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They're ready for takeoff

As L.A. gears up for Fashion Week, you'll find energy in more places than just the runway. Meet three small design teams with outsized ambitions -- and their own takes on the city.

March 16, 2006|Stories by Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

IT takes a lot for a young designer to launch a label in Los Angeles, thousands of miles from fashion's established capitals.

In fact, it seems to take two young designers, judging by the number of successful new lines that are coming out of L.A.-based partnerships.

These are collaborations such as Jovovich-Hawk, the creation of model-actress Milla Jovovich and her fellow former model Carmen Hawk. Their vintage-inspired looks catapulted to the New York runways in less than a year.

Or Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Taylor, who unleashed velour tracksuits onto the world via their multimillion-selling Juicy Couture collection.

And one of the most anticipated shows of L.A. Fashion Week, which begins Sunday, is the collaboration by Oscar-nominated stylist and designer Arianne Phillips ("Walk the Line") and former Cerruti designer David Cardona on the new upscale collection for Bebe.

When you think about it, creative collaboration has helped Los Angeles itself gain credibility in the fashion world. We may be one of fashion's most-watched trend-setting cities -- but our design talent needed a partner to showcase the city's diverse offerings. It found one three years ago, when New York marketing giant IMG was brought onboard to organize the Fashion Week shows at the downtown Standard Hotel.

Now, seven seasons later, IMG has rounded up more designers -- 35 in all -- built a partnership with onetime competitor Smashbox Studios and launched Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios.

When the shows begin in Culver City, buyers from boutiques, celebrity stylists, West Coast media and trend watchers will gather alongside the runways in search of clothes that capture the unique vibe of L.A.

The looks could wind up on red carpets, on magazine covers, in music videos or in boutiques that translate style throughout popular culture.

That's one path to design stardom.

The other is less charted but more traveled: toil quietly in an industrial loft, sketch at the kitchen table, cobble together a few good pieces and rely on that essential element -- good buzz -- to move forward.

And in L.A., buzz can move you far and fast.

Small two-person operations like Mike&Chris are dressing luminaries such as Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie. In less than two years, Jak&Rae's funky separates are likely to be in 1,500 stores and already have been lauded in Lucky magazine. When Mischa Barton was pictured in a tabloid wearing a blue lace sundress from emilynoelle, boutiques reordered the style by the dozens, just to meet customer demand.

Those three young L.A. partnerships are among the city's most promising new lines -- starting small, but thinking big and already making a strong impression on the city's tastemakers. We visited their studios for a ground-floor view of the way to the top.

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