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THE STYLE FILES: THE PLACES : Where the Designers Do Their Thing : BRENDA FRENCH: "Who wouldn't want to work here with all these colors?"

March 15, 1994|GAILE ROBINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only a very small piece of the fashion pie is glamorous. Models, runway shows and stores are pretty, and you can be, too, once you buy that new outfit. The rest of it, the bulk of it, is much like dressing rooms--ugly, sparsely furnished and poorly lit. Still, many people are quite willing to drive to the unlandscaped areas of town to toil in an office permeated with the acrid smell of fabric dye. They want to hear the cacophony of sewing machines and slowly melt in the tropical heat of a hundred steamers. We took a peek into the working conditions at four Los Angeles studios--from Carole Little's huge complex to Gregory Poe's wee garret.

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The Clothes: Exquisite knitwear.

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The Label: French Rags.

French sells two collections a year through her stores in West Los Angeles and Santa Fe, N.M., and via road shows staged like Tupperware parties. Customers can custom-order any style in any color combination--"about 800 possible combinations in any given season," says French.

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The Plant: A complex of knitting rooms and offices above the Sepulveda Boulevard retail store.

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The Dress Code: Very casual. Not exactly sweats, but comfy.

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Amenities: Windows that open. "I need incredible light, preferably on all four sides," says French. "It makes people miserable to work without sunlight, and work should be a pleasant experience."

French's insistence on a harmonious environment has ensured her a loyal staff over the past 16 years. One of the designer's longtime sewers quit so her three daughters could work for French while she stayed home with her grandchildren.

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The Big Cheese: French (a native of England) is enthusiastic, warm and approachable.

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Output: 36,000 garments a year.

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Entry-Level Position: A background in knitting is essential to run the huge machines or work in the office, French says as she surveys her workrooms. "These are not menial jobs, these people are creative."

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Number of Employees: 85

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