L.A. occupies a special place on the fashion calendar. After all the runway shows are over, during the months of October and November, it becomes home to a shadow community of image-makers from New York, London and Paris, in town to shoot spring's glossy ad campaigns and editorial pages.
Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquiere was recently here, and so was Yves Saint Laurent's Stefano Pilati, along with editors, stylists and photographers working for every magazine from i-D to Elle. These global fashion nomads camp out in the lobby at the Chateau Marmont, poolside at the Hotel Bel-Air, on location at the beaches or at photo studios in Hollywood and Venice. Listen in and you'll hear them debating Jonathan Rhys Meyers' new Versace ads, the styling talents of Elizabeth Taylor's granddaughter Naomi Wilding, and whether the 4 p.m. flight to New York beats the red-eye.
But their reasons for coming to L.A. are always the same.
"The light is very special," Ghesquiere explained over a cup of Earl Grey at the Bel-Air. Apparently it's particularly special in San Pedro, where his team shot the ads for his smashing spring collection, with its futuristic bent. "And the weather -- I don't want to leave!"
Ghesquiere spent most of his week here in fittings but made time to stop by Fred Segal, where he picked up a few pieces by current L.A. menswear fave Band of Outsiders. He also dropped by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's "Breaking the Mode" exhibit, where he was completely wowed to see his first Charles James gown in the flesh, a 1951 burnished orange silk and satin chiffon creation draped as lightly as if fairies had done it.
Pilati's stay was briefer. He stopped into artist Jorge Pardo's design studio and into pal Liz Goldwyn's book party at the Sunset Tower Hotel. But what he really wanted to do was take his design team farther west, to the North Shore of Hawaii. "It's my favorite place in the world," Pilati said, soaking up the rays as best as he could, wearing gray trousers and a wool sweater by the Bel-Air's pool. "I learned how to surf there, but when I see how real surfers surf, I say I don't know how."
Turns out he and Ghesquiere are friends. After crossing paths at the hotel, the two shared a coffee and a chat. And for one brief moment, not on Oscar night, L.A. may just have been the center of the style universe.
Galanos creations of a different sort
The recent collision of designer superstars was just part of the convergence. From James' marvel of construction at LACMA to the cocoon-like gowns in Viktor & Rolf's Russian Doll collection at the "Skin and Bones" exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, rarely has there been so much fabulous fashion on display at one time in one city. Taken together, the exhibits showcase some of the most radical, boundary-pushing designs from the last 50 years.
The LACMA exhibit features mostly Japanese and European designers but also turns the spotlight on hometown legends Rudi Gernreich (a to-die-for red knit dress), Gilbert Adrian (a very Hollywood heroine hourglass-shaped worsted wool suit) and James Galanos (a chunky, beaded lace overdress layered over a bodysuit).
Galanos' impeccable tailoring and hand beading earned him fiercely loyal clients, including Rosalind Russell, Dorothy Lamour, Diana Ross and, most famously, Nancy Reagan. He retired from fashion in 1998, after LACMA devoted an entire show to his career, and now nurtures his creative side with photography, some of which is about to find its way into a museum as well.
Galanos, 82, creates mirror-image landscapes, as well as abstract compositions. He uses ribbons, paper and fabric cutouts that look as if they could be scraps from the floor of his old studio on Sepulveda Boulevard. Now he does most of his work on his kitchen counter, but still with the same keen eye to color combinations, shadow and light.
In September, he mounted his first photography exhibit at the Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco, with more than 40 works, many of which have already been purchased. Dixie Carter, Wolfgang Puck, Denise Hale and others turned out to fete the designer-turned-artist, while Robert Flynn Johnson of the Achenbach Foundation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is selecting a photograph to include in the museum's permanent collection.
"It's intuitive," Galanos said on a sunny afternoon at his stucco house in West Hollywood, where the black granite floors are shined to perfection.
Tatiana Sorokko agrees. A couture enthusiast and former model who runs the gallery with her husband, Serge, she says of Galanos: "His tools are still the same, but the product is altogether different. I fell in love with these photographs as much as I fell in love with my first Galanos gown."