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Diving into the exotic jeans pool

March 24, 2006|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

In honor of all the faded, washed, studded, ripped and re-sewn jeans that have been unleashed by Los Angeles denim companies, L.A. Fashion Week presented its first-ever denim day on Tuesday.

The first look down the runway? Antik Denim's riff on the season's new must-have: femur-thin, low-rise jeans. He's shirtless and skinny; she's in a sheer lace bra, attached to him by a leash, collar and harness.

We're supposed to be shocked, of course. But by now, even S&M references aren't enough to jolt us to attention. This time, instead of a new label or an exotic wash, it was a bit of runway staging that was designed to disguise the fact that L.A. is holding fast as a center for distressed, premium-priced jeans -- even if they don't look so very different from what's come before.

The cleaned-up, minimally embellished, dark-dyed jeans that ruled the runways in Europe just a few weeks ago weren't embraced by the four jeans wear companies that showed this week at Smashbox Studios, or by Rock & Republic, which introduced its new line at a black-tie party at Sony Studios and hired the Pretenders to lend some actual rock credentials.

Antik's lean jeans do, however, represent a new, ultra-thin silhouette that's sweeping fashion and giving denim designers hope that they haven't, after all, exhausted the creative uses for distressing, patching and dyeing. The company is also experimenting with new washes that leave a slight shimmer. Most others are rounding out their collections with nondenim sportswear, such as velvet jackets and corduroy vests. And still others are expanding into new divisions, such as children's.

So that explains why Antik designers Alexandre Caugant and Philippe Naouri followed the bondage couple with a cute kiddie rocker, a child model with a moussed mohawk and distressed jeans strung with a trucker chain belt. All part of the new kid's line.

For gents, there's the new-issue vintage rock T-shirt, splattered with rhinestones, slashed at the sleeves and decorated all over. It comes in your choice of Legendary Logo: Megadeth, Harley-Davidson, Lynyrd Skynrd or Loverboy, because we all can't get enough of retro arena-rock. This was denim gone glam, with a heavy touch of vintage/thrift, kind of like what everyone in Silver Lake has been getting for years from Goodwill.

Antik is also delivering lots of tricked-up pieces to go with that closet full of jeans. There are men's motorcycle jackets appliqued with the American eagle; a few cargo pants (for the BlackBerry); military jackets and the season's symbol, the skull, here embroidered large across the back of a plaid blazer. Oh, and there's a new back pocket -- double-zippered on skinny, low-rise jeans. Very punk.

But there was a larger problem with the brands shown on denim day, which was clear as the lines began to blur. The three local jeans brands at Smashbox -- Antik Denim, Yanuk and Taverniti So -- are all owned by Blue Holdings, Inc., whose chairman is Paul Guez, a major force for distressed denim. All the shows were produced by New York's Melissa D'Attilio, who favored the same unlaced prison-yard work boots for guys, scuffed tall boots for women and a mixed-up, roughed-up aesthetic.

There's even a family connection. Taverniti So Jeans are the work of Jimmy Taverniti, father to Yanuk designer Benjamin Taverniti. Dad relied heavily on punk and military motifs as he worked through the trends for bustiers, full, circle skirts and crinolines (yes, he put a puffy tutu with a corduroy vest and capri-length jeans). He offered every coat ever worn by enlisted men: Navy peacoats, Air Force flight jackets, Army jackets and even a flight suit, this one cut from sheer green lace.

The Taverniti jeans are suctioned onto the body, ride low and are done up with military insignia, a tier of patch pockets down the thigh, or rips at the knee. Some are cropped at the calf and most are distressed, but Taverniti's army of denim and camouflage soldiers love to be decorated too. Their jeans' pockets are still embroidered, and so are their tank tops.

In a striking departure from the punk-distressed-military looks, Benjamin Taverniti's vision for Yanuk was a post-nuclear nihilistic world. In his dark collection, all denim is faded black or gray, sucked tight to the body, shredded into strands and chewed up like it's been at the bottom of a rat-infested rag pile. His punk urchins are a creative lot, turning scraps into rippled capes and tucking tutus under a remnant of skirt that layers over those skinny jeans. Under all the trappings, the new finishes give the jeans a soft shimmer, kind of like they're radioactive.

Maybe the down-and-out look comes from a preoccupation with the denim makers' own fate. They are facing stiff competition to hold onto the beast they've created -- the customers paying $200-plus for the latest rip, stitch or wash on otherwise ordinary cotton pants.

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