work at boutiques, clubs, and alternative venues. The bounce-around-town for fashionistas and media continues to this day and it’s more divided than ever. During our equivalent of fashion week — which actually lasted a couple weeks, and wrapped up last weekend — there were presentations organized by a handful of promoters: Style Fashion Week, Concept FW, L.A. Fashion Council and Art Hearts Fashion (which joined forces with two frequent, usually solo L.A. fashion platforms, Project Ethos and Rock That Fashion).

Basically, when it comes to showcasing designers, Southern California has never been cohesive. Our diversity is what makes us unique, but it has big challenges. Our casual/cool image doesn’t help matters either.

Ashton Michael painted the town red at Style Fashion Week.; Credit: Lina Lecaro

Ashton Michael painted the town red at Style Fashion Week.; Credit: Lina Lecaro

“I’m born and raised in L.A., so keeping my craft based here has been something I take pride in,” says Ashton Michael, whose Style Fashion Week presentation at the the Reef downtown Friday night was bursting at the seams with TV stars and club kids. “I feel like there are a lot of super talented artists here, [but] people judge what comes out of here as somewhat on the generic side. I for one can’t totally disagree, however if you dissect why that is, it’s pretty simple. It comes down to money and politics. Most of the wicked designers that are out of L.A. don’t have the means financially to get people to notice them and many uber talented ones choose to show elsewhere because they already know the pigeonhole L.A. is placed in.”

Designer Jen Awad started in 2009 and had a full scale show in 2010, and has earned a rep for sexy glam wear, scoring editorial placement and some exclusive boutiques in the process, such as rock n’ roll couture shop Orphic, in West Hollywood. She thinks things could be better if more fashion events came together.

“If we are ever to evolve as a fashion capital it is important to showcase all designers under one roof in one actual week,” she says. ”Especially when a multitude of new fashion week productions are happening everywhere. It’s very difficult to entice buyers and press to come to a plethora of different fashion events that don’t properly curate their shows for the sheer fact of financial gain. However, I do think that the general attitude toward L.A. Fashion Week has changed and we are much more hopeful as a fashion community.”

Jen Awad backstage at Concept FW.

Jen Awad backstage at Concept FW. Credit: Lina Lecaro

The variety of productions under the LAFW umbrella can be a good thing too. Erin and Sara Whitaker, who left Style Fashion Week to start their own company, Parker Whitaker Productions, joined forces with Art Hearts Fashion’s Erik Rosete last season. They’ve thrived, replacing Style’s more traditional set-up with an art-minded focus that adds art exhibits to the mix.

“Different platforms offer curators and designers more freedom to explore their visions, “says Sara. “Art Hearts Fashion has its own identity and brand and we joined them because we wanted to be able to showcase fashion in an art inspired environment, and do things that maybe hadn’t been done before. Launching the very first L.A. Fashion Week boutique in Hollywood [at Sweets Candy Store inside Hollywood & Highland Complex] is a great example.“

So what does it mean to be part of L.A. Fashion Week right now? Why do designers and producers do it? Though the stereotypes might dictate a quest for attention and fame, for many involved, it’s about creating and sharing their ideas more than anything else. To say it’s a labor of love is an understatement. Designing a collection, putting the line into production, casting the models, inviting the right people… it all takes time and capital.

The Whitakers provide the production side for designers who show with them, and their highlight event this season was L.A. based designer Sue Wong and her gorgeous multi-colored extravaganza. Awad has shown her collections in big runway shows too, but this season she did an installation with Concept FW, a showcase created by Mike Vensel (a designer and producer who worked on Kitten Fashion Week, Boxeight, and LA Fashion on Broadway in the past) before branching out on his own.

“I show my designs at L.A. Fashion Week because I feel it is important to show my work and for the press exposure, social media outreach, buyers, stylists and fans here,” says Vensel, who gets mentioned every season by Apparel News, L.A. Times and various fashion blogs. “But most of all because I enjoy it.”

Oscar Otierre runway at Dripped.

Oscar Otierre runway at Dripped. Credit: Lina Lecaro

Concept is one of the edgiest and most consistent fashion showcases in L.A. and Vensel has cultivated a fan base from his shows. But it’s not alone when it comes to eccentric ideas or hip kid cred. Dripped, created by stylist GGeisha, has garnered attention from the social media maven and indie crowd. “We cater to the emerging creatives and tastemaker scene in L.A. and focus on supporting authentic talent,” says GGeisha. “We started as a grassroots movement and have grown into a globally recognized platform. I think L.A. Fashion Week definitely is trying to step its game up… and with our community contributing I think L.A. will continue to set a higher bar.”

Erin and Sara Whitaker at their LAFW pop-up shop in Hollywood & Highland.

Erin and Sara Whitaker at their LAFW pop-up shop in Hollywood & Highland. Credit: Lina Lecaro

Things do seem to be changing for the better. Tom Ford showed in L.A. just last month. Betsey Johnson came here last season and did a version of her N.Y. show during Style Fashion Week. More biggies need to follow suit, especially those who reside here. We’re looking at you Jeremy Scott! Heck, Kanye West lives here, so there’s no reason he couldn’t have shown his new Adidas line right in Hollywood. Maybe he will soon.

There’s a certain irony in L.A. Fashion Week’s struggles. This is the entertainment capital of the world after all, and the red carpets and step and repeat walls that pop up nightly before events are their own form of runway and designer promotion, as photos get splattered on the entertainment and gossip blogs. From awards shows to underground clubs, L.A. may in fact have more influential and trend-setting events than New York or Europe.

As for fashion, maybe the glamour outshines the talent here, but hopefully that won’t be the case too much longer. At this past Fashion Week(s) we saw glimpses of both: Awad’s sexy disco layers at Concept, Sue Wong’s vintage-inspired Art Hearts show (with Nikki Sixx front row), Michael’s bold basics in red, black and white on majorly-tattooed male models at Style and Dripped’s almost club-like vibe featuring futuristic looks by designers we’d never heard of, but will be keeping an eye on, specifically Kaley Giovinazzo, Anika Perkins, Samsara Collections and Oscar Utierre. We can’t point to any consistent trend or “L.A. style,” but that’s the point. One thing everyone seems to have in common right now is a relentlessness and creative drive to make L.A. matter when it comes to fashion.

“I choose to show in L.A. because I believe in this city and the artists that come from it,” says Michael, who’s dressed everyone from Cher and Ciara to and Pitbull. “So I continue in the push to put L.A. on the map with high respect. It has nothing to do with fans, fame, or glory. It’s simply to stand by my city and my vision.”

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