Whether looking back at last year, or four decades ago, L.A. Fashion Week Fall 2003 was defined by a sense of nostalgia, punctuated by occasional flashes of brilliance but no revelations. Cargo pants, Jackie Kennedy suits, handkerchief hems, asymmetrical necklines, knickers. I gave up counting the variations on schoolgirl skirts after the second day. And it seemed like almost everyone featured bows, ruffles (tiered or otherwise), and a version of the bomber jacket.
But in a way, this week was about much more than the clothes: For the first time, big-time buyers and a sizable contingent of the fashion press turned out, including the grande dame of the front row, Suzy Menkes, the International Herald Tribune’s longtime Paris-based fashion editor. There was a giddy sense that L.A. had arrived. However, Suzy didn’t stay long: She was last spotted happily snapping pics of celebs such as Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, whose daughter Aimee modeled Joey and T’s rock & roll skirts in a show on day two that was high on energy — thanks to the wax wizardry of Melanie — if not concept.
In fact, off the runway provided some of the more dramatic moments: There were bruises to egos after being directed to the third row (compounded by, horror of horrors, the fact that it was usually a non-gift-bag-receiving seat), and bruises to the bodies struggling to get in to see the Lolita-cute Hello Kitty club wear of Heatherette, one of three non-L.A. companies showing, along with London’s Ghost and Canada’s Paul Hardy, whose sparsely attended show offered up some of the smartest pieces of the week, with a tip of the scissors to Rick Owens. Then there was the tranny crasher who managed to sit front row at nearly every show. And the wannabe starlet who positioned herself in front of the photog pack before each show. And the frenzy of flashbulbs that strobe-lighted celebs such as Janet Jackson, first row at David Cardona (put a bra under most of his outfits, and you’d be ready for work at a bank), or Jamie Lee Curtis at Richard Tyler (who had more misses than hits with his couture collection, which felt overly familiar yet, as always, well-constructed; it didn’t help that one of the models insisted on clomping down the runway like a Clydesdale), or Mira Sorvino at Grey Ant (high-waisted pants were a nice counterpoint to a mostly low-slung week). And witness the diatribes of those who forked over $25 upfront (jacked up from the usual $15) to park at the downtown Standard Hotel, where 26 shows were held under the auspices of New York’s 7th on Sixth and Mercedes-Benz Shows L.A., which attracted major sponsors such as Vogue and Redken.
The Culver City–based Smashbox promoted a competing fashion week that many participants said had a more low-key vibe than Mercedes. And there were a number of independently produced events: Louis Verdad was once again the standout at Gen Art, which also included an exhibit that featured a Nike-sponsored “reconstruction” project that gave designers 24 hours to create a garment using Nike sneakers, clothes and cutting-room scraps — the jump suit by Grey Ant was inspired as was the freeway dress by Art Center. Citywide, some 60 designers sent their visions sauntering down the runway, and proved once and for all — despite the fact there weren’t necessarily many new ideas brought forth (but then fashion has been stuck in neutral for quite some time now) — that attention must be paid to L.A.
Alas, in far too many cases there was no sense of a collection, just random thoughts — or an identity crisis. Imitation of Christ? Imitation of an imitation. And it was unclear why certain designers were included when some of L.A.’s strongest talents had been turned down: Sanctuary’s line at Mercedes-Benz appeared to be the worst of the regurgitated mall wear. But at least a peace sign was projected on the wall. There was a surprising lack of any reference to the war — Rami Kashou was the only other exception, and he created a cut-out peace sign on the back of a dress. Fashion somehow needs to be connected to the world at large, even if it’s only models waving the flag or flashing peace signs from the runway.
Some of the most consistent work came from veterans such as Sue Wong, Kevan Hall and Eduardo Lucero, all of whom turned out a number of showstopping evening dresses, although Wong’s fine details were sometimes lost to overwhelming accessories. Cornell Collins should consider doing evening wear only: He concluded a mixed presentation with four red-carpet jaw-droppers that should put him at the top of any bright stylist’s list. Petro Zillia’s quirky combinations evoked early Vivienne Westwood, and offered a happy medium between business suits and club wear. And Michelle Mason’s shoes were a step ahead of anything else on the runway.
Fashion’s conceptual jester, Jeremy Scott, put on one of the most entertaining shows (as did Frankie B, which kicked off with a slinky Pussycat Dolls number), although not everyone thought the joke was worth getting. Unfortunately, Scott’s clever extravaganza — which involved him as a reporter interviewing red-carpet arrivals (you’ve never heard so many “darlings”) who included Christina Aguilera, Lisa Marie, China Chow and Paris Hilton at the premiere of his film, Starring, a Dynasty send-up — was marred by technical difficulties. While it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone wearing his satin gowns painted with words such as “Sunset Blvd.” or “Bombshell,” he does make fashion fun. And sometimes that’s all you need.