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The Clothes

Under Construction

November 09, 2001|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN and BOOTH MOORE and MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES FASHION WRITERS

Whether they are making dresses out of football jerseys or slashing hems, the free-spirited designers who showed during L.A. Fashion Week gave local fashion a strong image of experimentation for spring.

Some carved-out collections seemingly armed with little more than ambition and scissors. Others, such as Michelle Mason and Eduardo Lucero, brought rigorous training and an understanding of the finer points of dressmaking and marketing. Many, like Petro Zillia or Josh and He Yang, offered highly personal expressions that function more like wearable artwork that cannot be easily copied for mainstream fashion.

Then there were the unwearable works in virtually every collection. For several seasons, many designers have been exploring alternative methods of construction in an attempt to define a new mode in fashion. Their unsewn seams, experimental construction and use of vintage or recycled clothes defiantly and sometimes awkwardly populated runways this week. Perhaps because local designers often get their start by dressing stars for photo shoots, many seem to have an allergy to proper construction or a dependence on stagy, fantasy clothes. Too often, however, these experimental, dramatic clothes have been seen elsewhere--and in better form.

If L.A.'s designers were unified on one point, it was that tricked-out jeans and T-shirts are still the uniform of the young, hip and fashionable.

Show reviews follow:

GenArt

Nearly 2,000 of L.A.'s hippest and coolest filed into the ornate but underused Los Angeles Theater downtown to see eight-item collections from a dozen local clothing and accessories designers. They were selected by GenArt, a nonprofit group that holds shows yearly in New York and L.A. for emerging talent. Though every capsule collection had its hits and misses, Jerusalem-born Rami Kashou, 25, exhibited the elements that often add up to success: well-made clothes that are original and in step with current trends. His voluminous maxi-dresses and almost-Victorian ruffled dresses reflected a European sensibility that's rare in many West Coast collections.

A keen appreciation of L.A.'s casual lifestyle infused Development's sportswear separates. Twenty-eight-year-old designer Phillip Lim's low-key but trend-savvy pintucked pants or military jackets were the kind of simple-but-distinctive garments that allow for personalization. Similarly, the menswear by Bobby Benveniste, 32, and Kiernan Lambeth, 25, of Eisbar (polar bear in German) was cool without trying too hard. Faded, distressed and creased denim pants form the basis of their casual sportswear.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Josh Grenell and his wife, He Yang, both 31, create the complex fiber mosaic fabrics that make up their Josh and He Yang fitted jackets and patchwork pants. The almost random feel of the fabrics gave their tailored jackets a feeling of being simultaneously finished and unfinished--an intriguing effect. But the flimsy white fabrics in the avant-garde looks of MartinMartin, by the husband-and-wife team of fashion pros Eric Martin and Diane Moss-Martin, drained their wrapped, ripped and unfinished silhouettes of strength. The clothes strongly recalled a dressmaker's under-construction muslin pattern, rather than a fully realized artistic work of fashion.

Shawn designer Yohanna Logan, 26, started her career by refashioning T-shirts. Now she's moved on to vintage men's shirts, which were cleverly transformed into halter tops or cut up almost in the way a cubist refigures a face. The collection avoided looking too homemade when Logan mixed in a few pieces of slashed leather tops and tailored denims.

L.A.'s vintage culture also has kept the life in retro dressing, though even remakes can look costumy. Corey Lynn Calter's peppy prints, pinks and lacy trims on girlish dresses were innovative and often prom-dress fun. Yet the 33-year-old former costumer at times seemed to be dressing characters from Heidi to Gretel, not present-day women.

Such weaknesses in beginning designers are common. It takes time and experience to reconcile their personal vision with one that can be interpreted by a wider audience.

V.H.C.

Coalition of Los Angeles Designers

"I think that every season is a training ground for us," said Nikolaki co-designer Nick Verreos, 34. "We're all learning, but I want to make money, too." Verreos and his partner, David Paul, 34, were among 10 up-and-coming designers who participated in the high-spirited, if chaotic, Coalition of Los Angeles Designers show at the cramped Racer Photography Studios on North La Brea Avenue. Blown fuses, a two-level room frightfully packed with about 400 guests added to the confusion and poor sight lines.

With one exception--Shana Rocheleau's appealing Standard + Riche collection of cutting-edge leather and pinstriped career wear, the young CLAD designers didn't step beyond the look of funky jeans and sexy tops common to their demographic.

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