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It's a clear case of diminishing returns

Fledgling rivals steal buzz while some notable designers bypass Smashbox.

March 21, 2007|Adam Tschorn | Times Staff Writer

Alber Elbaz, Zac Posen and Phillip Lim in town. Glittering designer dinners in Hollywood and trunk shows in Beverly Hills. There has never been so much fashion in Los Angeles as there is this week. And yet, the event that anchors it all, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios, has never been more diminished.

With only 23 shows on the roster, this is its thinnest designer lineup in years. A pared-down seating chart -- an effort to curb the party scene at the event -- also means that there are fewer people attending the shows. Two rival "fashion weeks" have sprung up in downtown L.A. -- fledgling though they might be, they were enough to have the fashion world buzzing about the threat to the main event. Before the first heel hit the catwalk, insiders were speculating that this might be the make-or-break season for the partnership behind the event -- Smashbox Studios and the event production firm IMG.

Davis Factor, co-owner of Smashbox, said he didn't consider the season currently under way more or less crucial than any other. "Every single season we say the same thing: 'Is this going to be a make-or-break year?' But personally I don't look at each season, I look at the big picture. Would I be happy if there were another 10 great designers showing? I would be happier but I'm happy with what we have this season." To that end, he plans to hire someone full time to help network with the Los Angeles fashion community year-round.

Likewise, Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG Fashion, said her group was here to stay. "I think they are doing some terrific things downtown," Mallis said. "And I think what it shows is that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week L.A. is clearly the anchor and the focus of what's happening in L.A."

Nevertheless, the schedule for Fashion Week, an event that includes The Times among 15 corporate sponsors, is filled with empty slots and some lesser-known designers, including the men's underwear line 2(x)ist, eveningwear designer Joseph Domingo and Tart, maker of jersey separates.

While some of the best in L.A. continue to show here, they are increasingly choosing to do so far from Smashbox. Rozae Nichols, who was named 2006 Designer of the Year at the L.A. Fashion Awards, presented her collection at her home in the Hollywood Hills on Sunday night. Corey Lynn Calter drew an A-list crowd including Christina Ricci to her Thursday-night presentation downtown.

And then there are the Fashion Week carpetbaggers -- the notable designers from out of town who parachute in with their own events, which compete for the same audience. Zac Posen, in town for a trunk show at Saks Fifth Avenue, gave an intimate dinner on Monday night, while Imitation of Christ's Tara Subkoff threw a party at Teddy's after her show. Lanvin's Alber Elbaz is setting up shop over at Barneys New York today, while London-based Allegra Hicks is also in town, hosting a trunk show at the Art Luna Garden in Santa Monica. New York star Phillip Lim is winging in, and Kimora Lee Simmons will close out the week, bringing her KLS line to Social Hollywood for a soiree and fashion show on Friday night.

The most visible competition this season, though, is the pair of upstart fashion weeks held downtown in the days before the official event. Kitten Fashion Week, sponsored by Kitten magazine, showcased a dozen designers at the Standard Hotel over three days, and BOXeight, produced by an art collective, held two shows at the Los Angeles Theatre, including one by Eduardo Lucero, a veteran of the L.A. fashion scene.

"I've shown at Smashbox quite a few times," Lucero said, "and this time it was just more convenient for me to show at the theater -- it really fit in with the clothes I was showing." BOXeight's sponsorship of his show also meant he didn't need to shell out money for a venue. (Renting a runway at Smashbox ranges from $1,500 to $7,500 this season -- still a bargain compared with New York.)

"It wasn't like I was choosing one over the other," Lucero said. "It's all part of Fashion Week in L.A. When you go to New York and show in a different venue apart from Bryant Park it does not mean you aren't showing during Fashion Week."

Even one of the event's official sponsors -- Phoenix-based 944 magazine -- is siphoning off designers by scheduling a series of off-site events during the week, including two that directly conflicted with Smashbox shows on Thursday and Friday night.

"Los Angeles is a big city," said 944's editor in chief, Emmy Kasten. "We wanted to give designers and labels a chance to show their clothes in their own way." She said Meghan Fabulous, Parasuco Denim and 2B Free signed on to use the magazine's office space on Sunset Boulevard -- free of charge. Both Meghan Fabulus and 2B Free have shown at Smashbox in the past. "We've extended the invitation to all the designers and we'll be doing it again next season," Kasten said.

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