David Farmer sat on the sidelines as his wife, designer Angela Frascone, scurried around their exhibit at the recent Los Angeles Jewelry and Fashion Accessories show.
Farmer, once in the construction business, liked the three-day trade exhibit at the Convention Center because it had "anthropological value," he said.
He added that compared to a similar show in New York, "this is refreshingly California. People are a little more honest--and more health conscious. I haven't had to provide anyone with an ashtray."
The L.A. show, with 425 exhibitors this year, is also a lot smaller. New York draws 4,000 exhibitors, Farmer said.
By closing time, organizers estimated 9,000 attended the local exhibition, which they called "the only show of its kind in the Western United States."
Being the only show didn't necessarily make it the best. According to one disgruntled exhibitor, who had few takers for her pricey, hand-sculptured hats, the show was directed at "Middle America."
However, sprinkled among the Middle America fare (pearls, reptile bags, silver bangles, ivory beads) were less mainstream offerings: animal brooches made from acrylic-painted cotton; condom packets turned into wearable art; hand-painted wooden snakes, lizards and cactuses made in Texas from Texas pine--the latest in Southwestern home accessories; chic leather "backpacks" by Karim Merchant, a USC business school graduate who said he preferred designing to a "real job."
Designer Frascone, a transplanted New Yorker and former fine arts student, lives and works in San Anselmo, near San Francisco. Her husband handles "production and people," while she designs unusual earrings, pins and bracelets from materials such as Japanese paper. There are also leather belts and Frascone's quilted-silk "clothing accessories," including caps, bustiers, boleros and tiny skirts.
"My real fascination is color, pattern and shape," explained the red-headed designer, well-covered in her own jewelry. "It comes from my painter past."
Nearby, Christie Claridge, owner of Christie's in Northridge, was shopping for jewelry to complement "the antiques, dried roses and all that kind of stuff" she sells to "wealthy housewives." In the La Vie Parisienne booth, she picked antique-looking brooches that would retail, she said, for $40 to $60.
According to Sheila Hickey, a partner in Santa Monica-based La Vie Parisienne, the silver-plated jewelry and little picture frames are made in France from old stamps and molds (circa 1900 to 1930). Some earrings have stained-glass sections, and customers for the unique items include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hickey said.
Sheila Lindquist, manager of the Santa Anna Zoo's gift shop (scheduled to open in September), was searching the aisles for "unique things people can't get anywhere else. We won't have a lot of space."
A friend was fascinated by hand-painted pieces called L'Uomo Cond'Art. Company president Paul Alexander likes to think that the decorated condom packets (which actually contain condoms) "will help save some lives" by increasing awareness.
Unique as the pins and bolo ties were, Lindquist wasn't interested. "We get a lot of kids," she explained. More suited to the zoo, she said, was the work of Cynthia McIntosh, who works out of Pasadena under the name Cynthia Designs.
Holding up a jungle-scene rectangular brooch, McIntosh said takers for her new line included Van Cleef & Arpels and Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art. Bracelets, brooches, earrings and hair bows are made from "hardware-store wire, low-fire clay, resin and garbage, like glass off the street and tide products," the designer said.
Susan Fonarow, owner of Homebody in Los Angeles, was ordering McIntosh's wares for her boutique. But, instead of clay camels, she wanted--and got--cats on a brooch.
"Cats sell really well," explained Fonarow, who said her customers liked "something affordable, between $25 and $100, and something different."
But Fonarow passed on a mouse hat ($44 retail) by Julie Vogel that hung in McIntosh's booth. At times the linen pillbox, overrun with plastic mice, was taken for a spin by Ginna Fleetwood, who was also wearing button covers made to look like miniature platters of cheese. They were designed by her business partners, twins Cassi and Cami Griffin.
Under the name Griffin/Griffin Artwear, the three women were enjoying success at their first trade show. "The reaction has been good," said Cassi Griffin, dressed in a pink blouse decorated with what looked like thick, gold buttons. "They're button covers," she said.
"Clothes never come with beautiful buttons anymore," Griffin added, explaining the interest (by stores such as Nordstrom) in a $30-to-$50 accessory line that not only includes impressive gold nuggets and cheese trays but tiny pizzas and salads too.