Does style matter? I find myself wrestling with this question more than any self-respecting fashion editor should admit. As I was driving to a photo shoot a few weeks ago with reports of death and destruction in the Middle East providing the soundtrack, it seemed almost indecent to worry about what outfit might work best on which model. After all, much weightier things are happening in the world. There’s a part of me that can’t quite shake off the assumption — widely held, I suspect — that style is essentially a frivolous topic, especially as illustrated in breathless fashion copy describing this or that designer’s latest whimsical/outrageous/sophisticated collection. And yet I’ve succumbed more times than I care to remember to such breathlessness — perhaps it was the thrill of possibility as a new ensemble appeared on the runway or on the street, the idea that I could glimpse a transformative moment of glamour, of revolution, of the profound, of pure fun.
Clockwise from bottom left: Photographed by Brad Fierce (“Spring/Summer Fashion ’88”), Winona Ryder photographed by Mike Russ (“Retro Fashion,” April 28, 1989),
illustration by Judy Markham (“Spring Style ’85”) , Twiggy photographed by Rocky Schenck (“Fall Fashion 1988”), illustration by Phyllis Cohen/Artrouble (“L.A. Style, Spring ’80”)
Maybe style means nothing more than expressing our interpretations of ourselves through clothes, cars, home décor, and either you’ve got it or you don’t — and enough said. But I’d argue that style is as much a cultural indicator as art, literature, music, film and politics. It both reveals and reflects us as a society and as individuals. Style expresses social change: Witness Coco Chanel’s shockingly simple ’20s designs — soft jerseys, no corsets — which fit the needs of women who were becoming increasingly liberated after the war. How could a suffragette march for women’s rights in a stiff hobble skirt? In the ’60s, as the youth movement questioned authority, it also discarded etiquette rules that dictated what should be worn when. And the growing popularity of blue jeans during this era signaled a new fashion egalitarianism that in turn gave rise to stores such as the Gap. Designers, who had previously imposed a Look for each season, turned to the streets for inspiration — a trend that continues today. Besides, the ’70s maxi debacle forever doomed designers as style arbiters.
“Iconoclasts Rule: Style L.A.
’03” cover photographed
By Dean Chamberlain
These days style mirrors the anything-goes po-mo pastiche that defines modern living. We blend eras, textures, vibes as effortlessly as a hip-hop mixmeister does samples: Throw on that reconstructed Alicia Lawhon vintage skirt with a deconstructed Show Pony artwear blouse and a pair of Michelle Mason shoes, and you’re ready to roll.
After surveying 25 years of L.A. Weekly style, I was struck by how much L.A. design has grown up, just as the city itself has (well, it wasn’t quite 25 years: the Weekly, taking itself to the dour extreme of seriousness, only sporadically covered fashion from 1992 until 2002). In early 1979, shortly after the Weekly’s debut, the first style editor, Joie Davidow, began chronicling L.A. style — an oxymoron, she notes in her essay which appears here, that blossomed into a fresh and irreverent aesthetic. Gloria Ohland, who followed Joie as style editor, recalls in her essay both the dog days of fashion and the fecund scene L.A. was in the mid-to-late ’80s.
IN THIS ISSUE:
In early 1979, shortly after the Weekly started publishing,
Nowadays L.A. has a worldwide following — even the grande dame of the front row, Suzy Menkes, the International Herald Tribune’s longtime Paris-based fashion editor, came out for L.A. Fashion Week Fall 2003 last April. Designers from Eduardo Lucero to Grey Ant to Petro Zillia to Cornell Collins and stores such as Aero & Co., Sirens & Sailors, Diavolina, Curve and Principessa have helped to further L.A.’s reputation as a significant fashion center.
Ultimately, style is as much an expression of life as a recall election, a Hollywood blockbuster, a book or a painting. It matters.