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STYLE NOTEBOOK

They're flipping for alpargatas

May 20, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Nobody does the beach like South America, the home of topless sunbathing, thong bikinis and all-night parties on the sand. It's also the source of some of the hottest summertime shoes -- Havaianas' marshmallow-like flip-flops, Melissa's candy-colored jellies and now Toms' alpargatas canvas worker shoes.

A cross between an espadrille and a Keds sneaker, the casual slip-ons have landed on some of the chic-est feet in Hollywood, just 60 days after being introduced to the United States by L.A.'s Blake Mycoskie.

A former contestant on the reality show "The Amazing Race," Mycoskie, 29, discovered the shoes in December when he traveled to Argentina to play polo, relax and volunteer.

"They've been worn by farmers for hundreds of years," he says. "And after three days of wearing them myself, I decided they were the most comfortable things in the world."

Looking for volunteer work near Buenos Aires, he came across a woman who had recently organized a shoe drive.

"There is a significant health issue in a lot of Third World countries among women and children who traditionally have to walk miles to get water every day. They get cuts on their feet, which get infected. So shoes are at the top of the list when organizations ask for donations," he says.

Ever the entrepreneur (last year, Mycoskie launched a failed reality show network), he put two and two together and decided to adapt the alpargatas for the U.S. market, while providing shoes for people in need. The shoes -- for men and women -- come in more than a dozen colors, stripes and camouflage patterns, for just $38. And for every pair purchased, the company will donate a pair to a village in South America or Africa. Go to www.tomsshoes.com.

Another shoe maven out of South America, Lily Holt, was in town last week with her decidedly more upscale wares. The Palm Beach native was the managing director of Spa Latin America, where she developed an $8-million spa in Argentina, when the country's economy collapsed in 2001. She saw an opportunity to employ designers, factory workers and suppliers by launching a handcrafted shoe collection.

Already a hit in East Coast beach towns, from Pawley's Island to Kennebunkport, the collection is just starting to hit the West Coast. Styles start at $225 and include the Santa Cruz thong, studded with pearls, rose quartz, turquoise or other stones, and the Phuket kitten heel sandal with coconut and mother-of-pearl appliques. Available at Antonia in Newport Beach and Champagne in Redondo Beach, or online at perfectdetails.com.

New team for

Helmut Lang

What's in a name? In fashion, it's hard to tell these days. Last year, when famed Minimalist Helmut Lang sold his namesake business, he joined a long line of designers who are limited in the use of their own names on apparel (Jil Sander, Joseph Abboud and more recently Paul Frank Sunich and Roland Mouret).

Lang, the creator of the crisp black version of the '90s power suit, is still out of work. But come next spring, his name will be on clothing labels again when the new Helmut Lang collection by designers Michael and Nicole Colovos hits stores. You may remember the L.A.-based husband-and-wife team from the hot denim label Habitual, which they founded a few years back. Now they work for Link Theory Holdings Co., the corporate owner of the Lang name, which intends to model their collection as part of its successful Theory brand

That means Helmut Lang will no longer be a designer brand but a contemporary one, hanging next to more affordable labels such as BCBG and Elie Tahari.

"Our company has been focusing on the contemporary market since 1997, when we launched Theory," says Andrew Rosen, president of Link Theory Holdings. "The combination of that concept, our company and the name Helmut Lang is something that lots of retailers are interested in. That wouldn't happen if I had just hired Michael and Nicole and decided to go into business."

The Colovoses are relocating to New York to design the collection, which is still in the early stages. There will be some denim, but that will not be the main focus; there will be some nods to Lang's utilitarianism, but not too many.

"We have a great deal of respect for what he did, and we want to continue on the foundation he built in terms of sharp tailoring. But we are not trying to follow in his footsteps," Nicole Colovos says.

But the real question may be whether the average shopper knows the Helmut Lang name enough to care.

"Remember, what we are trying to do is to stimulate, to excite," Rosen says. "We make clothes for a very small segment of the population. With the segment we are trying to attract, there is a great awareness and following."

Plastic and tulle

Forget Donna, Ralph and Calvin. Barbie is the biggest name in fashion. As a designer, when you've dressed her, you know you've hit the big time. Kudos to L.A. bridal and eveningwear designer Monique Lhuillier, whose Bride Barbie ($140) hits FAO Schwarz stores next month.

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