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SOCAL STYLE: Fashion

Flight of Fancy

Designer David Cardona takes off with a collection that's strictly first-class

January 18, 1998|Renee Vogel

David Cardona's clothing designs are not nearly as down-to-earth as David Cardona. He may be the prototypical jeans and T-shirt guy himself, but the first collection by this 33-year-old Californian is so luxurious, it's almost sinful: wool suits that brush by like cashmere; elegant blouses of cotton spun as fine as silk; buttery-soft leather jackets, skirts and pants. Everything is made by hand from the finest materials available, creating a banquet of tactile pleasures. "Don't finger them, grab them," he says, bunching up a charcoal-colored sleeve in his fist.

What the clothes do inherit from their creator is a fluid, understated sophistication. This is the kind of chic you'd expect to see on a latter-day Audrey Hepburn. Cardona has been known to design edgier outfits for his celebrity clients, such as Seal, Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross, but he takes a more practical, if slightly hedonistic, approach toward the bulk of his collection, available this spring at Les Habitudes in Los Angeles. "My style is to provide customers with what they need, not more than they're asking for. If you give them too much, they won't be able to wear it next year," says Cardona.

What Cardona thinks his clients need are classic lines--shapely fit, just-right lapels, easy shoulders--made unique by impeccable tailoring. The designer credits his engineering background for his clean look. He designed aircraft at McDonnell Douglas for two years while attending evening classes at the Fashion Institute. Then he spent five years working for Richard Tyler--the only American designer Cardona truly admires--before striking out with partner John Bowman, a founder of the high-end leather and accessories company Chrome Hearts.

What both men share is an eye for detail. Every buttonhole is hand-sewn with silk thread. Buttons are made of buffalo horn or mother-of-pearl. Seams are hand-finished. Vents have elastic closures to keep them in place. Bowman sums up their top-of-the-line philosophy: "When you pay for a Rolls-Royce, you should get a Rolls-Royce."

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