Leon Max takes a gentle swipe at the country's conservative mood. Christine Albers casts an appreciative glance at the past ("I don't think the '30s ever go out of style."). Brenda French sends her modern executive off to work in colorful "fluid" knits.
But the force that unites all Los Angeles designers for fall is an obsession with comfort and versatility.
Karl Logan, designing for a year and a half under his own label, states categorically: "Comfort is No. 1. I start from that. Armholes have to be nice and roomy. A woman has to be able to move in my clothes."
Next comes his determination to have women buy clothes the way he does: "I strongly believe in separate components. There are fewer limitations, more longevity, and you can combine them with clothes you already have. People think I own an extensive wardrobe, but I only have about 16 pieces."
Putting it all together for fall, L.A. designers show a penchant for knits (those that conceal and those that reveal), a subdued color range dominated by a variety of grays, romantically long hemlines and soft fabrics that layer lightly.
French, for example, says: "Skirts are the longest they've ever been." And Albers adds that length and layers don't necessarily mean hidden assets.
"The body isn't hiding under huge amounts of fabric," she says, referring to the lightweight imported knits she's using for fall. The designs are "feminine, playful," and the long skirts--such as a favorite trumpet skirt that hugs the hips, flares out over the calves--mean "legs are hiding in a way, but in a way they're also important."
Max, who favors knits for fall, puts comfort into apres- ski looks and tongue-in-cheek Chanel-style separates. His clothes, he says, are not meant to be "status symbols." They are casual components that can, ideally, go anywhere.
Doling out comfort and versatility, L.A. designers have turned with a passion to V-shaped jump suits (broad shoulders, narrow ankles), long sweaters over long knit skirts, whittled-bodice dresses, soft pant shapes and lightweight coats.
The mood is easy and elegantly Spartan. The most decoration you'll find is a discreet zipper, a few pleats, a touch of leather, an artistic arrangement of double-breasted buttons, a dramatic floor-length stole or a gentle spray of sequins.
"When you talk to people about Los Angeles, they say they want to live here. It's the ease, the great ease, they're talking about--and the sunshine," sportswear designer Phyllis Sues says.
Sues' own collection reflects "a new direction. I'm trying hard to go lighter weight, more casual and a little more fun." She prefers fabrics that have "a slightly used look--anything with a little crush to it" and "the lightest double-knit jersey you can get."
One dress--a red jersey with a peekaboo back--calls for a "good bosom and a good fanny." All her clothes are designed for a much rounder, sexier body, and her fit model, she notes, "is very hourglass."
Logan too has a curvy customer:
"She's more athletic, more substantial." And his clothes "emphasize a woman's natural shape. It's not necessary to be the thinnest woman in the world anymore. It's one thing I noticed in New York recently. The mannequins in the windows were shorter, rounder."
Designer Gene Ewing says her double-knit wool jersey fabric can "conceal every bump on your body" if it has to. Inspired by the desire to use knits "that weren't too clinging," she also wanted to express some personal inspirations.
The utilitarian simplicity of her clothes (including her "California Bride" outfit of a white wool toggle-front coat over a body-conscious dress) is echoed in her own life style.
"If you come to my home, you'll see I have very few possessions. It's mostly space. I have very little furniture, and whatever is there, you feel comfortable using. I'm always reminded of my mother's alligator bag and shoes. They only came out on Sunday, and I remember thinking that if I ever have anything beautiful I want to be able to use it every day."
French, who has built a career around knits, has no trouble explaining the current interest in them.
"They show off your body," she says. Using fall patterns of darker shades with flashes of brights, she has made her sweaters "leaner, not fitted" and kept her skirts long.
L.A. designers may talk about a woman's body, but they also talk about her brain.
Max notes: "I think it's the most important part of her anatomy."