At the GenArt 2008 “New Garde” event Friday night, which kicked off L.A. Fashion Week, it was hard to ignore the evening’s sponsor — sort of the wrinkle-free elephant in the room. Amid the Art Deco splendor of the Park Plaza hotel, as dolled-up fashionistas fluttered about the visual feast of designer vignettes, young models danced under Botox-branded umbrellas that couldn’t have been more, uh, in your face. Botox’s less-than-subtle branding was everywhere, but its pitch was unexpected. The umbrellas were emblazoned with a motto touting the drug’s use as a cure for excessive sweating: “It keeps you dry.” Oh, yes, that’s what this looks-conscious crowd would use it for. Uh-huh. Nobody seemed to acknowledge the irony that GenArt, champion of the most creative and individualistic style makers in Los Angeles, has associated itself with a product that’s turned many of the city’s most intriguing faces into expressionless clones.

Photo by Lina Lecaro

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Click here for photos from the GenArt show.

Lines of another kind were the focus of Le Sang des Betes by Trang Chau’s stunning black-and-white presentation, which featured models in asymmetrical haircuts posing upon a multilevel set filled with arches set off by edges both hard and soft. The collection, which the designer told us was inspired by the vaulted ceilings of Gothic cathedrals, mimicked these strong shapes, from the rounded draping of a cowl-necked tunic to the hip-enhancing seams of sexy skinny jeans. Other standout pieces included neo-modern, ’60s-flavored strapless tent dresses and textured baby dolls in black, along with layered black-and-white tops that were all about contrast and ’80s-style flamboyance. Of the night’s three designer installations (all built by noted, dread-headed set designer Keith Greco), Chau’s ground-floor scene was definitely the most commanding setup.

The upper level of the Park Plaza seemed to have the most social swirlin’ goin’ on, likely due to the Saturday Night Fever dance-studio feel of JMary’s installation, which took over the stage with girls standing atop a rotating platform surrounded by mirrors and multihued lights. Models — including one we recognized as last season’s America’s Next Top Model winner, Saleisha Stowers — worked frizzy Doobie Brothers hair and store mannequin–like poses as they slowly spun around, their reflections creating the illusion of more bodies onstage than there actually were.

The frocks (mostly dresses and mostly in dark shades) looked light as air, and were exquisitely pleated and fitted. Exposing lots of arm and leg, with a definite emphasis on the waist, JMary’s pieces were the most universally flattering for all body types, something that the mirrored backdrop made apparent with its 360-degree views. Wonder if the mirrors were the fool-ya kind that dressing rooms use to make us think our butts look good. One thing’s for sure, there was a spirited, Studio 54–like vibe in that room (the free booze didn’t hurt), which led to as much posing offstage as on.

And there were plenty of fashion and nightlife celebs to pose: Alexis Arquette and her crazy-boy cohort Candyass, Clint Catalyst (spreadin’ the word about his bud Jared Gold’s show at Union Station), jewelry designer Tarina Tarantino, club promoter Rich Royal, designer Henry Duarte, fashion scribe Rose Apodaca, and on and on. We were so busy babbling with the bauble’d bunch, we nearly missed the third New Garde presentation by Jesse Kamm, under a tent at the opposite end of the room.

Though her hand-printed textiles were definitely interesting when viewed up close (we saw them in the brightness of the backstage area), the low-lit safari-camp environment created for public viewing wasn’t the best showcase for Kamm’s work. Still, many pieces (dresses, T-shirts and shorts) did have a sophisticated comfort about them, and it was easy to imagine them being used in one of those exotic jungle-locale photo shoots à la Vogue magazine.

GenArt has introduced the likes of Zac Posen, Hollywould and Chaikin to the West Coast’s fashion cognoscenti, and we’ll never forget the year we discovered two of our favorite designers — Louis Verdad and Jared Gold — sharing the runway at 2003’s GenArt “Fresh Faces.” Like those designers, the 2008 trio of talents offered not only innovation and wearability in their creations, but presentations that highlighted fashion as an art form, something L.A. really must continue to do if we’re ever going to come close to competing with New York.

The shows at Smashbox Studios, which kicked off Sunday, also had arty moments, particularly the offerings by Julia Clancey and Whitley Kros. U.K. designer Clancey encountered problems getting her glamorous gowns into the country only days before the show, which led her to add a statement-making intro to the show: a model prancing the runway in only a sandwich board that read “Haute Haters” on the front and “Is This Customary?” on the back. Peaches’ F word–laden version of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” blared in the background.

Even without the provocative commencement, Clancy’s runway was a dramatic and dynamic procession of beadwork, sequins and bows — girly wear with major attitude in shades of black, red, purple, gold and white. It brought to mind a Bebe ad, only more sparkly and sassy.

Both the Orthodox and Whitley Kros shows had a grunge thing going on, and both punctuated their gritty looks with the sounds of Nirvana. Kros, from designers Marissa Ribisi (Beck’s wife) and Sophia Coloma, even put the Cobain inspiration in their program. “Melanie Griffith in Working Girl travels through Berlin and Paris, listening to Nirvana,” read a statement on the front of the show program.

Some of the pieces were cute in a sloppy-chic sort of way, but there was entirely too much flannel and mismatching for our taste. This was one of those shows where the front rows seemed to get more attention than the designs, anyway. Across from us sat Hollywood’s Scientology elite, including Kirstie Alley, Erika Christensen, Juliette Lewis, Danny Masterson, Jenna Elfman and Marissa’s bro Giovanni. Spiritual enlightenment is one thing, but stylistic enlightenment? This one was too close to call.

See Page 98 for Nightranger in the clubs. For an L.A. Fashion Week slide show and more L.A. Fashion Week coverage, check and the Style Council blog.

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