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Imagination at full speed

Fledgling designer Juan Carlos Obando sends a message: He has a future.

October 20, 2005|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

THE runway in the Lightbox theater may be small but the dreams are big. Fashion designer Juan Carlos Obando, a native of Baranquilla, Colombia, who came to L.A. via Miami, spent the early part of his career as an art director, working with Saatchi & Saatchi and Young & Rubicam to develop campaigns such as Toyota's "Let Imagination Run Your Life."

Well, he did. Last year, at 27, he gave it all up to launch a clothing line at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios. So far, his collection has been picked up by just one store, Des Kohan off Wilshire Boulevard. (His sexy goatskin sandals have been more of a retail hit.) But when he presented his third show here Monday, it became clear that Obando has a future in this business. Because, like Tom Ford, John Galliano and so many others, this designer with an infectious laugh, affectionately known as J.C., understands that image is everything.

For the last two seasons, his curve-hugging bustier dresses and coats seemed to borrow a little too much from other designers.

But for spring, the ideas are all his, inspired by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude," which tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo.

The show began as so many have this season with a series of simple white shift dresses, one in a stiff cotton worn with a pompom necklace and ballerina flats, another in linen with petals of fabric around the hem, both executed with a confident hand. Obando's signature trousers came low-slung with a back belt, paired with a softly romantic blouse accented with crochet panels.

For his next act, Obando introduced a flurry of color that brought to mind a beachside fiesta -- ruffled skirts in crimson and purple with the bottom layer suspended from ribbon ties, paired with easygoing sleeveless tops. A gold silk taffeta A-line mini-dress with fish hand painted around the hem was immensely chic.

Because this is a designer who appreciates a dramatic flourish, there was a jaw-dropping interlude of models in head-to-toe black body paint, along with flickering lights and thunderous music, no doubt a reference to the change in Marquez's Macondo after innocence was lost. The exercise tried the patience of some, but you had to respect Obando for having a vision.

What followed was all black -- sophisticated world-ready pieces such as a silk taffeta jacket with a ruffled collar, and a cocktail dress with a Milagros-inspired print. It was too bad that the model's red underwear was visible through the final black lace gown. But Obando will learn. When he took his bow, beaming in a white suit, he had reason to be proud.

Last summer's boho trend won't die if Chan Luu has her way. The jewelry maven built a business on mother-of-pearl pendants that bought her a Robertson Boulevard boutique. And on Tuesday, she launched a compelling clothing line characterized by pretty layers and gauzy fabrics. Luu understands that women today want clothes with the fetishist quality of accessories, so each camisole, crinoline and wrap blouse was lovingly embellished with a ruffle, a bit of embroidery, lace or mosaic cutwork.

Luu designed in a neutral palette of white, cream, lavender and smoke, but the fine details kept things from becoming monotonous. And that sleeveless white flower lace shell, layered over a cotton tank top and an embroidered, multi-panel skirt, made the perfect backdrop for Luu's new mother-of-pearl chain-link ribbon necklaces.

Elsewhere on the runways, a former reality TV star, "Project Runway" finalist Kevin Johnn, mounted a horsey themed collection of jodhpurs and riding jackets, a few of which were nicely shaped and pleated in back. Never mind the white parachute skirt that looked as if it was filled with trash. Coco Kliks' voluminous tribal print skirts, crinkly linen Bermuda shorts, chunky stone embellished blouses and rounded jackets should play well with the Marni customer.

And Pegah Anvarian continued to push the envelope of jersey dressing, this season offering an Empire style with a cool raffia bodice in khaki and sage, and a kimono dress with a woven metallic top. Her tailored pieces were nice too, including jackets pinched at the waist, and a jodhpur pants that buttoned just below the knee, all in shades of a Jamaican sunset. But the metallic brocades seemed like a strange detour.

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