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{SPRING 2008 MEN'S COLLECTIONS}

California Cool In Milan

And Paris too. From Venice Beach to Hockney's studio, the Golden State was all over the runways.

July 15, 2007|Adam Tschorn | Times Staff Writer

THE looks that designers sent down the men's spring runways in Milan and Paris won't hit the racks until next year. But if you live in Southern California, you've already seen them -- or something like them, as brands from staid Hermes to quirky Viktor & Rolf and everyone in between went California casual, dressing down and making it clear that the Golden State's influence on what men wear has expanded far beyond the surf breaks, skate parks and denim bars.

"California was a huge influence on the collections," said Michael Macko, men's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Especially the surf culture -- it's around so much that it's a constant source of inspiration. And for European designers, that's the idealization of the Southern California lifestyle."

London-based Alexander McQueen was among those to feel the pull of the surf -- using a 1961 LeRoy Grannis surfing photo shot in Hermosa Beach as a jumping-off point for his take on all things beachy keen. That included board shorts and three-quarter-length jackets covered with "Laugh-In" style graphics and hippie-speak like "Dynamic" and "Make Love Not War" as well as silk pink-flamingo shirts and jacket linings and body-board backpacks.

Bottega Veneta's creative director Tomas Maier drew on the late '60s L.A. surf culture and the art of David Hockney for his collection of washed-down cotton, linen and canvas in bleached and lightened shades of gray with punches of faded pink, light blue and mellowed yellow.

Jackets and shorts were cut baggy, long-waisted shirts were sheer and practically weightless. Leather jackets were supple, cut from single pieces of calfskin. The whole collection felt as if it had been painstakingly crafted by a stoner artisan, who promptly left it outside to fade in the sun.

Unfortunately, the Italian label's best appropriation of the SoCal culture for the season wasn't even shown on the runway. A trip to the Milan showroom uncovered a Vans-inspired slip-on sneaker with leather or suede uppers in Bottega's signature weave and lined in linen (for more comfortable barefoot wear).

Dutch label Viktor & Rolf also dipped into the Hockney pool for spring/summer, with a collection called "A Bigger Splash of Color" -- an explicit homage to the artist's 1967 "A Bigger Splash." (A Hockney exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery late last year surely sparked his role as this season's favorite fashion muse. Paul Smith's Paris show was another Hockney romp.)

While some of the pieces riffed on the artist's British heritage -- English schoolboy piffle such as crests, contrast-taped cuffs and lapels and striped scarves -- others perfectly captured Hockney's enthusiasm for his adopted home of California with palm tree polos and dress shirts and jaunty cotton blazers with bold and unmistakably Hockneynian pool-ripple patterns (like the ones he painted on the bottom of the pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel). A gray pinstriped suit jacket with a trompe l'oeil shawl collar lapel appears to cast a shadow, managing to smartly evoke in a single garment both Hockney's appreciation of the Southern California light and Hollywood's "nothing is as it seems" unreality.

Two luxury labels stood out for serving up uncharacteristically casual collections, and while neither YSL nor Hermes specially referenced California, or Hockney, Yves Saint Laurent's Stefano Pilati was definitely preoccupied with painters. His most memorable pieces conjured up images of a painter's palette, with fevered brush strokes daubed onto off-white shorts, pants, shoes and jackets. Even the dressier gray and black pieces -- slouchy soft-shouldered jackets, billowy trousers, drawstring pajama-style pants and bibbed shirts were cut generously enough to suggest painters' coveralls, a far cry from the more formal image the label's name evokes.

It was much the same story at the house of Hermes, the vaunted French maker of saddles and tackle as far back as 1837. Designer Veronique Nichanian put that mastery of leather to work in an unexpected way -- a streetwear-inspired hooded sweatshirt in suede with a silk lining. It's hard to think of any place on earth but Southern California where a guy might buy such an item, much less wear it (I can see Jeremy Piven buying two -- one in "aniseed" green and one in red). The collection also includes uncharacteristically preppy madras checks, roughly textured cotton seersuckers and drapy V-neck pullover sweaters.

Why the mass casualization? Macko calls it a pendulum swing.

"The last couple of seasons have been all about the suit, the return of the suit and about dressing up," he says, "so that's why we saw so much of the drawstring pajama pants and the more sporty casual look."

Which explains the season's emphasis on all things California. "People think that if you live in L.A. and work in the movie industry, you're going to dress that way: wearing your pajama pants and your tailored jacket and your Aviator sunglasses in your convertible on the way to the Ivy for lunch."

Right. Because you can't put smog and traffic in a runway show.

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adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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ON THE WEB

Gallery: See highlights from the men's spring collections in Paris and Milan at latimes.com/image.

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