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Fall 2001 / LOS ANGELES FASHION WEEK

For Designers: No Place Like Home

April 06, 2001|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

L.A.'s fashion week may have garnered some national attention, as the April 2 edition of Newsweek "discovered" the fashion scene here, but most designers still would say that showing in New York is a much faster route to the big time.

Local talents Magda Berliner and Jared Gold made their New York debuts in February at the fall collections. Being there, they say, has led to an increase in orders and media attention (though not always flattering). But it also gave them a new appreciation for L.A.'s relaxed fashion scene--so much so that this week they mounted hometown shows too.

"In the public eye, you are taken seriously when you show in New York," said Berliner, wearing a fake mustache at a champagne party and informal modeling she hosted at the West Hollywood bar North on Tuesday. (Her models also wore mustaches, a humorous homage to her fascination with androgyny.) "When you go to New York, it means you're successful."

Los Angeles is not a fashion capital, said Glamour beauty editor Veronica Hinman, in town from New York not for fashion week, but to host a party for the magazine's April issue. "It's not a destination for top editors. It's not even in the same sentence as New York, Milan and Paris. But give it a few years. It's en route."

The timing of the fashion calendar played a large part in the designers' decisions to go east. Fashion weeks are held twice a year in New York, London, Milan and Paris to show the fall and spring ready-to-wear collections. (It may be springtime outside, but designers are showing their fall collections now, in order to give manufacturers enough time to meet store orders.) L.A.'s spring and fall runway shows are dead last on the global fashion calendar. By the time they roll around, many store buyers have exhausted their budgets.

Berliner, 33, a stylist-turned-designer who is married to Hollywood photographer Alex Berliner, was disappointed when she held her first show in L.A. last November. "One of my retailers told me she'd already spent all her money when I went to see her two weeks before Christmas," Berliner said. "I knew I had to go to New York."

The runway presentation of her vintage-inspired designs, held in an East Village boutique, made it possible for large retailers such as Barneys New York to place early orders and led to orders from smaller East Coast boutiques, such as Louis Boston. Her clothes generally range in price from $250 for a top to $850 for a dress.

Gold's offbeat clothes were already carried in Barneys and Fred Segal, for prices ranging from $60 to $300, when he decided to participate in a group show mounted by the nonprofit fashion and arts organization Gen Art in New York. The "Alice in Wonderland" and Edward Gorey-inspired show packed in dozens of buyers and led to a tripling of his orders from last year.

"Now we are outstretching to Asia and Europe," said the 28-year-old designer, a former Fred Segal salesman.

Press exposure also lures designers to New York. Fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Elle are based there, and most fashion editors do not trek across the country for L.A.'s dozen or relatively uninfluential shows.

Berliner's reviews were glowing, even though her show was scheduled at the same time as press favorite Imitation of Christ. The New York Times called it "a honey of a show."

Gold's experience was less felicitous. More people may be familiar with his name now that he's shown in New York. But his reviews were mixed. Entertainment Weekly called his look "least likely to sweep the nation."

A couple of months later, he still seems stung by the coverage. "There was a lot of Halloween mentioned," he said. "All [the press] could say was how the clothes in New York were so boring. Well I gave them a show, and they came after me with pitchforks." Like most costumey runway shows, the actual outfits presented separately to store buyers were much more toned down and wearable.

Berliner and Gold opted to present their collections again in L.A. to help support fashion week here, they said.

Gold's show, which took place in a pungent downtown alley, made a better impression here than it did in New York. The presentation was still theatrical (models with blacked-out eyes walked out through a 180-foot banner hung between the ninth floor windows of two adjacent buildings), but Gold proved he is not merely a showman. His clothes are wearable too.

A long, pink sailor skirt, with a buttoned panel in the front, was delicious, and a puffed-sleeve polo shirt was superbly tailored. A pink ball skirt patterned with Gorey-like sketches of knights on horseback was fantasy-like; a wine-colored wool pencil skirt with lace patch overlays imbued the everyday with a little fantasy.

Gold's accessories were also wonderful: grandmotherly brooches, scarves dotted with multihued craft pompoms, and a ruffled chiffon wrap printed with unicycles.

The L.A. show was intensely satisfying, Gold said afterward. "It's closer to the heart. It's not this huge rotating scene like it is in New York. Everyone comes. It's like family."

With no more than two events each night this week and most of the dozen or so shows held in festive settings such as bars and clubs, the scene was laid-back. "It's a party to us," Berliner said. "Even if we were organized into two days of scheduled events back-to-back, we would still have two days of parties."

As gung-ho as they are about L.A., both designers plan to show in New York again next season. "We need to bring the bar up in L.A.," said Berliner. "I'm doing everything I can to help organize things and make it easier for editors to come here."

* Fashion in Motion * A video report on L.A. fashion week can be found at www.latimes.com/fashionweek.

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