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Clothes Calls


COSTA MESA — Sitting in white fold-out chairs at a recent Richard Tyler fashion show, 150 of the designer's loyal followers watch models parade down a runway wearing glamorous Tyler creations and Judy Jetson hairstyles.

Just beyond the all-white stage, and muffled by the roar of rock music, a very different scene is unfolding--a scene of chaos, high anxiety and an atomic-sized cloud of hair spray.

It's a fashion show producer's worst nightmare. A model is missing, and the line of beauties ready to take their turn onstage has dropped from 12 deep to a frightening few.

"Where's Marielle?" asks Ellen Enders, Tyler's design assistant, seeing the dearth of models at this fashion show that Nordstrom South Coast Plaza staged its parking lot. "Marielle! Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

Somewhere from the crowded dressing room comes the answer:

"I'm here!" And Marielle emerges, still pulling on her Tyler jacket as she makes her way to the runway. The show has not missed a beat.

Fashion shows have two looks: the seamless and synchronized one seen by the audience and the frenzied one backstage, where makeup artists, stylists, dressers and other illusionists of the fashion world converge to present a designer's idealized vision of beauty.

Like magicians, those involved in producing the show don't want the public to see how they create their illusions.

Nordstrom South Coast Plaza, for instance, hosts three to five lavish fashion shows a year, costing from $10,000 to $100,000. A Nordstrom spokesman said he couldn't reveal how much the Tyler show cost for fear of offending designers. A source in the Tyler organization said that runway shows of such a caliber usually carry a $60,000 price tag.

Reproducing the New York show requires 60 feet of runway, a 6,000-square-foot tent, 70 outfits and 20 models. The show has taken months of preparations and two days to set up.

"We're presenting the fall '96 women's couture exactly as it was shown in New York," says Joshua Schulman, vice president of sales and

marketing for Tyler, who has a showroom in New York and a factory in Los Angeles. "A lot of times, stores will water the look down, but the South Coast Plaza client is pretty sophisticated. These clients want the real thing."

Tyler is on the scene, scrutinizing every detail of the show.

"For a different audience, you might tone down the hair or makeup. You don't want to scare people," he says.

On the afternoon of the show, after the crew has set up the air-conditioned tent, lighting and staging, the models wander into the backstage dressing room. They're wearing no makeup and everything from black leather pants and a zebra-print blouse to hip huggers and tank tops.

"We made sure they represent Tyler's signature look," says Dana Walker, fashion coordinator for Nordstrom in Orange County.

The models have tried on their outfits once before. Now they've come for a last-minute fitting.

"You think this jacket is OK?" asks a 6-foot-tall model, showing off a long olive-colored coat.

"Yes, it's a little tight, but you're the only one who can wear it," Enders says.

Enders functions as a kind of den mother backstage, ferociously guarding the look of the designer. She walks around in her bare feet and white jeans and a navy pullover, making last-minute changes to the lineup of models and clothes. She holds up a cocoa-colored leather jacket intended for a fair-haired model.

"This is not her look," she says, seizing a black velvet evening coat. "This is her look."

The models sit at a long table filled with crimping irons, blow dryers, brushes, bobby pins and cosmetics while hairstylists and makeup artists work on their hair and faces. Half a dozen hairstylists, led by Jay Pettus of Hampton Salon in Newport Beach, gives each model up 'dos with little tufts of hair that stick straight out the side of the coil.

"New York mandates whatever [hairstyles] we're showing," Pettus says. "In this case the style is soft, but there are still geometric shapes."

A team of makeup artists practiced for two weeks to reproduce the kind of face Tyler wants for his models.

"The look is soft with a dramatic cheek and lip," says Shellena Bowen, regional beauty director for Nordstrom in Orange County. "The eye is very light and luminous."

When the makeup artists are finished, even models who looked ruddy or pale seem to glow. Their make-overs finished, the models wait until it's time to change into their first outfits. Some sit on the floor by the clothing racks, chewing fat-free shoestring licorice and talking about how they met their boyfriends.

Marta, a model from Aliso Viejo, takes her role on the runway seriously:

"So much detail goes into the clothes. They tell a story and you have to pull that off," she says. "This look isn't happy-go-lucky or smiley. It's more intimidating."

Her favorite piece from the collection is a backless halter top made of silver mesh paired with a gray chalk-striped suit with a very fitted jacket--"a Tyler specialty."

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