Think of a Los Angeles fashion designer who’s reached a level of international acclaim — Ashley Paige, Michelle Mason, Grey Ant and Louis Verdad, to name a few — and you’ll find that they probably got their start at Gen Art’s Fresh Faces in Fashion. Kicking off L.A. Fashion Week each season, this group show has become a more reliable gauge of talent than the “official” shows at Smashbox Studios, which seem to be less and less about quality and innovation than backing and buzz.

The Spring 2007 Fresh Faces soiree, held on a rain-soaked Friday the 13th at Barker Hangar, showcased an impressive selection; some designs were more fully realized than others, but almost all had potential. I heard whispers that fashion editors and industry folk had torn the presentation to shreds (no pun intended), and although my status as a member of the selection committee no doubt biased my opinion, I don’t think that’s fair. The focus of Fresh Faces is emerging talent, and if emerging means you don’t have a shoe budget or a relationship with a shoe designer, I’d much rather see models walking barefoot than in Payless platforms. Alas, nobody was lucky enough to be wearing the fabulously colorful footwear from Marcello Toshi Creazioni, one of the featured accessories designers at the event.

Ziji, known for simple, sophisticated draping and unexpected details like peekaboo slits with color inserts or a T-back closure with buttons, showed their muted silks with $5 Chinese slippers, which was cute and practical. I can even accept the strange suede foot wraps that Augustine paired slip dresses with, but there really was no justification for the top-and-tights look they repeatedly sent down the runway in some kind of homage to ballet dancers. Any way you looked at it, the bottoms were missing.

Fremont’s playful resort wear was flirty and flattering; high-waisted shorts were reflective of a general trend, and an eyelet-trimmed plaid minidress invited peeking up. Crispin & Basilio combined textures and fabrics in creative ways, layering metallics over tissue-thin organza, and experimenting with pleats and raw hemlines. I thought the dresses and one tunic-and-genie-pants ensemble were both romantic and modern. The menswear line Anzevino and Florence showed some great skinny red rocker slacks and creatively cut tees, but I just don’t know what man is going to put on a unisleeved shirt.

The evening’s two standouts were Trasteverine and Katy Rodriguez, both of whom already have a following among trendsetting starlets. Named for a bohemian Roman neighborhood where designer Michalyn Andrews was studying a few years ago, Trasteverine has clothes that are feminine and body-conscious without being overtly sexy. A sleeveless black cocktail dress with pleats around the middle clung fetchingly to the hips, and a gauzy white cotton number with ruffles made the milkmaid look seem like an option for spring. Perhaps it’s her partner Brian Frank’s background — as a Hare Krishna who discovered fashion while dressing statues of the deity — that gives these ’40s-inspired pieces their air of dignity.

As the co-owner of the Resurrection vintage boutiques, Katy Rodriguez also brings a wealth of fashion history to her designs, and apparently she’s determined that what every girl really wants is the perfect dress. Her signature crisscross-front frock opened the show, splashed with a bold morning-glory print and rhinestone buttons. There were elegant silk dresses for day, while other pieces channeled the mid-’60s with voluminous fabrics, straight waists and hemlines above the knee. Questions of wearability off the runway were answered by Rodriguez herself, a tall blonde who rocked a jewel-toned taffeta bubble dress with a swirling hemline. I chatted with Rodriguez and her partner Mark Haddawy after the show, but the blaring music prevented us from getting much beyond “congratulations.” If they could only ditch the cheesy Hollywood club vibe altogether, Gen Art would really distinguish itself.

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