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STYLE & CULTURE | FASHION NOTES

This week, runways lead to the Bay Area

August 27, 2004|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

New York, London, Milan, Paris, Los Angeles, Bombay, Moscow, Sao Paulo ... San Francisco? Just when it seemed we had reached the end of the runway, San Francisco -- the black-clothing capital of the West Coast -- is hosting its first-ever fashion week, with events that run through Sunday.

Founder Erika Gessin organized monthly shows under the name "Catwalk" for two years before deciding the time was right for a fashion week. "It was a testing ground to gauge the public's interest," she says. "And we reached capacity every month, with 500 to 1,000 people. Regardless if San Franciscans dress fashionably, we have an interest in it. We also have lots of talented designers."

Although the Bay Area is home to the Gap, Banana Republic, Esprit, Jessica McClintock and Levi's, the week won't showcase those labels. Instead, the roster lists 15 designers from San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Most are unknowns, and a few could more accurately be described as dressmakers.

Among those showing spring collections at the Palace of Fine Arts are designer Colleen Quen, who makes architectural wedding and evening gowns; Joseph Domingo, who specializes in custom clothing; and Rock & Republic, a New York-based denim line that presented a show in L.A. in April. Shandi Sullivan and April Wilkner of UPN's "America's Top Model" will lend some wattage to the runways.

In a break with most cities, San Francisco Fashion Week is open to the public and will offer a boutique featuring the work of local apparel, jewelry and accessory designers.

"I grew up in New York, going to New York fashion weeks," Gessin says. "They were very exclusive, and it was hard to get a ticket. But fashion shows are something the public wants to be able to see and to attend. And from the designers' point of view, they can hit consumers right away and see which looks resonate with them. It's also great for retailers to see which clothes appeal."

About 100 buyers from Macy's, Nordstrom and local boutiques have registered, Gessin says. More than half of the 700 show tickets have been sold, and coverage by Lucky, Elle and People magazines is expected. The event will be held once next year before transitioning to a biannual schedule in 2006.

Gessin acknowledges that the industry may not welcome yet another fashion week into the already-crowded global market schedule. (Even L.A.'s fledgling event has had difficulty attracting the international fashion flock.) "Our main goal is to build the fashion industry in San Francisco to a level that designers can live in the place that they love and not be forced to move to L.A. or New York," she says. "If the event is also regarded on a global level, that would be great." Information: www.fashionweek-sf.com.

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A sample-sale hot button

Between EBay and Target, few people these days are content to shop without feeling that they've found a bargain. So it's no surprise that sample sales -- not just for fashion insiders anymore -- are becoming increasingly popular. Six years ago, the website TopButton.com launched in New York City, listing designer sample sales for the public. And now, with the Los Angeles fashion scene growing by the day, the company has come West.

In addition to department store sales and boutique promotions, the listings include regularly scheduled events featuring multiple high-end designers, such as Billion Dollar Babes and Find Bazaar, as well as sample sales organized by up-and-coming designers. Merchandise is sold for as little as 10% to as much as 90% off the retail price.

"We have to have avenues for independent designers to get exposure," says Nina Sutton, the West Coast manager of TopButton.com. "This is a way for them to provide their clothes to the customer and cut out the middleman."

The site, which is free, has 300,000 subscribers in New York and 17,000 in L.A., Sutton says. Placement costs for designers begin at $400.

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Style comes to the Fore

Riding the popularity of golf among the young, stylish set, Burberry, Escada and even Christian Dior have all recently launched women's golf lines. Now Los Angeles-based golf company Rosasen is catching on, rolling out its first women's collection in November with slim-fitting, western-styled polo shirts, miniskirts with inverted pleats in contrasting colors and brightly hued argyle capri pants.

The company's owners, Chris Rosaasen (who dropped the extra "a" to create the company name) and David Kasischke, are childhood friends who grew up golfing around Palm Desert. In their senior year in college in 1999, they collaborated on a final project, creating an edgy golf label that has grown into a real business, with Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith and David Arquette among its fans.

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