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A Rhinestone Cowgirl Riding High at the Fashion Rodeo

Metropolis / So SoCal

July 21, 2002|JANET KINOSIAN

Accessories designer Beth Frank didn't deliberately set out to trample on the conventional wisdom as to how to build a hot fashion business. It was more like a happy instance of what Zen mystics would call 'beginner's mind.' When the frustrated former entertainment assistant quit her job, she says, she knew absolutely nothing about the fashion industry. 'I had never read Vogue, even at the airport,' confesses Frank, 34. 'What I didn't know-like, ah, how to sew, draw, sketch, design-would fill a book.'

But the creative spark was a different story. Frank had a vision: transforming her flea market stash of funky old stainless steel buckles and monochrome vintage belts with a riotous brace of rhinestone color. 'All I needed was the glue,' says the designer, whose retail space FRANK opened in October across the street from the Farmers Market.

Since that glue outlay one year ago, Frank's artsy, one-of-a-kind buckles and hand-tooled painted belts ($275), vintage purses ($325) and watches ($650) have appeared on many of Hollywood's chichi limbs and hips and have sold in stores such as Barneys New York, Fred Segal and Henri Bendel (United States), Harvey Nichols and Fenwicks (London) and Colette (Paris). 'When a rep here in L.A. first called about representing me, she said they needed a belt line at their retail mart. I did not know the meaning of the words 'rep,' 'mart,' or 'line,' ' she laughs. 'I took the meeting. And then I got to work.'

In the artist's workshop (that would be the rear of the FRANK store), scores of naked umber, black and brown leather belts dangle from windows, stairs and rafters primed for paint, while tub-sized boxes stuffed with thousands of un-glitzed buckles clutter the walkways. 'I can't help but feel this was one of the Lana Turner-at-the-drug-counter experiences,' Frank says. 'I've learned literally by jumping in the water and flapping my arms. It's been the most interesting swim I've had in my life.' In the tough fashionita world, certainly a nice pond if you can successfully make the plunge.

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