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Fashion's X-Factors

When cosmetic scions set their sights on the runway scene, L.A.' star might just rise.

October 15, 2006|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

MODELS and modelizers, tabloid princesses trailing paparazzi, drag queens, freebie hounds and miscellaneous connoisseurs of the scene will gather in a parking lot in Culver City tonight for the opening runway show of the Spring 2007 Mercedes-Benz Los Angeles Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios.

Of course, Davis Factor and his brother Dean will be there. They own Smashbox Studios and Smashbox Cosmetics (a fashion week sponsor) and co-produce the five-day event with IMG, the sports-agents-turned-entertainment-and-media-colossus that's behind fashion weeks in New York and Miami. Fashion week at Smashbox isn't a newborn anymore the way it was three years ago when the brothers held their initial show for designer Eduardo Lucero. "The first season we had one show," Davis says. "The second season was 12 shows. The third season was 24. That's when we knew we had something."

It still isn't clear exactly what that something is. The word on L.A. fashion week, an unequal blend of art, commerce and celebration, is that it keeps getting better. That makes it a little like the kid who wins the Most Improved Camper award at summer camp -- the praise doesn't tell you much about how fast a swimmer he is or whether he can build a campfire.

With Smashbox Studios as headquarters, the event is far less chaotic than it was a few years ago, when shows held all over the city were judged too bacchanalian and buyers and press complained that their professional needs weren't being considered. Celebrities in attendance have increased coverage in Us Weekly et al., but New York-based fashion magazines whose editors travel to Milan, London and Paris still tend to snub L.A. and rely on their West Coast staffs to survey the market here. And notably, many local designers choose to show in New York after they've achieved some success.

Designer Jenni Kayne staged runway shows in L.A. for four seasons before joining New York fashion week. "I love L.A., and it's my home," she says, "but to take my business to the next level and have my designs seen by all the buyers and the highest caliber of press, I had to show in New York."

But even as L.A. fashion week struggles for the sort of recognition that will benefit designers, Smashbox wins, its glamour quotient enhanced. "Our goal is to grow fashion week," Davis says. "We're trying to light a creative fire in this city with fashion and give designers a platform that never existed before." Davis' enthusiasm is unmistakable, and his intentions may well be civic-minded, but fashion week also represents a marketing bonanza for Smashbox Cosmetics. In the best of circumstances, what's good for Los Angeles is good for Smashbox, and vice versa.

Davis is a lean, fit man of 46, with close-set hazel eyes and short, graying hair. He has the athletic affect of an aging surfer dude, which he is, making him appear simultaneously boyish and weathered. There will be nearly 40 shows this season, and with IMG on board, he is not directly responsible for all the elements necessary to make fashion week work -- music, celebrities, edgy designers, top models, influential members of the media and trendsetting buyers. But he thinks of himself as a host, and he tries to influence the ingredients that can turn a glorified trade show into a cultural event.

The first season shows were held at Smashbox, he arranged for Velvet Revolver (Guns N' Roses minus Axl Rose) to play for a swimsuit show and called on friends who rule L.A.'s nightlife to pack the room with a spirited crowd. He can delegate more now than he used to. "If there's a problem, I'm wearing a headset and I can call security," he says. "But I don't have to fix it myself."

Details matter. The last thing Davis wants is a flub that could be a buzz kill. "We're such a groovy event," he says. "At the same time, we're very organized, so the buyers and press and VIPs are taken care of really well. I want things to run smoothly, but it can still be fun."

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Photographer's POV

ANYONE who's known Davis since he was a popular kid at Beverly Hills High would trust him to make fun happen. As a 26-year-old graduate of the Art Center College of Design beginning a career as a commercial photographer, he envisioned the photo studio he wanted to create -- a haven where artists could be comfortable, be happy and have access to whatever they needed -- equipment and props, sure, but also intangibles such as a sense of community.

"Before we opened," he says, "a photographer would rent a studio in L.A. and basically get a key, and that was it. You never saw anybody. If you needed anything, you had to run to the store to get it." The first person hired was Phillip Weingarten, a chef Davis had known since high school. Weingarten designed the studio with room for a kitchen.

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