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Fashion 87 : Designer Offers a Chanel Look at Lower Prices

December 18, 1987|MARY ROURKE | Times Staff Writer

Last year Mark Eisen was a real estate developer. Now he's a fashion designer. And while some fashion cities wouldn't stand for such a thing from any respectable name in the business, Eisen is just the latest in a growing list in Los Angeles who never went to fashion school or apprenticed for a big design company. Instead, at age 29, he set up shop on his kitchen table, convinced that he knew another way.

You might not call his style original. His first collection, for spring '88, is all white and navy denim sportswear, with suits so similar to Chanel designs it's shocking. The buttons are nautical brass, and his best-selling jacket is banded all around in the instantly recognizable Chanel way.

Works in Denim

"I've taken all-time classic designs and done my interpretation of them," Eisen offers. What makes his different from others, he says, is the price (ranging from a moderate $120 to $190) and the fact that he works in denim only.

"It's the couture look put together with America's most popular activewear fabric," he says. Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld did the same thing--once. But Eisen plans to make the formula his trademark.

As if to show there's always room for more classic clothes, both Bergdorf Goodman and Barney's, two leading New York specialty stores, placed orders and plan to feature Eisen's designs in magazine ads or store windows, he says. Los Angeles has been slower to accept him. Small boutiques are making commitments, but so far big name stores are not.

That strikes him as ironic, because he designs primarily with California women in mind. To accent their aerobic-exercised, "sculpted" figures, he cuts curves right into clothes. "I like to build shapes," he says. "I'm tired of soft, loose, baggy clothes. I'm more body-conscious in the way I design."

Standout Suits

Along with three standout suits, the small collection that launched him includes a sleeveless, double-breasted sheath and, for weekend wear, a skimp dress with shorts underneath.

Eisen was born in South Africa to an American mother, which made it easier for him to emigrate to the United States several years ago. He went into real estate to satisfy an attraction to commerce, he says. But making money wasn't enough. "One morning I painted my clothes green," Eisen remembers. That changed everything. "I said to myself, 'This is it. From now on I'm a fashion designer.' " That was 11 months ago, and counting.

In Los Angeles, Eisen's spring collection is available at Pole on Melrose Avenue, the Shoe Connection in Encino and Blondie's in Marina del Rey.

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