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Hot Sleeves

For Micki Oberdorfer, it was all about personal style--oh, and staying warm. That's why she created woolen sleeves connected by a body-wide swatch of matching knit. And they're catching on.

January 15, 1998|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here is Miss RocketBaby's favorite outfit: an orange knit miniskirt, a photo-print rainbow top, a big necktie with tiny balls dangling from the end, a fuzzy white hat pulled over a smaller red hat, and a set of handmade woolen sleeves that match nothing but her burgundy-painted hair.

But it's the sleeves you notice. And it's the sleeves--the handcrafted "RocketBaby Sleeves"--that may make Micki Oberdorfer from St. Louis, Mo., famous.

"Here's the thing. I'm really thin, so like I'm totally freezing wherever I go. So I started making these sleeves to wear with all my skimpy summer clothes because that's what I wear all year 'round and I don't want my poor little arms to fall off from the cold. And now--and now!--Fiona Apple is wearing my sleeves!"

Oberdorfer says the MTV fashion plate and Gen X balladeer "flipped out" over the sleeves and wore a long-fringed, over-the-elbow fuchsia set for her recent concert at the Wiltern Theater. Other RocketBaby devotees include Hollywood's teen queen Claire Danes and actresses Alyssa Milano and Julianna Moore.

Still, Oberdorfer is not giving up her day job. Indeed, her day job at Wasteland, the vintage emporium on Melrose Avenue, is what keeps the sleeves in the public eye. "I wear them to work every day and then rush home at night to make some more of them to sell the next day," says the 29-year-old designer.

Although there have been other takes on the shirtless sleeve look since New York designer John Bartlett introduced "shrugs" in his fall collection, RocketBaby sleeves are apparently the first to be crafted entirely from scraps of vintage knits.

"I look at it as fashion recycling," says Oberdorfer, who puts the vintage pieces together into a pair of sleeves connected by a body-wide swatch of matching knit. From open-crocheted sleeves of '70s polyester to '60s ribbed wools, RocketBaby Sleeves sell (exclusively at Wasteland) for $18 to $40 a pair.

"You can wear them with tube tops or little slipdresses when you want to be warm, or you can put the sleeves with tank tops when the top has a good message on the back that you don't want to cover up with a sweater," says Oberdorfer, who wears hers with all sorts of ensembles.

"Sometimes I wear one with the ribs on the back for a sort of alien look, and sometimes I wear sleeves with a slipdress, and I always, always, always wear platforms, and my hair's some far-out color, and people get really freaked out and say they couldn't possibly wear such an outfit, but I just tell them, 'Sure, sure you can.' You can make a big fashion statement. And you can be warm and cozy at the same time."

Cool.

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