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Designer Spotlight

Marketing Substance Precedes Style at 24-7

April 30, 1993|ROSE APODACA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Long before launching their company, 24-7, two years ago, designers Natalie Rigolet and Clayton Matthews were focusing their energies on fashion 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Before even considering going forward with this, we did about a year of research in fashion, fabrics and contracting," said Rigolet, 27.

"The spirit of this company is driven by a tremendous amount of research," added Matthews, 34. "We gather information from any source we can, we read, we're on the streets. We try to understand what came before us to know what to do next."

This analytical approach--taken by the former science major--complements Rigolet's bent on fine art.

"Then when we started," he continued, "we threw away the book on industry standards. By definition, the word fashion connotes change--and we change all the time. We're constantly trying to push the boundaries of what's the norm of fashion. When all the buyers like what we're doing, we get worried."

Those who can worry are 24-7's competitors.

Although the line evolved during this decade's upsurge of young streetwear companies, 24-7 has distinguished itself with an unassuming image, innovative detailing and quality workmanship.

The time Rigolet and Matthews continue to spend planning, designing, eating and breathing their work could serve as the inspiration behind their decision to name the company 24-7. Actually, the duo dug the code repeated by the original be-bop musicians and groupies who could find no end to their way of life.

Indeed, it's that exploratory period in jazz that Rigolet and Matthews now look to for inspiration.

"We've taken a lot of the names of old jazz artists and nightclubs for our designs. The new jazz has been quite an influence in what we're doing, too," noted Rigolet, referring to the acid jazz movement that samples or imitates be-bop and hot jazz and mixes it with current hip-hop tastes.

Named after the pioneer of be-bop, the "Gillespie" is a 12-gauge-cotton striped sweater, offered in hip color combinations such as green and black or brown, pea green and navy.

The top, which sells for about $60, is a standout example of 24-7's quality: instead of a piece that is cheaply cut and sewn at the sides, the piece is all done on a linking machine as a unit.

As a label that is "very trim and detail conscious," clothes feature elements such as pointed oversized collars, corduroy plackets and wide belt loops that cover much of the belt.

And said Rigolet: "Big for big sake is out. We're still relatively generous, but details are what matter."

Going forward, 24-7 will shrink--albeit slightly--away from the extra, oversize looks that they feel have been overdone. Instead, more modish styling is entering their design work and the key word is tailoring.

Top and pant silhouettes remain loose, but not baggy. The focus is on shape--of the clothes and the wearer.

For example, a straight-cut pant made of a broken twill that features two large patch pockets on the front (about $53) gives a long, narrow look.

"You can still have a very interesting tailored item that can still be street looking," Matthews said. "I think the eye gets used to seeing a silhouette for so long, people see something different and it looks new. This is new."

He added: "We introduced a tailored pant a year ago and few buyers wanted it, only those in L. A. and New York accepted it."

In a nod to the early '70s, 24-7 features the Convertible Flair, ($57) which Rigolet calls "the four-step program for those not really ready to take a step into bell trousers."

Slim-fitting at the top, the pants feature four buttons at the bottom side of the pant leg; each button, or step, further reveals a solid panel that flaps out when all the buttons are undone.

Lifting from the disco era is nothing new now, but what 24-7 takes is not so much Bee Gees as it is Sly and the Family Stone. "To discard the decade of the '70s is ludicrous," Matthews said, "because many innovative design elements and fabrics arose from then; elements that were quite nice that fit into a street look today."

The designers zone in on the awkward styling of that decade and update it with natural fabrics or modern fits. Or they combine the coolest elements from varied periods for a look that's both new and classic.

The leisure-suit shape was tapped for the Full Zip shirt ($44). From the "Fred Perry" pique shirts favored by mods, they've created the Rufus top (about $47.50).

A basic crew with vertical stripes was transformed by featuring a pocket on the sleeve instead of the traditional breast placement. It was dubbed the Mintin after the famous New York jazz club of the swingin' years ($36).

Unlike other streetwear designers who bank their image on Tees splashed with graphics, Rigolet and Matthews focused label identification with small embroidered logos on the bottom of shirts and pockets of pants.

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