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the gotcha girl : THE CUSTOMER FOR THE NEW DIVISION OF THE IRVINE SPORTSWEAR GIANT IS A LOT LIKE ITS DESIGNER, HOLLY SHARP

February 08, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

She's been described as smart, silly, sexy and hip.

Although that's how a catalog describes the typical customer of Girl Star, the new young women's fashion division of Gotcha International in Irvine, those words could easily apply to its smart, silly, sexy and hip fashion designer, Holly Sharp.

Sharp has the bubbly personality you'd expect of a designer who gives her creations whimsical names such as the "Brigitte Bardot Bra Top," the "Patsy Cline Skirt" and the "Groove Girl Dress." And only a free spirit would display her collection at fashion trade shows in a hot-pink and orange-striped booth she admits looks like Barbie's Dream House.

On this day, Sharp is bustling about in her Costa Mesa design studio, which she has decorated in a Louis the XIV-meets-Mod style. There's an ornate crystal chandelier dangling from the ceiling, Louis-style chairs upholstered in plush damask sitting on a black-and-white checkered floor, and display shelves filled with stacks of old-fashioned hat boxes, vintage photos of surfers and one plastic Godzilla.

Wearing a black miniskirt with funky zip pockets, a matching zip-front jacket and a white T-shirt, Sharp is talking excitedly and almost nonstop about Girl Star.

She's so enthusiastic about the line she agreed to design last summer that she's constantly jumping out of her chair to show off her latest sketches, her catalogs--done up in Barbie pink stripes--and samples that hang on a rack in the adjacent tailoring room.

"This is a dream come true for a little designer like me," Sharp says.

Her output, however, isn't little. She has produced her own line of apparel since 1984, first working out of her former Newport Beach apartment and later turning Holly Sharp into a multidivisional company. Sharp and her husband, Michael Sharp, sales manager for Girl Star, eventually scaled down the manufacturing end of Holly Sharp.

"We took a hiatus from the big wholesale company," the designer says.

For three years, she focused most of her energies on designing her Holly Sharp Dresses and Signature Collection, which sold at her Holly Sharp boutique in Corona del Mar, Fred Segal in Los Angeles, Macy's and other retailers. A year ago, about the time Sharp became "antsy" for a new project, Gotcha--a $65-million-a-year company--called with an offer to let her design a young women's line.

"They told me, 'You're the only person for the job. If you don't do it, we won't start the line,' " Sharp recalls.

Sharp liked Gotcha's offer because she wouldn't have to handle production, she could focus primarily on design.

"I'm left to do what I do best."

She also liked the idea that, although Gotcha manufactures surf-inspired men's sportswear, she wouldn't be designing just board shorts and T-shirts.

Sharp had no trouble designing for a beach-oriented line, she says, because she has lived most of her life in Newport Beach. She learned to sew at her mother's knee, and, like her brother, Shawn Stussy of Stussy in Irvine, she discovered she had a natural talent for design.

Although she's now a 36-year-old mother of three, Sharp has a clear image of the kind of young woman she imagines wearing Girl Star.

"She's single, a free spirit and laughs a lot. She likes to chase butterflies. Girl Star is super easy to design. I feel in touch with the customer."

After considering about 200 names, Sharp dubbed the new line Girl Star.

"The point is that within every girl there's a star," she says. "It's not about being a surf babe. It's about dress up and play."

For Girl Star role models, Sharp looked to all kinds of women with attitude: Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball and Calamity Jane.

"There are wonderful women through history who inspire me daily," she says. "There's a flirty vibe about Girl Star."

To dress a Girl Star customer, a person Sharp describes as "Barbie at the beach," she's adapted many ideas from her Holly Sharp collection and has given them an edgier, surfwear-inspired twist.

Where she will create a corset top out of fine peau de soie with a satin ribbon lace-up front for the Holly Sharp line, she'll make a Girl Star corset out of black nylon or denim, substituting the same draw cord used on board shorts for the satin ribbon.

"How happy is this?" asks Sharp, going through a rack of samples until she pulls out a shift dress festooned with butterflies. "If this was for Holly Sharp, it would be black."

She designed hip huggers for Girl Star using a brown "Marcia Brady" Hawaiian print; for Holly Sharp, she makes them out of a more sedate black Microfiber. She's created Girl Star halter dresses out of iridescent gold nylon, the kind of material used for board shorts.

"I took a lot of Gotcha fabrics, which are nylons and denims, and put them into fashion pieces," Sharp says. "The [company] felt it was important for me to be loyal to what Gotcha is all about."

Even when making board shorts, Sharp can't help but do them her way--shorter than usual, and made out of bright nylons or pink and baby-blue satin.

"There was no way I was going to do a navy board short," she says.

Sharp admits that when Gotcha executives first saw her pink satin board shorts, her Gigi dress with a bow adorning its empire waist and other pieces in her spring '96 collection, they were a little nervous. She was taking them places they'd never been before.

"It's a boys' world at Gotcha," she says. "The whole idea was to let girls in."

When the collection sold out in just 45 days, all doubts disappeared.

Sharp will continue to design her silk Grace Kelly dresses and other sophisticated creations for her Holly Sharp line while creating four collections a year for Girl Star.

Girl Star's 140-piece line includes board shorts, pants, tiny T-shirts, board skirts, fitted tops and dresses. Girl Star prices range from about $17 retail for Ts to $50 for dresses, while the Holly Sharp line sells dresses for $250.

Girl Star will be carried at Fred Segal, Urban Outfitters and other fashion retailers as well as surf shops.

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