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L.A. Vignettes

Small, Conservative Collection a Big Hit on the Road

February 12, 1988|BETTY GOODWIN

When shopping for clothes, many women seem to be fed up with bad service and low inventory, not to mention seeing the same clothes by the same designers in every store they look.

And they are rebelling.

The proof is at Gibson Palermo, a San Francisco company featuring designer John Gibson and Phillip Palermo--he's the one with the ponytail--a former architect who does fabrications and sells the line. The two have a small, by-appointment shop in the arty, unchic, warehouse district south of Market Street, where rich women flock for fittings of their modern, yet conservative, line.

So why should anyone in Los Angeles care?

Because an entourage consisting of one seamstress, three sales people and two models travels here three times a season for fittings (one fitting is required for suits, two for evening gowns) and for showing the newest arrivals.

Palermo is on the road with his collections every other week in a different city, from New York to the West Coast.

When in Los Angeles, the staff camps out at the Hotel Bel-Air, where fashion shows are held morning and afternoon. Any shopper is welcome who can afford prices ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 and who appreciates clothes that can be turned inside out and still have "integrity," as Palermo puts it, as in clean seams and silk linings.

One seamstress makes each garment from start to finish just as in couture.

"Considering the amount of money good clothing costs and that most department store sales people hardly know anything about clothes," Palermo explained, women looking for alternatives seek them out.

"You can take your time and clothes fit," he said following a recent showing as customers stripped down for fittings in all corners of a suite. Most silhouettes are available in a choice of as many as 18 colors, and customers always have the option of reordering.

There is further evidence of the resistance to ready-to-wear fashion.

Donna Karan, the New York designer whose clothes are as stylish as they are steeply priced, has become one of the fastest rising stars of the home-sewing industry.

"Donna Karan patterns are wild," said Leona Rocha, the charismatic fashion consultant for Vogue/Butterick patterns, whose recent seminars at the Home Silk Shop brought out standing-room-only crowds.

It's easy to understand why women are buying Karan's patterns and either making them themselves or hiring a dressmaker to do the job: A jacket that costs $850 in a department store can be made for $200 to $250 in the identical Jasco wool knit or Anglo wool crepe used by Karan, according to Home Silk's Murray Pepper.

"We have the same patterns the same season they're available at ready-to-wear," Rocha points out.

"The reason the department stores are having a hard time is the pricing, and the construction of ready-to-wear clothes has gotten to the point where people say it's insulting," Rocha said. Furthermore, Karan's clothes are available no larger than a Size 12 off the rack.

"And our patterns go up to 16," Rocha smiled.

Meanwhile, if there was any doubt that the fine art of dressmaking still exists, it continues to thrive--though for a price--at the house of Andre Laug in Rome.

Laug died two years ago, but he left behind a cache of drawings that continue to be used as the basis for all clothes bearing his label.

One spring suit shown recently at Elizabeth Arden in Beverly Hills features narrow vertical stripes, each representing a band of fabric inset by hand. The suit, which requires two weeks for one person to stitch, sells for $4,000. Even at that price, Laug's Mirella Corvosa claims the company loses money.

"Each time I take an order I know it's a problem," she sighed. "But we hope we'll make (the money) up on something else."

In a few years, Corvosa predicts such workmanship will disappear entirely.

Even for a house as staid as Laug, key signposts can be read. Aside from evening gowns, dresses are all above the knee.

And, at long last, the pouf is dead. All cocktail and evening dresses have tapered skirts, with the exception of some pleated chiffon styles.

"I think we've all had enough poufs," Corvosa commented.

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