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UP FRONT: FASHION | THE FALL 2006 COLLECTIONS

Come on, L.A., let's get sassy

Erin Fetherston and Kara Saun help boost our fashion week.

March 23, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

THE good news? Fuchsia fringed pasties are apparently "in" for fall, as seen on the runway at Agent Provacateur's lusty, busty lingerie show.

The bad news? After a promising start, L.A. Fashion Week went a bit wacky on Monday and Tuesday, with a handful of shows that were more about spectacle than substance -- models dancing on pointe in satin princess dresses at Lourdes, a priest poseur walking the Alan Del Rosario runway blessing guests, a rocking guitar solo for Antik that seemed to roll on forever ... you get the picture.

There were exceptions -- beginning with Kara Saun, who proved that there is no substitute for a thoughtful concept. The "Project Runway" runner-up chose a few design elements -- obi belts, butterfly sleeves and keyhole cutouts edged in pleats -- and, like a pro, carried them all the way through her focused evening wear collection. There were a number of cocktail dresses that were sexy yet refreshingly covered-up, one in a peacock blue hammered silk with cap sleeves and a pleated keyhole cutout, another in navy with a mock turtleneck, a pleated yoke and three-quarter-length sleeves.

Saun's fabrics and fit were spot-on. Red lace can be a fickle mistress, but she handled it beautifully, working it into an elegant gown, lined in nude silk, with a wide waistband and a tiered chiffon skirt. But the real showstopper was in red satin with a fitted bodice and pleated layers falling to the floor like rose petals. Sure, Saun could have had a few more ideas, some of her dresses were overdone, and the explanation for the collection was over-the-top. ("My scissor will be my sword"?) Still, it was an auspicious start.

With so many gowns on the runways, Erik Hart's Morphine Generation collection was a breath of fresh air. Funky capes, one in Scottish plaid with antique brass buttons, had serious street cred, as did reed-thin, dark denim jeans worn with foil print "Luvsik" T-shirts. A marled ivory cashmere cardigan sweater, a skull screen-printed hoodie sweatshirt, and a navy peacoat with raw seams fell in line with fall's return to punk. And there were more refined pieces too, including a black cotton shirtdress with a schoolgirl pleated skirt. Still, one wished Hart had a few more ideas to share.

Sue Wong is never short on ideas, even if they feel like the same ones from seasons past. But she was smart to revisit her international theme, now that she's working on the first global marketing strategy to expand her $60-million brand, which is already sold in 24 foreign markets.

She hit Asia first, opening with a splendid performance by Chinese ribbon dancers, followed by Mandarin tops, embroidered with chrysanthemums, layered over skinny pants and a stunning jade silk georgette cheongsam with embroidered peonies, worn with a parasol for a hat. Wong loves her headgear.

A visit to Cairo could have been seriously costumey, but she pulled it off, with a couple of fun slip dresses, one in a creme brulee color trimmed in tiny beads and coins, and another in cocoa with subtle suede feathered fringe. Wong proved she is more than a dressmaker with a gorgeous coat, covered in soutache embroidery the color of vanilla frosting. Of course the finale was beyond this world, as it always is, with an operatic buildup and a winged model. Still, you can't argue with the superb workmanship Wong offers on dresses that cost an average of $300 to $700.

Octavio Carlin's collection had a wonderfully sassy, slightly 1960s point of view, from the black and white lace coat to the flirty navy blue and yellow leopard-print silk V-back dress, worn with a wide gold headband and short, ladylike gloves. Pleating seems to be Carlin's forte, and he made fine use of it on a tall drink of a gown in midnight blue silk charmeuse, fastened with a skinny, rhinestone belt.

Still more evening wear was on display at Elsie Katz, where Donna Baxter worked the Old Hollywood theme. The Seattle-based designer ran into trouble with thick alpaca and velvet. But when she kept things light, she had more than one winning moment, including a lovely icy lavender organza gown with slat pleats and a released back, and an ivory silk chiffon flapper dress with loops of crystal beads. As an alternative to the same-old, same-old red carpet gown, a cap sleeve mink blouse looked smart, worn with a pink brocade mermaid skirt.

Over at the Chateau Marmont on Tuesday night, Berkeley-born designer Erin Fetherston was working the New Hollywood theme. Talk about being in the right place at the right time, the 25-year-old graduate of Parsons School of Design in Paris was welcomed into the starlet swirl after meeting Kirsten Dunst and photographer-director Ellen von Unwerth at a party last year. Apparently, they became so enamored of the designer's girlish style, they agreed to collaborate on a film for her fall collection.

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