Some people in the tearoom are up to the usual. They're having tea. But not Diane Freis. She's on her toes, demonstrating the detail and drama of her print dress.
Spreading her circular skirt outward, peacock style, Freis shows how it's cut and joined, pleated and appliqued. The spectacle is enough to make a man at a nearby table put down his cup and nudge his companion: "Oh, my goodness. Look at that. That's beautiful."
It's a nice moment for Freis, who is fond of saying her pleated, printed, ruffled polyester georgette dresses are "emotional, artistic. If a woman likes them, she feels special about them. It's more than a need. It's a desire. And we all know the difference, don't we?"
Entourage in Tow
With a small entourage in tow, Freis moves from the tearoom of Bullocks Wilshire down to the second floor where she comes face to face with a fiberglass mannequin dressed in one of her new geometric prints. The designer takes a long, long look and smiles triumphantly, "Perfect. It's the perfect choice for her--especially with that blond hair."
And off she goes--print skirt swirling above blue patent shoes--heading in the direction of the room where her summer collection is on view.
All around are Freis prints. The new and the old. Faithful customers have arrived wearing dresses from seasons past to inspect the fresh crop, and one Freis-clad woman stops the designer in her tracks. "I thought you were a lot taller," she says.
"Well, I can be," Freis says with a laugh. The designer is in a hurry to get to the racks. It will be her first look at some of the collection in their final form, she says. Since late February, she has been on the road--traveling from Hong Kong (her home for the past 10 years) to New York to Texas ("Neiman's country" she calls it) to Florida and finally to California.
Pleased with what she sees, Freis points out some of the recent additions. Her one-size-fits-all dresses, once found only in polyester georgette, are now done in silk or cotton as well. And while the trademark tassels and ruffles are very much in evidence, there are newer touches, such as accordion-pleated inserts, embroidery, jewel necklines and colorful, sporty ribbing.
Her limited edition collection, which retails at Bullocks Wilshire from $376 to $525, has taken on a "more sophisticated, more subtle" flavor. Some of the clothes have "spicy geometrics" that remind Freis of Mondrian, and virtually every design has a touch of apple green, which she says adds freshness to all the other colors.
Some of her freshest looks are the sun dresses (they come with shawls that look good coquettishly tied around the hips) and the accordion-pleated harem pants worn under accordion-pleated tunics.
She has also branched out into knits, creating a group of two-piece rayon-and-cotton dresses (priced from $250) under the Diane Freis for Marissa Christina label.
Looking toward fall, she is excited about a dressy collection of pleated, patterned, shirred and appliqued acetates ("They're woven like a tapestry, not printed, which is a departure for me") and opulent cut velours trimmed with feathers.
Reflecting on earlier collections, Freis, who graduated from UCLA as a fine arts major, says: "I've learned a lot. I'm maturing as a designer." The earlier works weren't "wrong," she muses, "but they're not 100% right for now."