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TRICKLE-DOWN TRENDS : Forget the law of gravity; this is the law of Melrose. Fashion flows outward--as in, from Los Angeles to Orange County. So, what's here today was probably there yesterday.


Los Angeles lies just across the Orange County line, but when it comes to style, some say the two counties are worlds apart.

Most Orange County fashion experts agree that people here dress differently than they do in L.A. Yet they disagree on just how much of a style gap exists between the two areas.

Many characterize Orange County residents as conservative, casual and even a little backward compared with their hip neighbors to the north. Others argue that, style-wise, the county has caught up and, in some ways, even surpassed L.A.

Shannon O'Neill, a Laguna Beach resident, keeps a close eye on fashion in both counties as a clothing buyer for SUO, a contemporary clothing store in Westminster Mall and in West Los Angeles.

"Is there a difference between L.A. and Orange County? Absolutely," O'Neill says. "I see the difference between my two stores. In L.A., they'll pay anything for anything. They're looking for clothes that are new and trendy, and they don't care if the clothes go out of style in two or three months. In Orange County, they're looking for more classical pieces that will be around a while."

She tailors her merchandise at both stores according to each area's idiosyncrasies. She'll put casual clothes such as denim pieces that are proven sellers in her Westminster store, while more fashion-forward pieces, such as fitted baby T-shirts with satin appliques and satin wrap miniskirts, are reserved for L.A. Her Orange County shoppers tend to prefer understated hues such as earth tones, while her L.A. customers are more willing to try experimental hues such as "young-looking pastels," she says.

"Los Angeles is very MTV-motivated. What they see on 'Melrose Place' is what they want," O'Neill says. "In Orange County, once they've seen something around long enough, then they want it."

Slip dresses are one example of a style first seen on the streets of L.A. that didn't become popular in Orange County until a season later.

"You saw women wearing actual slips on Melrose Avenue," O'Neill says. "Then slip dresses came to retail, then to Orange County."

Orange County has a wait-and-see attitude toward fashion, whereas L.A. wants to be first with a look, she says. The reason behind the different approaches to style:

"It's the people," O'Neill says. "In L.A., every waitress and every gas station attendant is an actor. Here every salesperson is a salesperson."

Rose LeDonne travels to the fashion marts of Los Angeles to buy clothes for her Rose LeDonne sportswear boutique for women and children in Laguna Niguel. She finds that styles that are hot up north sometimes don't fly south of the border.

LeDonne recently visited L.A. designer Marrikka Nakk to see her latest collection. Nakk, who counts Hollywood actresses Demi Moore and Cher among her clientele, showed LeDonne her latest creation: bloomers as outerwear.

"I said they were really cute, but I could never sell that here," LeDonne says. "People would laugh at them. They're too much of a fad."

LeDonne lived in Hollywood until moving here six years ago, and since then, she says, she has "toned down" her wardrobe. She remembers buying a pair of equestrian-style riding leggings five years ago at Fred Segal on Melrose, only to find that when she wore them in her store, "Most people looked at me like I was an alien. Now I sell a ton of them."

Before a fad will sell here, it has to enter the mainstream--a process that takes about six to eight months from the time it starts in L.A., she says.

"People in Los Angeles are very quick to get in on a fad. They're not afraid to look different and be extreme. A lot of times the fads come and go before they reach Orange County," LeDonne says. "Here people tend to want to fit in. They have to see other people wearing something and how they're wearing it. But we're catching up."

The presence of hot, nationally recognized designers such as Mossimo has moved the two areas closer together, as has the influence of the media, she says.

"We're more exposed (to trends) than we used to be," LeDonne says.

Some fashion watchers say the style gap between L.A. and Orange County has closed completely.

Ellie Kervorkian, buyer for Politix men's clothing stores in Fashion Island Newport Beach and in Westwood, Century City and Beverly Center, says he sees little difference between his customers to the north and the south.

"You do have more people into high fashion and funky clothes in L.A., but that doesn't mean people in Orange County aren't fashionable," he says.

He says it seems the percentage of cutting-edge clientele is the same in both locales, it's just that there are more in L.A. because of the larger population.

Still, even Kervorkian refrains from putting some of his more cutting-edge looks in the Newport store:

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