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At last, the designs are front and center

The gate-crashers and partyers are gone. The only thing left to do is to check out the collections.

March 20, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

This was the season that organizers of Los Angeles Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios were looking to clean up their act. And judging from the first day, they've done it. The runway shows opened with dignity on Sunday night with a more subdued, more professional scene. Check-in tables were moved outside the tent to keep out crashers. The number of seats was decreased to encourage designers to edit their guest lists, and to keep drunken revelry and D-list celebrities at bay. And strangely, there wasn't even much talk about designer Anand Jon canceling his show at the last minute after being arrested on rape charges last week.

All of the focus was on the collections, and even they seemed more interesting.

Staging his show in the round, with a video crew moving on a track around the runway, up-and-comer JC Obando gave an impressive presentation for an intimate crowd of 60, each guest having been personally invited by the designer on the phone. By way of explanation, he said that his fall collection was about "sincerity," which fits nicely with the mood coming off the European shows, where there was a renewed emphasis on the personal touch, or the kind of craftsmanship and couture-like details that allow designers to stay ahead of the fast fashion copyists.

It's all part of the Rodarte revolution, or the movement toward a more homespun aesthetic started by Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the Pasadena sisters who have captured the hearts of the fashion industry with their pinked edges, hand-finished ruffles and rosettes, and who showed in New York. As much as they may occasionally chafe the critics (myself included) with their glorified art projects, their influence is undeniable. One only had to look at Obando's thoughtful collection to see that.

A black organza shift came with delicately ruffled chiffon cuffs, and a smoky prune sheath with hand-sewn folds at the hem that looked intentionally imperfect. Obando's short, sculptural jacket was given a stiff, waxy treatment and worn over a black velvet pencil skirt. His "hanger dress" -- not much on a hanger but pretty on a woman -- appeared in several versions, the best in black and white, an abstracted tuxedo dress suspended from V-shaped straps.

In a nod to the sporty trend, Obando layered a transparent black organza shift over a stretchy leotard, highlighting the curves of the body with the contrast between matte and transparent. But other pieces suffered from an unsure hand. The folds on the bodice of a silk chiffon column with a grosgrain belt were too tentative. Were they a design gesture or did the dress just need pressing? A black cashmere coat fell flat -- nothing interesting about it.

You have to admire an edited vision (and God knows a lot of L.A. designers could use a good edit), but Obando could have stretched his creative muscles, or at least given us a few more handmade details to chew on.

Elsewhere, designers hit on many of the runway trends from this season and last. It was nice to see more of designer David Cardona in the Bebe Collection, where he returned to the leathers and sharp tailoring that built his namesake label. Far be it from me to discourage a political statement, but in this case, the war and peace theme was distracting, what with the peace-sign kerchiefs and woolen scarves. And we won't even discuss those blond bob wigs.

Still, the collection was better than it has been, even if Cardona's militaristic femme bots were a season too late. There were only a few moments of cheap and cheesy -- a slinky, cayenne pepper-colored silk jersey gown traced in gold zippers, one revealing a half-moon of hip flesh. (Eva Longoria, the brand's new celebrity face sitting front and center, was probably thinking "They want me to wear that?")

Far better were Cardona's suits, one in a bottle green wool gabardine sculpted to the body with high-waist pants, another in black wool, trimmed in crystal studs, with a zipper down the back of the jacket. Motocross jackets in black or green nylon looked smart, as did an Army green anorak made over as a dress, and a sandy leather officer's jacket.

From military to Mod, the Swinging '60s may be over at the designer level (it was really only a blip last season), but they are alive and well in the contemporary world. Sue Wong took a tour through Carnaby Street and Piccadilly with shimmying paillette shifts, psychedelic print maxi dresses with chunky stone collars and an adorable, hand-painted silk daisy trapeze dress. The music was great, the clothes fun and the workmanship top-rate. Too bad she didn't stop there. Wong veered into vamps and vixens, exotica, Asia and Victoriana -- themes that are so well-worn for her, they made the rest of the show seem like a rerun.

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