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Fashion Forecast: It's Hot, Getting Hotter

L.A. designer takes it to 'next level,' spicing up her African-inspired line with bold splashes of denim

September 04, 2002|GAYLE POLLARD-TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An oppressive heat hung over the garden of the official residence of France, but a cheery French Consul General Jean-Luc Sibiude graciously greeted guests who cooled down with chilled Pommery Champagne, icy Perrier water or iced tea as they waited for the debut of the first ready-to-wear line of Los Angeles designer Ahneva Ahneva .

Best known for her one-of-a-kind, hand-sewn creations that mix African fabrics with silk, wool and other hand-crafted materials, she worked in denim for the first time, mixing it with African textiles, metallic fabrics and faux fur. After 20 years of doing clothes distinguished as wearable art, "I am ready for the next level," said the designer, who works out of a showroom in Leimert Park.

Sibiude, whom she met during the Pan African Film Festival in February, opened his Beverly Hills home to her fashion show Sunday, where models proved they could control their sweat glands as well as facial expressions. Models sauntered around white tables canopied with umbrellas that provided guests with a smidgen of shady respite from the ultra-humid, 103-degree temperature.

One model, who had to be the hottest person there, looked appropriately sang-froid in an ankle-length denim coat trimmed with a huge faux-fur collar over a long denim dress with vertical appliques of diamond-shaped mud cloth. Ahneva's preference for gold zebra stripes dominated the show.

Models strolled about in yoked denim jackets topping long skirts with side slits cut to above the thigh. Ahneva paired an elegant denim jacket with a long, full matching skirt decorated with pyramid inserts of patterned denim. She pronounced it "fit for a South African Zulu queen." When the single male model, a chiseled ebony Adonis known only as "Charcoal" snatched open the jacket of his denim outfit revealing washboard abs, Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-L.A.) murmured, "He looks like a Masai warrior, doesn't he?"

Along with her new QAA denim line, Ahneva previewed her "cultural" couture collection of silk chiffons and velvets. "We have all these models who are sizes 4, 6, and 8; I'm a mature woman," she said, introducing a full-figured model in a formal black burnt velvet tuxedo dress with a silk satin lapel and scallop train. Prices for the denim line range from $85 to $450, couture $125 to $5,000.

Her couture designs were evident throughout the crowd. The consul general wore her black linen, double-breasted shirt with a neutral pinstripe over a pair of black baggy pants. "Fashion is part of the French culture. France shares a long tradition with Africa," Sibiude explained, referring to the legacy of French colonization. "This is a kind of a cultural exchange between France, America and Africa."

Apres fashion, he, Ahneva and her guests nibbled French breads, turkey, ratatouille froide (cold), a salad of green and yellow beans spiced with fresh herbs including tarragon, a penne pasta salad with dried apricots, olives and other ingredients, prepared by the consul general's personal Parisian chef Gerald Brassoud, and followed by his desserts served on Limoges china, delicate cream puffs, perfect apple tarts, miniature chocolate raspberry tartlets, cake avec fruits, that looked and tasted nothing like American fruit cake, and a beautiful salade de fruits rouge; translation: a luscious minted strawberry and raspberry fruit salad.

As the French say, "Il faisait trop chaud."

It was too hot.

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