At last, Los Angeles' fashion week is coming of age. For too long, L.A. style has been characterized either by one-of-a-kind, reworked vintage pieces, the now-ubiquitous Juicy Couture sweat suit or low-slung jeans. But this season, designers are finally realizing that to have a vital fashion week, they have to go beyond the experimental and the obvious to create clothes that make a runway show worthwhile.
A little showmanship doesn't hurt either.
Designer Bao Tranchi's fiance and business partner, Jack Atlantis, who performed in L.A.'s glam rock Club Makeup at the El Rey Theatre a few years back, set the tone for her high-spirited show at Smashbox Studios by singing David Bowie's "Scary Monsters."
What followed was a sultry procession of models carrying birdcages, lanterns and parasols, evoking the Vietnamese designer's birthplace. They wore kimono-like suede coats and corseted leather jackets with jagged hems inspired, Tranchi said, by everything from 15th century armor to her Asian heritage.
Her most interesting pieces, however, were dramatic, hand-distressed silk jersey gowns in midnight blue or burgundy, stretched over the body, with cobweb-like crochet detailing around the shoulders. "We don't need to dress in jeans, T-shirts and sweats," said Tranchi, 24, one of the most promising talents to come out of the first few days of runway shows here. "We can do clothes that are avant-garde but also wearable."
Corey Lynn Calter, a graduate of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology who has created costumes for the Los Angeles and San Francisco operas, captured the freewheeling fun of her childhood summers at the Jersey shore in the 1970s without too many retro references. A jaunty umbrella print, splashed on a cotton halter-top minidress, could chase even the darkest storm clouds away. And a long skirt in a lively jungle print brought to mind the poolside condo chic of "Three's Company's" Mrs. Roper -- in a good way.
Miami's 18-year-old sensation Esteban Cortazar opened the shows at the Downtown Standard hotel, reprising his New York collection. Each gown was more striking than the last, including a kind of tie-dyed satin with Swarovski crystals wound round the waist to create a toga-like effect.
Petro Zillia's Nony Tochterman has the design process down to a science: She creates her prints on a computer. Her best was emblazoned with bold white flowers and repeating rainbows, which turned up on breezy silk chiffon shells, halter dresses and full skirts. Eternally inspired by Rose Bowl flea market finds, she also crafted an interesting pink patchwork coat out of the kind of embroidered flowers one might find on an old tablecloth there. But a tube top sprouting multicolored silk scarves looked like a magic trick gone awry.
A rare and vintage fabric enthusiast, Magda Berliner was at the forefront of L.A.'s one-of-a-kind clothing movement, although she's also moved into ready-to-wear recently. Her most wearable collection to date included a wrap top in a purple ink-stain print with chain-mail borders, paired with gray stripe gauchos, and a gray fleece sack coat with a silver leather collar worn over a fan-pleated, multicolor "circus" print dress. But some of the looks -- namely a tea-colored floral dress with a bodice made from wrapped fuchsia elastic ribbons and a messy, unfinished hem -- seemed out of step with the more polished mood in fashion right now.
Elsewhere, designers took soft dressing in new and different directions. Pegah Anvarian, a stylist who has worked with the B-52s, draped models in yards of delicious cashmere silk jersey, creating ponchos, sexy halter dresses and wrap skirts in mouthwatering shades of mint green and Creamsicle orange. The garments that Anvarian chose to rip holes in didn't work, including a bright yellow finale gown with a deep V front and a long train that resembled a piece of Swiss cheese.
Some might say that Yohanna Logan of Shawn was a season too late with her ode to Peggy Moffitt. But instead of interpreting mod literally, she gave minidresses an athletic twist, fashioning them out of gray sweatshirt fabric with bold black, red and white polka dots. Satin sweats in a tiny polka dot pattern were cute and street-ready, as was a motocross jacket in a satin heart print. Less successful were long halter dresses with graphic, Adidas-like stripes running around the neck and down the sides. For some reason, the dresses were stuffed to make the models appear seriously pregnant.
Cynthia Vincent's Twelfth Street collection was wearable, if not memorable. Low-slung cotton pants in army green or gray were paired with striped racer-back tanks or flirty chiffon blouses with clusters of silver sequins, and a melon-colored satin dress knotted at the shoulder was toughened up with frayed armholes.