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L.A. at Large

Girl-in-the-Box Display Is a Think Tank of Sorts

Case gives hotel guests something odd to contemplate and its models time to ruminate.

March 04, 2001|MARIA ELENA FERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

All eyes are on you Girl-in-the-Box. There you are, in your white tank top and boxers, letting us peep. You sing, you write in your journal, you talk on your cell phone. You get cold, you put on white socks. You even sleep.

And we just watch. That's why you're there, after all, behind the front desk of the Standard Hotel, looking soft in that pink lighting, getting paid to arrest us with your looks, your mystique, your performance. For seven hours a night, you live inside that box, that tank, that vitrine--whatever you call that funky glass display case in the lobby of this unusual, trendy Sunset Strip hotel.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 14, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--On March 4, a photo caption accompanying a story about a living-art display in the lobby of L.A.'s Standard Hotel incorrectly identified the deejay. His name is Diallo Riddle.

Your purpose is to be eye-catching, and that you are, Alice Rogers, model on duty on this busy Friday night.

"Hey, how you doing?" waves Raul Wysinger, trying to capture Rogers' attention. The model does not budge. Wysinger waves a little harder.

Still, no reaction from the chamber.

"Aw, forget you!" Wysinger relents, unaware that there is a script for life in the vitrine. Rogers can wear only white. She cannot eat or drink in her glass house, and she is forbidden from making eye contact with anyone.

"I feel like I'm a fly on the wall. You would think you would feel exposed, but I feel like I get to sit there and watch people and I don't have to say anything," says Rogers, an actress and niece of actress Andie MacDowell. "I can be very antsy and anxious so the box is meditative for me. I can be calm and quiet and think about the good things that happened during the week. As an actress, you can get rejected so much and feel disappointed and insecure. I spend a lot of time in the box giving myself a pep talk."

The vitrine in the lobby of this budget-chic hotel with the upside-down sign is part of hotelier Andre Balazs' scheme to make his hip business clientele smile while they are sleeping or partying. This is the same hotel that has a barber shop/tattoo parlor that sells Junior Mints and sex toys, a happening '50s modernist diner and funky rooms in which you can lounge in a silver beanbag chair or grab Gummi Bears, Animal Crackers, condoms or Vaseline from the mini-bars.

"There's nothing standard at all about this hotel," says Balazs, who purchased the building in 1998 when it was a rundown retirement home. "The idea behind the vitrine was to create an ever-changing diorama. It has an interesting effect on people. People find it somewhat liberating. It makes people more comfortable with themselves. . . . The number of guests and visitors who request to take a turn in the box is really quite remarkable." Balazs, who owns the Mercer Hotel in New York, also transformed the Chateau Marmont into a Strip legend.

During the day, the vitrine showcases other forms of art: anything from seven silver disco balls to three stuffed crows or a mannequin coated in stainless steel hanging from a leather harness from the ceiling.

It's Sebastien Meler's job to hire the human art forms that inhabit the glass case from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night. He's never placed an ad to fill a shift, and he doesn't look for wild performance artists or even professional models.

"Just someone who's interesting in the box," Meler says. "It has to be someone who can just hang out like they're at home in their underwear doing their own thing. They need to be in their own world when they are in the box. If they can do it and look interesting and cool doing it, they're hired."

Rogers, 22, has been a vitrine model for a month and is still working to get over her shyness. She won't wear a bikini or anything revealing. She wears underwear beneath her boxers, and she's constantly tugging at her tank top so that it doesn't roll down on her chest as she changes positions. She sticks to routine pursuits in the box, as opposed to the model who wears white fangs and stares icily into the lobby's cocoon-like pit or another who wears alligator foot slippers.

"I don't come on other nights to look at the other models because I like to think of it as my box," Rogers says. "I'd rather just think it's for me."

For models Keri Ann Luevano and Marc Fearney, the chamber offers a rare opportunity for serenity. With its shower, mini TV, telephone and computer lines, the 10-by-3-foot air-conditioned vitrine, with 5 feet of head room, is a comforting substitute for one's bedroom, they say.

Luevano, a makeup artist, reads, draws, paints her toenails and pays her bills while on duty on Wednesday nights. Her favorite costume is a white fur bikini and matching Eskimo hat.

"You learn to tune everybody out," says Fearney, a dancer who likes to wear boxers and an undershirt with funky hats or caps and jewelry. "It can get weird if you let yourself think about it. But I don't. Sometimes I even do yoga stretches in there. I do anything I want. It's kind of peaceful."

Outside the vitrine, however, it's a different story. A disc jockey spins tunes from a booth built into the front desk as L.A.'s cool crowd lounges in the pit, drinks at the bar or waits for a table at the restaurant.

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