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For Clothing Line, Sex Doesn't Sell--but It Does Finance

February 09, 2001|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION EDITOR

A huge pornography company financing a clothing firm? It doesn't take someone with a libido stuck in overdrive to imagine the line of raunchy clothes they might design.

Well, buddy, censor those thoughts right now and start thinking about sleek, contemporary sportswear. That's what Danny Cook and Q (short for Qamilla Carlsson) make for Private Circle, their men's and women's clothing company based in downtown Los Angeles. As the team responsible for designing the collection, the pair finds itself in the odd position of defending why its clothes aren't particularly suggestive.

Practically everywhere you look in fashion these days, a just-about-naked man or woman is panting in an ad or bumping and grinding down a runway to pantomime the fantasy that these clothes will make you irresistible. But the 30-year-old designers of Private Circle say that just because their company is owned by one of the world's largest adult media companies doesn't mean their clothes have to be X-rated, too.

Private Media Group Inc. is a $20-million conglomerate that was the first adult entertainment company to be listed on the Nasdaq. Though company Chairman and CEO Berth Milton said he might explore wardrobing actors in his movies with Private Circle clothes (for the few seconds they aren't naked), Cook and Q simply concentrate on the kind of trendy tops and denims that could mix into a youthful clubgoer's wardrobe.

In a studio above gritty Santee Street in the city's garment district this week, Cook, who is president of Private Circle, and Q, who is the designer, were feverishly preparing this week for their big moment when they take Private Circle to the big leagues--a full-scale fashion show to be staged Saturday during New York's Fashion Week.

Though their hip-hugging jeans, stretchy, not-quite-miniskirts and cleavage-concealing mohair sweaters may not conjure lust and the temptation to break a commandment or two, the show promises to celebrate their association with the porn industry.

Private Media, the Barcelona-based parent company that makes such movies as "Call Girl," "Sex on the Job" and "Private Odyssey 2001," is expected to send about 10 of its top actresses to the show. "They'll be ushering guests to their seats and distributing the Private energy drink--Private Dynamite," Cook said from Barcelona.

Say what? "That's just another facet of Private Media. It's a lifestyle company," Cook explained. Think of them as the multimedia Martha Stewart of porn. "These are special energy drinks. They are designed for sexual enhancement." Should the liquid nutrition be insufficient stimulus, they'll also serve it as the cocktail, Vodka Private.

The duo has shown their work on other runways, including a smaller, off-site affair in New York last season and during the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, when an Austrian S&M troupe modeled the clothes.

"We actually stayed quiet about Private Media for a long time," said Q. "We wanted the focus to be on the clothes. People are intrigued that we have that kind of backer, but if we brought it up from beginning, it would have been a little harder to get respect. The bigger buyers don't trust us right away. They want to make sure that we stay on this path."

"Q and I agreed that we wanted to legitimize the company because of who our parents are," said Cook. "So, we have to work that much harder." While he and Q said they aren't ashamed or afraid that their pornographic partner could harm their future in the fashion industry, they've walked a fine line between ignoring and exploiting their connections.

At a recent party, a Private Circle fashion show with porn actresses as models became the highlight of the event. "They actually got quite scandalous," Cook said, recalling how the security guards dashed in to stop the action before arrests were required. This time, the company plans to use bona fide fashion models who don't arrive expecting to strip, pose and grind.

For Private Media, owning a respectable clothing company is a way to lend mainstream acceptability to the company and the notion that porn isn't just for deranged men in trench coats, but also for the khaki and polo shirt crowd and their hipper colleagues. Milton met Cook, a former film industry grip and video director, and Q, who also designed in her native Sweden, in 1998. A short while later, Cook and Q sold their fledgling Zabata sportswear collection and started Private Circle.

Milton said that though he had investigated buying other clothing companies, such as the aptly named Porn Star, a nonsexualized collection was more in keeping with his vision of an adult media conglomerate.

"[Porn] is going more mainstream," Milton said. "The more mainstream it becomes, the less drastic it will be. It won't be considered so risky and so bad."

Milton said the idea of a sexy person has evolved into "someone who is comfortable with themself. They don't need to put on high heels and all that. It's not unsexy to put on sexy clothing, but it shouldn't be necessary if you don't want to."

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