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C-LEVEL: Designer of Body-Hugging Clothes Finds Valley Women Meticulous About Looks

December 24, 1987|MICHELE SEIPP | Seipp is a Beverly Hills free-lance writer.

When Heidi Richman was casting around Los Angeles in search of a place to set up shop, she found the perfect neighborhood for her brand of body-hugging, cotton latex designs: Sherman Oaks.

Despite the fact that her clothes have a decidedly Melrose Avenue flair--they're favored by rock groups with names such as The Lame Flames and Faster Pussycat--the San Fernando Valley beckoned.

"There is a sort of aesthetic that pervades the Valley that's different from the rest of the city," the 28-year-old designer said. "Valley girls are very meticulous about their appearance. They're manicured and aerobicized. They really try to make the most of what they have.

"I really admire that," the platinum blonde said. "They start them young."

Some of the body-conscious customers who frequent Richman's store, C-Level, are as young as 14. "They've just gone to the gym and worked out, and they're worried about watching their weight. It's wild," Richman said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 31, 1987 Valley Edition View Part 5 Page 11 Column 4 No Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
A store that was the subject of a Dec. 24 article in Valley View, is closed while undergoing repairs for water damage. C-Level in Sherman Oaks will reopen at the end of January.

Besides 14-year-olds, Richman costumes Julie Brown, the voluptuous veejay on MTV. At one time or another, she has outfitted The Cure, the Thompson Twins, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

For the group Faster Pussycat, Richman conjured up a sort of special look: "Imagine Gypsies who have brought their most elegant clothes over from the old country, but they've been kind of hanging out in the gutter a little too long," she said.

On the other end of the fashion spectrum are Valley housewives, who wear Richman's hand-painted, antique bras as an alternative in holiday dressing. If that seems a bit far-fetched, Richman insists it's not. "You'd be surprised; a lot of people feel really comfortable with that," she said. "Madonna really paved the way."

Richman got her start designing for the trend-setting but now-defunct Melrose Avenue store Flip.

"My stuff was doing better than the other stuff, so the man who ran the store, who was English, said, 'How do you feel about distributing your stuff worldwide?' It was like a dream come true."

From Flip, Richman moved to London in 1984 and began distributing her 90% cotton, 10% lycra clothes to England, Portugal, Hong Kong and China. Richman has sold $1.5 million worth of her designs for fall of 1988.

She's proud of the fact that there are a variety of ways to wear her separates: "I try to make the pieces as reversible as possible. Back to front, upside down, so you can get as much wear as possible." She also tries to keep prices under $100.

Richman, who graduated from Smith College, where she studied French and government, didn't intend to become a designer. "I thought I was going to go to law school, but halfway through my senior year, my mother passed away," she said. "That sort of thing always makes you re-evaluate your life. I wanted to do what makes me the happiest, and that was always making clothes."

Her mother's family was Romanian, and "all the women are amazing pattern-makers," she said. Lack of formal design school training didn't discourage her. "I'm actually grateful I didn't have formal training," she said. "It's one of the reasons I've been able to rise faster. I think training pollutes your thinking a little."

Richman manufactures her clothes in Los Angeles and in Portugal, which, she said, "along with Greece and Turkey, makes the best cotton."

In August Richman opened C-Level, stocking it with her designs as well as vintage clothing and accessories. Now she has plenty of opportunities to meet shoppers.

"There are a lot of retired people who walk on that part of Ventura, and I've spent some great afternoons with these women. Actually, some of them have become customers--the vintage clothes are so reasonable," she said. "Sometimes they'll reminisce, or they'll pull out a party dress and say, 'Oh, you should have seen me at my wedding.' It's great."

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