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L.A. Fashion Week / Spring 2001

To Live & Dress In L.a.

Among Designers, It's All for One, and One for All

November 10, 2000|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

In any other context, it's not a radical fashion idea to show a pair of pants and a woman's skirt cut from the same fabric. But in a presentation Sunday at the historic Schindler house, those garments symbolized a spirit of cooperation that's energizing the Los Angeles fashion scene. The novel concept wasn't just that the clothes matched, but that two different designers created them.

John Cherpas designed the men's trousers for his signature line, and his best friend and business partner, Kellie Delkeskamp, created the skirt for her Josephine Loka women's collection. Together, they co-design a denim line, Fever, that coordinates with their individual collections. As part of Los Angeles Fashion Week, the longtime friends presented their three collections together in the low-slung concrete house, designed 79 years ago as an artists commune by Rudolf Schindler in West Hollywood.

That's the thing about Los Angeles fashion--an expansive camaraderie among designers is appearing in unexpected places, including the chess room of an architectural landmark. At just about every fashion show here, one designer helps another, either by sharing resources, helping backstage or by simply showing support by attending shows. They band together to get noticed--and respect. L.A. remains mostly known as an apparel manufacturing center with more garment workers than New York, which is the traditional base for America's top designers.

"We always invite all the other designers," said Cherpas, who more than once has had to explain why. In other cities, when even a single designer shows up alongside any runway but his own, it's comment-worthy, if only because suspicion and fear of idea thievery have long plagued the intensely competitive industry. In L.A., scores of fellow designers are in the audience.

"If you think people are copying you," Delkeskamp said, "it makes your life miserable." Her partner disagreed: "If anyone wants to copy you, who cares?" he said. "The season's going to be over in six months."

That attitude would wither in other eras and cities, but not today's L.A. "A renaissance is happening now," said painter Terry McCatty, a friend of and sometime model for Cherpas and Delkeskamp. "All minds are working together. That allows ego to step aside and see a bigger picture." Many in the crowd have worked together over the past decade and continue to bond in drumming circles that they stage in the woods every full moon.

"There's an unconscious communal will between us," said Antoine Bonsorte, a friend, fellow drummer and interior designer. "That's why we're here. There is no money. There is only beauty and style."

Cherpas, Delkeskamp and their many friends aren't just dreamy idealists, but part of a maturing fashion community that's gaining international attention. "We believe you can create something great together," Cherpas said. Like the concentric square pattern on that matching skirt and pants, the local fashion community is arranged in overlapping clusters. And most of those friendship rings trace a member to the Coalition of Los Angeles Designers. CLAD is a not-for-profit charitable organization formed 2 1/2 years ago by designers Monah Li and Alicia Lawhon. Cherpas and Delkeskamp are now its co-treasurers.

CLAD aims to retool the city's perception primarily as a source of junior sportswear or beachwear, while also supporting scholarships and other charitable causes and providing resources for emerging designers. To reach its goals, the group hopes to find a volunteer director to ease the designers' workload.

As the membership of CLAD, now at 36, expands, other types of cooperation grow too. Last year, Magda Berliner, a former manager at Fred Segal, helped produce a CLAD show that included fellow Segal alum Lawhon and nine other designers, including Cherpas and Delkeskamp. This year, Lawhon returned the favor and assisted backstage at Berliner's debut as a fashion designer. Designer Cynthia Vincent operates a Los Feliz store called Aero & Co. where she sells the work of CLAD members and other designers.

The store is a forum for designers of fashion, furniture, accessories and even music. "There is so much talent out there that doesn't have a place to put display," said Vincent, who called her store an experiment. "We're a new generation, and we're allowed to do these things," she said. "If anyone more established did this, it would be a scandal."

The real test of cooperation comes during the twice-yearly fashion shows, when some designers leave CLAD and show independently. Many wish to stage their own shows with their own models and atmosphere; others simply outgrow the concept of a group presentation.

But individual shows that illustrate the many distinct voices of Los Angeles may be the key to putting the city's fashion community on the map, said CLAD supporter Estevan Ramos, who has staged professional quality shows for several seasons. "I'm not selfish. I'm not making this happen just for Estevan," he said. "We're all helping each other."

Now that CLAD exists as a forum for sharing resources, designers realize that distinct voices can still be heard in a choir.

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