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L.A. Fashion Week / Spring 2001

To Live & Dress In L.a.

A Pair of Newcomers Embrace the Edge

November 10, 2000|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES FASHION WRITER

Stylist-turned-designer Magda Berliner doesn't like splashy and over-the-top productions. She likes to keep things low-key and humble, characteristics her immigrant parents taught her as a kid to never forget, no matter what she ended up doing with her life.

No loud music blared at her first runway show, a small, intimate affair, staged in the idyllic garden of the Sunset Marquis Hotel. There was only the sweet music of a violinist backed by a gentle breeze rustling through the trees. And in place of an elevated runway, a stone and brick walkway nicely served the purpose for the 12 models wearing Berliner's spring and summer 2001 collection, inspired by Western and Victorian influences with touches of the 1920s and '30s.

The 33-year-old Berliner has been an up and comer since she presented her first collection that included halter dresses trimmed with locks of human hair at a trunk show this summer. Soon after, her garments began appearing in magazines such as Vogue Italia and New York-based Paper and Visionaire and L.A.'s Glue. She and other L.A. designers like Michelle Mason are attracting increased attention.

The designer, with her cropped blond hair with black roots, has a deconstructionist and edgy approach to design, an aesthetic that celebrates the history of fashion and incorporates her love for vintage clothes "that are falling apart and are not perfect," reinventing them with odd silhouettes, raw edges and fabric mixes such as distressed leather, cheesecloth, silk and gauze in a single garment, "so they can be cherished," says the 1988 graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. She has worked with many stars in film and music videos as a stylist and still does styling jobs for television commercials.

"I wasn't thinking about doing this at all, about designing clothes. But friends would comment on what I was wearing and I would literally give them the clothes off my back," Berliner says , sitting in the Hollywood Hills home she and her husband, celebrity photographer Alex Berliner, purchased two years ago, never realizing that the little room off the kitchen would become the hub of her design work.

Berliner, a virtual one-woman operation, draws her own designs, makes her own patterns and often sews her own garments, sometimes in the middle of the night, "because I'm that anxious to put an idea together." She likes to wear her creations in order to feel the movement of her designs because so many of them are put together like a puzzle, with multiple fabrics and the garments that can be worn backward and even upside-down. She then sends the final look to a team of seamstresses.

"I've been lucky," she says about the response to her first collection, adding that connections, especially in this business, are nice to have. For example, she says, a stylist that works with her publicist pulled a few of Berliner's trunk show garments for the Italian Vogue fashion spread photographed in Los Angeles by Steven Meisel.

"To be a non-advertiser in a major publication like that, well, that makes me very proud. And they used two of my pieces," she says. The first was a vest that mixed metallic leather with pigskin and rib knit silk cotton. The other was a tank top adorned with medals and ribbons she made with old lace fabric and sequins; she was inspired by the various media access ribbons her husband has worn through the years photographing celebrities at the Academy Awards Governor's Ball.

"All in all, the reputation that Alex and his father, Alan [of Berliner Studios], and his whole family have built is definitely helpful. But I also think the reputation I have built for myself as a stylist has helped overall. I'll go to an event and someone will say, 'I saw so-and-so wearing one of your jackets and I love it and where can I buy it?' "

Berliner immediately--and politely--tells people, including celebs, where they can find her clothes (at Aero & Co. and Diavolina), because she's in this business "to make money and I respect retailers and want to build a strong reputation with them. "I was a shopgirl myself," she says of her eight years in retail before turning to styling.

"This is all still very new and very fast for me. But I'm not in this for one or two or three seasons." She wants to build a business with consistency and hard work, lessons learned from her parents, Alicia and Alfredo Lavadenz, who once worked for Grant Parking in Hollywood and later operated their own printing shop before returning to Bolivia several years ago.

She also plans to keep her business small, realizing her tastes aren't for all women. "It's important to keep it special, keep it personal and keep control."

*

Michelle Mason is wrapped in her mother's arms, a congratulatory hug minutes after the 29-year-old designer presented her spring and summer 2001 collection at Los Angeles' Union Station on Saturday night.

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