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Singular fashion

Boutiques bag L.A.'s lone wolves in clothing, for distinctive styles.

June 07, 2005|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Thinking about apparel manufacturing in Los Angeles, what first comes to mind are mass-market denim and sportswear labels. But beyond the large-scale production houses in Vernon and South Gate is a small fashion community committed to making high-end clothes the hard way, on their dining room tables or out of their garages, if necessary.

Calleen Cordero, Anamyn Turowski and Barbara Tfank are representative of the kind of cottage design industry that thrives here, making this market a place where retailers look to uncover new talent that can help distinguish their stores in what is becoming a homogeneous shopping environment. As designers, they are dedicated to producing in a specific way, even though it's not always the cheapest or the fastest, taking advantage of the ever-dwindling number of specialized pleaters, sewers and cobblers in this city.

Cordero is a Fred Segal manager-turned-shoe designer whose hand-studded slides and clogs are like works of art; Turowski is a former actor who scours rag houses for discarded finds to cut and sew into new garments; and Tfank is a one-time costume designer who chose the talent pool in L.A. over New York to produce her couture-quality clothes in vintage fabrics. Here is a glimpse into how they do business.

Anamyn Turowski

Anamyn Turowski has been turning other people's trash into stylish wares for more than 12 years. She spends at least one day a week at L.A.'s rag houses sorting through musty clothing. She's looking for polyester Aloha shirts to convert into patchwork print dresses, rock 'n' roll tees to customize with lace overlays, embroidered Mexican peasant dresses and Indian saris to reconstruct into shirts, and cashmere sweaters to convert into jackets, all of which sell from $85 to $350 at Barneys New York and other stores around the world and at her new YNOP3 boutique on Cahuenga Boulevard in Cahuenga Pass.

In a workroom behind the store, she has 14 people who cut and sew each piece. Claudette was her first line, co-designed with Janine Milne. It's more feminine than the ethnic-inspired Ynnub, a line she debuted in 1999 with Paula Scolaro. The two also make children's clothes under the label Claude and more specialized pieces such as a blouse made from Hermes scarves under a label named after the new YNOP3 store.

A regular hunting ground is State Waste, one of L.A.'s half-dozen or so rag houses. It comprises several vast warehouses filled with 100-pound bales of T-shirts, polo shirts and more, stacked to the ceiling and earmarked for shipment to countries such as Mexico, India and Bolivia. Workers wearing masks to protect from the dust sift through piles two and three times as tall as they are, looking for rock 'n' roll tees and other pieces that might be of interest for the presorted room, where clothing is sold by the piece instead of the pound. Several religious T-shirts hang on the wall behind them like icons, with the Virgin Mary or Pope John Paul II pictured on the fronts.

With so much waste, much of it purchased in bulk from the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other charities that accept clothing donations, it's difficult to imagine the need for even one more well-designed shirt. Which is why Turowksi has taken up the cause of eco-friendly chic.

"I come from an environmentally active family," says the designer, dressed on a recent morning in jeans and a salvaged T-shirt that reads, "It's better in the Bahamas." "So the more people are reusing, the better."

She has help hunting and gathering from co-designer Scolaro, who wears a jacket made from cut-up Harley-Davidson T-shirts. In the presorted room, they cull racks of vintage leather jackets and princess coats, trash bins full of fleece pullovers, thermals and silk scarves. And rather than being embarrassed, Turowski speaks proudly of the time one of her own pieces turned up in a large blue bin. "I felt like I had come full circle." She even found her cat at a rag house, a stray she named Gracie.

Scolaro looks for early to mid-1970s sports tees but also turns up Grateful Dead tie-dyes, Ben & Jerry shirts, Esprit logo tees and a rainbow-striped vest that was once part of a Hilton Hotel uniform.

In the nearby warehouse, Turowski inspects a bale of T-shirts, scanning slogans for a Lutheran camp, the Denver Broncos and Bugle Boy. Machines compress and pack the shirts into dense bales, which are wrapped in discarded bed sheets to keep them together. The designer has been trying to figure out another use for bedding -- in her designs. "But people can't seem to get past the fact that it's other people's sheets."

Her haul for the day is 216 pounds of clothing for $1,418, including a California State Parks jacket she'll wear as-is and an ivory wedding gown (she'll use the lace). "That should last me a couple days," she says.

Calleen Cordero

Few would have guessed that Calleen Cordero's vaguely 1970s shoes, which have graced the runways at L.A.'s hottest shows, are produced in a factory in North Hollywood.

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