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L.A. Fashion Week

Amid the Chaos, Fresh Ideas

What L.A. lacks in organization it makes up for in creativity.

April 12, 2002|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elaborate runway shows may be the engine for promoting and selling fashion in New York and Europe, but in L.A., they've played a more sporadic role. Even so, there are designers who still crave the legitimacy they believe runway shows can bring. So more than 30 designers will show their fall collections in L.A.'s scaled-down version of fashion week, which began Wednesday.

Not everyone thinks the shows are necessary. The clothes that will be seen on runways, after all, represent only a fraction of the $30 billion California garment industry. And with such magazines as Lucky and In Style eager to feature the newest labels, especially if there's a celebrity tie-in, California clothing is already getting more exposure than ever.

Companies such as Juicy Couture, Frankie B, Seven jeans, Mon Petit Oiseau and Trina Turk create modern interpretations of California staples such as the baby tee, the low-riding jean and the resort-style palazzo pant. They sell plenty of clothes, and they do it without runway shows.

"You can have a successful business without having to participate in a fashion week," said Turk, who has never had a runway show. "There's a lot of that kind of business done in California."

L.A.'s fashion shows are not nearly as extravagant as those in other cities, nor as organized. This season, guests will travel from a Culver City warehouse to the Star Shoes bar on Hollywood Boulevard for fashion shows-cum-mixers.

The calendar is in such disarray that several events overlap. And the public relations firm SPR, which created a six-designer group show last season that was considered the most cohesive event in recent memory, was unable to secure funding to bring it back.

In short, things are a mess.

And yet there's more interest in L.A. than ever because California still represents what it always has in the fashion world: new ideas.

"Everything is brand new in L.A.," said Toby Tucker, a fashion editor at In Style magazine, who plans to attend the shows here this week. "If you are big enough to come to New York, I've probably already heard of you. But if you are small and celebs are going crazy over you, I want to know about it."

Another part of the attraction is California's distance and difference from Seventh Avenue.

"Designers in L.A. seem to have a more casual attitude. They are more free to explore their own ideas, rather than feeling like they have to follow a trend. You can really tell the difference," said Gina Maher, fashion news editor for Lucky magazine, who also plans to attend the shows.

Saks Fifth Avenue buyer Abbey Samet is also coming out from New York. "We typically go out to L.A. four or five times a year and focus on the showrooms at the CaliforniaMart," she said. "But this season, we are doing the shows because the importance of the talent is increasing, and it's a way to differentiate our merchandise."

Veteran L.A. retailer Shauna Stein typically buys for her shop, On Beverly Boulevard, in New York and in Europe. This season, though, she plans to check out her hometown offerings for the first time. "I saw a few too many trends in Europe,'' she said. "In L.A., I'm going out in search of the edge."

L.A. fashion week is even pulling in a few designer-participants from out of town. "It's good timing for my company, and there are celebrities out here," explained Anthony Castro, a New York designer who will show his collection of sexy 1960s inspired separates Saturday.

Despite the organizational chaos, L.A. fashion week keeps on chugging. And IMG, the sports and entertainment marketing giant that produces New York's fashion week and several others around the world, is looking seriously at getting involved in L.A. fashion. IMG Marketing Director David Caruso is coming to town for a second consecutive season.

Some have suggested that fashion week could be pegged to the Academy Awards, which already draws designers and fashion press from all over the world for up to a week before the ceremony.

A little star power couldn't hurt. Unfortunately, the past few seasons of L.A. fashion week have been celebrity-light. As syndicated fashion columnist Marylou Luther said, "If Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Britney Spears or someone of their ilk could be enticed to participate in some way, the week would be made."

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