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Hello, is anybody home?

The William Rast show pulses to the city's rhythm, but too many L.A. labels are MIA.

October 21, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

There was so much to look at during Justin Timberlake's runway show you almost forgot it was about a denim line -- B-boys in sweater vests somersaulting over each other and cholo girls shaking their booties in short shorts, flirty farm girls in frilly dresses and Beverly Hillbillies in rockabilly pompadours.

The A-list front row -- including Eve, Wilmer Valderama, Paris and Nicky Hilton, Patrick Dempsey and Timberlake's girlfriend Cameron Diaz -- was literally whooping for jeans from Timberlake's William Rast line, with the stylized W on the back pockets. The denim looked great, the skinny fits cuffed and topped with gingham Western shirts for men or bow-front blouses for women. Shorts cut off at the knee and a postage-stamp miniskirt came in a cloudy gray wash, while pinstripes looked cool on a cropped jacket, worn over a sweater dress.

Between the dancers, the celebrities and the after-party next door at Boulevard3 (where Timberlake performed with pals Adam Levine from Maroon 5, Black Eyed Peas' and 'N Sync bandmate JC Chasez), the show was the best example yet of the synergy that can and should be happening at L.A. Fashion Week. This show was as exciting as any in New York or Europe -- but in a completely L.A. way. And instead of hearing "SexyBack" as the soundtrack for Dolce & Gabbana, there was Timberlake shaking it live, right in the middle of the crowd.

Too bad that kind of synergy wasn't happening at Smashbox Studios, the Culver City venue that hosted 30 shows this week and is now in its third year of partnering with New York-based IMG to produce the event.

Looking back, the problem with L.A. Fashion Week is that it has never reflected L.A. fashion. Between shows, I had an hour to kill on Robertson Boulevard, so I wandered into a few boutiques and nearly every piece I touched was from an L.A. label.

Not one of them was on the spring runway here.

Around the world, stores are filling their racks with clothes designed and made in this city, the largest manufacturing hub in the country. Trina Turk, Vince, Robert Rodriguez, Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent, even Kitson, not just a boutique anymore but a clothing line, could all profit from the brand-building that comes from presenting a designer's full vision on a runway. Powerhouses such as True Religion, Juicy Couture and Chrome Hearts have all benefited from their association with the Southern California lifestyle. Surf and skate brands Quiksilver, Roxy and Volcom have made billions in this market.

Again, not one showed here this week.

Why not?

"I can't tell you how many times I have asked, begged," says Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG. "But they pooh-pooh their own town."

According to Davis Factor, co-founder of Smashbox Studios, more than 250 designers applied to show at Fashion Week this season, submitting photos and reels of their work. "There are a lot we say no way," he said. But, considering the number of flops, that seems unlikely.

Money is sometimes given as a reason, but how could it be? The price of renting a venue at Smashbox is low compared to fashion weeks in other cities. Venues can be had for as little as $5,000, the largest going for $10,000. A designer of any note should easily be able to secure sponsorship money to pay for a show, which costs $25,000 minimum.

Mallis admits IMG could do more, employing someone year-round in Los Angeles as it does in New York, to schmooze with the fashion community here. She is also rethinking who should be showing.

Critics, myself included, initially complained that premium denim did not need to be on the runway. But it is a defining part of L.A. style, with more than 100 brands based here. And the William Rast show proved that it can be exciting and intelligent on the runway.

"In the beginning we got feedback that people wanted to see the Magda Berliners, the Richard Tylers, the Michelle Masons and Eduardo Luceros," Mallis says. "But in this industry, they are in one season and out the next. We resisted denim, but the more time we've spent here, maybe it's what people want."

Space is also an issue. Some designers, such as Timberlake and his partner Trace Ayala, do not want a traditional runway presentation. But the Smashbox setup requires it. So, L.A. Fashion Week organizers are shopping for a new, more adaptable venue. That doesn't mean the end of the partnership with IMG. And with Mercedes-Benz signed on for another three years as title sponsor, the shows aren't going away any time soon.

"For better or worse, we are in this together," Factor says.

Right now, L.A. has a fashion week that's neither about Los Angeles nor the world of fashion. It attracts few tastemakers from the fashion press or trend-makers from store buying offices -- when the world can't take its eyes off L.A.

Naughty and nice

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