FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Like pressed roses and old lace, designs by Gianna Rose have a sweet, old-fashioned quality that remind one of white-haired grandmothers and Victorian parlors.
"I think I was Victorian in another life," says Gianna Majzler, designer of the Gianna Rose line. "It's hard for me to do anything contemporary."
Her creations--clothing and accessories crafted in a way even grandma would approve of--have been turning up in gift shops and antique stores all over the country.
"I design clothes that have whimsy," says Majzler, 35, of Fountain Valley.
Her most successful garment, the Olde Glory Robe, looks as if it were made from an old flag. To give the robe her trademark vintage look, Majzler found stars-and-stripes fabric that appeared yellowed with age, as if it had been around since the Civil War.
"The robes sold really well in Washington, D.C.," she said. "And my mother saw it hanging in two shop windows in New York."
The star-spangled robes sold at stores in Japan and Italy that deal in Americana, and they're being carried in antique stores everywhere, including Uncle Tom's Antiques in Orange. "A lot of people are buying it just to hang on the wall. It's like folk art."
Her functional cotton smocks, with their button fronts, big pockets and roomy pleated silhouettes, have been catching on with artists, teachers and "urban gardeners."
"They're selling great in cities," Majzler says. "It's made to be a working garment. That's what the smock originally was.
"People are wearing them with their (everyday) clothes. I wear mine with my petticoat."
Majzler has an eclectic line of merchandise. In addition to clothes, she makes velvet berets adorned with vintage millinery trim. She digs through boxes of odds and ends at antique shows to find old buttons, velvet flowers, ribbon and lace for her hats. One green velvet beret has a cluster of pink velvet leaves.
Majzler uses scraps of fabric to make soft heart-shaped pins trimmed with wisps of old lace. Disneyland carries them in its gift shops.
She fashions small sacks out of cloth and calls them her Bags of Whim. They're for people to store their "whimsies and whatnots," she says.
Majzler's line coincides with a growing passion for Victorianism. Her heart pins and lacy bloomers for girls were featured in October's Victoria magazine.
Her clothes come quaintly packaged, making the line popular with gift boutiques. She calls her merchandise "gifts-to-go." She folds the smocks and ties them with a ribbon made of the smock's fabric, then attaches a parchment rose and a card describing the garment.
"The smocks used to come shipped in a bag but people are so conscious of the environment they don't like any extra packaging," Majzler says. She uses only recycled materials for packaging.
The robes come in a box with a drawing of Uncle Sam wrapped in her star-spangled creation on the lid.
Majzler designs clothes for gift shops, not clothing stores.
"I'm too little to compete with a full clothing line. That's why my clothing is folded and packaged."
Gift shop owners can easily display the merchandise, and her one-size-fits-almost-everyone garments don't need to be tried on. Boutiques such as Ellen's Gate and Cherish Country Furnishings in Huntington Beach and White Rabbit in San Clemente carry her smocks, pins and accessories. The Newport Collection in Irvine carries her robes--when she can keep them in stock.
Majzler started Gianna Rose in October, 1989.
"I always knew I wanted to be my own boss," she says. As a child, she would assemble glue, paper and scissors and charge the neighborhood children 50 cents to use her supplies to make crafts.
"I've been making and selling things since I was 15."
She began collecting antiques and Victorian keepsakes in high school.
Her home, which also serves as her factory, is filled with Victorianism: The bedroom is decorated with dried flowers, a floral wallpaper border and pine furniture Majzler designed herself. Green wood shutters hang inside the living room, doing double duty as folk art and concealing an air-conditioning vent the designer detests. Blue and white striped curtains adorn the windows in the kitchen, and a red double wedding ring quilt serves as the tablecloth.
Majzler's work is spread throughout the house, with one room taken over entirely by bolts of fabric, racks of clothes and boxes of antique findings.
She relies on a small team of workers to help in the manufacturing, and her parents help her pack and ship merchandise for "4 cents an hour."
Majzler doesn't want to churn out mass-produced clothes. When creating the Olde Glory Robe, she visited upscale department stores "to make sure I made mine better." She paid attention to detail, even demanding that the facing on the inside of pockets have a finished seam.
After introducing the robes in the fall, she promptly sold 400 and had more orders than she could fill. The robe sells for $84; the smocks for $68.
In 1991, she expects to sell even more robes for Father's Day and the Fourth of July. She's also adding women's overalls made of black and pink floral cotton to the line.
"The reason my line is so eclectic is I'd get bored if I did the same thing over and over," she says.
Despite Majzler's Victorian style, the inspiration for her old-fashioned designs comes in a very modern way.
"I usually get my ideas while driving on the freeway," she says.