FOR the last few seasons Los Angeles has made its presence felt at New York Fashion Week through the glare of celebrity. Who can forget Gwen Stefani's $1-million runway extravaganza with bouncing hot rods and a fake snowfall, or J.Lo's Sweetface show with 20-carat diamond-trimmed jeans and the debut of her new single? Then there's the front row -- P. Diddy playing fashion mogul with a white dog and a beefy entourage, Beyonce canoodling with boyfriend Jay-Z, Nicole Richie with Ja Rule, watching a collection designed (in the loosest sense of the word) by Wyclef Jean's wife.
But that moment in fashion has passed -- for now -- and as the Spring 2007 runway season kicks off today, the word from the West is more dignified. Some of fashion's most promising new talents -- the future Proenza Schoulers and Zac Posens perhaps -- are coming out of Southern California, leaving L.A. for the exposure that only New York Fashion Week can promise and making an impression based on talent, not celebrity.
Rodarte's Kate and Laura Mulleavy, from Pasadena, are developing a cult following for their couture-level creations, which have a boldness of spirit not seen since James Galanos was working in this town. Trovata, the surfer dude design collective from Orange County, is continuing to inspire with its quirky sportswear, which is taking up a chunk of real estate in Barneys New York. Meanwhile, Grey Ant's Grant Krajecki, known for his charmingly low budget shows at L.A. Fashion Week (one a reenactment of a teen-scream horror film, complete with fake blood) is bringing some of L.A.'s underground spunk to his New York debut, with a performance by the Hysterica Dance Company.
And then there's Jovovich-Hawk. When actress Milla Jovovich and former model Carmen Hawk first showed their collection in New York last September, industry watchers expected it would be another short-lived celebrity vanity project. But what has emerged is a fledgling brand that captures all the individualism of L.A.'s thrift and vintage store style. Now in its sixth season, the label has gained enough momentum to be nominated for the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Magazine Fashion Fund award, competing against Rodarte, among others, for a $50,000 prize.
Jovovich may be known for sci-fi thrillers such as "The Fifth Element" and "Resident Evil," but her line of pixie-style cocktail smocks and sheaths is decidedly uncelebrity. It is not backed by an apparel guru or built around jeans and T-shirts with her name slapped on them. In fact, it's totally self-financed, and until recently, the designers sourced all of their own fabric.
Now that the label is sold in 100 stores, including Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Fred Segal and Harvey Nichols, they are taking things up a notch, hiring an event planner to organize Sunday's show in a rented space in the Meatpacking District, not Jovovich's own town house in the West Village.
Not that they want to give up the hands-on aspect of fashion, because these are craftsy girls who actually enjoy sketching, draping, working with the seamstresses, even staying up all night to paint fashion postcards to show with their collection to the CFDA judging committee.
Their Cahuenga Boulevard studio has shelves stacked high with inspiration books about Erte, Victorian engravings, modern military uniforms and 1980s nightlife. The walls are papered with sketches and the tables littered with ashtrays. Clear the fabric swatches, lace scraps and grosgrain ribbon snippets off a chair, listen to them chat for a while, and you get an appreciation for their dedication. Because when the Marlboro Lights start firing up, all time is lost and it becomes clear these girls can riff about fashion for hours.
Hawk: "Remember in the early 1990s when Stephen Meisel was doing that pimpy stuff that was very 1970s but also uber 1920s?"
Jovovich: "Oh, yeah, with Madonna wearing all those crazy jeweled patchwork vests looking like an elf?"
Hawk: "It was also very Stevie Nicks. It was fun at the time. I remember ripping all my eyebrows out.... "
Their approach to design is similarly stream of consciousness, and there is a refreshing innocence to it. The spring collection was inspired by such disparate cultural references as the French seaside photographs of turn-of-the-century artist Jacques Henri Lartigue, old carnivals and Jerry Hall.
"When we made our presentation to the CFDA, we seemed like children compared to everyone else, even our style and the way we dress," says Jovovich, who carries on with Hawk like a schoolgirl friend, finishing her sentences and talking over her.