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For Inspiration, This Designer Goes to the Mattress

Unusual materials and a social conscience mark Miguel Adrover's street-smart style.


Miguel Adrover, who has become the fashion world's most buzzed-about designer since who knows when, is eager to see L.A. The real L.A., not this glitzy Sunset Strip/Hollywood Make-Believe/Hipster Scene at the Chateau Marmont where he has been camping out the last few days.

Adrover, 34, the son of a Spanish almond tree farmer, is in town for the first time, preparing for a trunk show and hot off the success of the Spring 2001 collection he showed two weeks ago in New York--probably Fashion Week's most forward-thinking line that included the reinterpretation of American design genres: western, nautical, military and hip-hop. Not one sequin, not one feather, not one bead was paraded on the catwalk--a glam look that Adrover gladly passes on. Instead, daring--and beautifully tailored--design, inventiveness and wit came down the runway in his third collection, which was influenced by what Adrover sees on the streets of New York. Which is why he can't wait to pound the L.A. pavement.

"I want to see the gangs, the Mexican gangs. I want to go there, where they hang out, but I've been told that it's very dangerous." No matter . . . "I still want to go because I look around here and everything is so clean and so nice and I say, 'What is this?' It looks fake to me. There has to be another L.A. with other kinds of people," says Adrover, in a homeboy look of his own: his long, dark hair tightly pulled back in a ponytail, his navy blue check shirt unbuttoned over a tank top and pushed-up-to-the-knees sweatpants, the elastic waistband of Ralph Lauren briefs peeking out and sockless Nikes. He smokes and sips bottled soda as he talks about his show last Wednesday at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and how he wants to explore gangland--uptown and downtown looks he often blends into his collections.

"I'm kind of tired, you know, of seeing all these glamour gowns and dresses with sequins. Not everybody is connected to that, not everybody dresses like that," he says.

Adrover thrives on taking risks, giving his craft a conscience, if you will, especially on the runway, where he expresses his views on society "because I want to take fashion to the level that will make people think that nobody is more or less than anyone else." Indeed, his clothes don't just make fashion statements, they make political ones. And, rarest of all, they make you feel.

His first collection told the tale of a woman who makes her way through a revolutionary war and ends up in New York's East Village wearing a miniskirt salvaged from Louis Vuitton luggage. His next included a much talked-about coat crafted out of a stained mattress because he wanted to make a statement about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's campaign to get the homeless off the streets. Adrover, cash-poor at the time, didn't have the money to buy the mattress ticking. But when he saw an abandoned mattress on the street, he dragged it into his basement, removed the ticking and washed it by hand, careful to keep some of the dirt on it, and created a chic town coat.

Of course, when it was learned that the mattress belonged to Adrover's neighbor, writer Quentin Crisp, who died last year, the coat took on another dimension--evoking feelings from sadness to "I've gotta have that coat."

Next year's spring line includes a stunning backward dress made of four deconstructed military shirts he bought at a secondhand Army-Navy store. The shirts were worn by soldiers in the fields of Vietnam. Adrover hand-stitched the dress, which took him a month and a week to finish. He covered it with clear shoeshine wax to make it look "sweaty, like a soldier in the jungle." Like the mattress coat and Vuitton miniskirt, the Vietnam dress won't be for sale because "it was about sending a message on the runway."

Adrover says it's difficult for him to imagine that just last year at this time he was eight months behind in his rent, pleading with his landlord, "Hold on, hold on, because it's gonna happen for me." When he had money, he couldn't decide whether to spend it on fabric or food. Fabric, of course, usually won out.

He credits his parents, Maria and Miguel, for supporting his passion. And for teaching him to always remain honest to himself and humble--especially now, as his star rises.

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