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CULT CHIC

The stylish '70s cult holds a reunion, and the fashion world crashes it.

November 25, 2007|Caroline Ryder | Special to The Times

Incense lingered heavily in the air as cult members wearing silk headbands, caftans and long, long hair swayed to the sounds of YaHoWa 13, a three-man jam band rocking out with guitars and a large gong. The crowd talked about mind expansion and a new era of consciousness, while swirly visuals and flashing lights shone above them. At the end of the night, Sky Saxon, the singer for a psychedelic garage band called the Seeds, took the stage and sang "Give Peace a Chance."

Sound like Woodstock, circa 1969? Try the Echoplex, last week.

It was the first time the Source Family, arguably the most stylish "cult" of our time, had reunited in 30 years. With about 140 members, the Source was a fixture of 1970s Los Angeles. Now, a new book by former family member Isis Aquarian has brought the group back into the creative ether, inspiring some of L.A.'s hottest fashion designers and musicians.

The group was led by a man named Father Yod (pronounced "yode"), a Kundalini master and erstwhile student of Yogi Bhajan. He taught meditation, yoga and esoteric occult wisdom to his "family." He also had 14 "spiritual wives," drove a Rolls-Royce and owned the Source restaurant on Sunset and Sweetzer, where dishes such as Aware Salad, Aladdin's Lamps and Magic Mushroom were served to a showbiz clientele -- John Lennon, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Frank Zappa, Cicely Tyson and Bud Cort (who briefly joined the family in the early years).

Members' names were predictably ethereal -- Mercury, Lotus, Venus, Pan and Infinity. Paris Match called the Source Family "Les Millionaire Hippies de Los Angeles," marveling at its home, the Chandler mansion in Los Feliz, which boasted an Olympic swimming pool. The family later moved to a chic residence in Nichols Canyon overlooking Sunset Boulevard, originally built by Catherine Deneuve. (Let's forget that there were so many of them, they had to cram into tiny pod-like sleeping areas, a precursor to Tokyo's capsule hotels perhaps?)

The women of the Source, who included Lovely Previn (daughter of musician Andre Previn, who played violin at the Echoplex event) and the niece of Chief Justice Earl Warren, represented the stylish side of the au naturel spiritual subculture. As Jodi Wille of Process Books (which published "The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod") put it, these women were "incredibly sexy, cosmic rock groupies."

Picture them in thigh-high moccasin boots, Victorian nightgowns with lace necklines and fluttery sleeves, figure-hugging panne velvet goddess gowns, off-the-shoulder robes and sheer caftans that they made themselves. The look has become so analogous to Los Angeles, you can see it on Sunset Boulevard now, any day of the week.

"They had this very earthy, caftany vibe, but still they drove a Rolls-Royce, lived in a mansion and were very sophisticated about the way they lived their lives. It's the blending of two sensibilities," says Paula Thomas, designer of the label Thomas Wylde, who supplied caftans to Source groupies from Flaunt magazine at the Echoplex event in Echo Park. "And they had their genres, just like a seasonal fashion house."

Even the Source children (51 in total, all born through natural childbirth) looked Renaissance Faire haute, decked out in satins and velvets. And don't forget the slender, impossibly handsome men, who were wont to wander around with bows and arrows, looking like hippie variations on Legolas Greenleaf from "The Lord of the Rings."

An Angeleno through and through, Father Yod often said, "Any man who does not take the time to look good is no real man," and the male Source members duly took note, donning velvet-trimmed ponchos with custom-made "Tahuti belts." The large round silver buckles bore Mercury/Wisdom symbols mounted on lead with solid gold centers. (Many of the Source Family's jeweled and metal accessories were crafted by family member Sunflower.)

Fashion designer Corinne Grassini, of the offbeat Society for Rational Dress label, has picked up on some of the Source's style cues, too. Caftans and tunics are a mainstay of her collections, as are leather belts and straps. "Actually having a connection to the physical materials and trims and leather is really important in my work," she says. "When I was introduced to the Source Family and found out that they made all their clothes and belts by hand, I was very inspired, and felt like I was close to home."

Influenced by esoteric traditions, Source Family members would often adopt the style of the ancients they happened to be studying at the time. Early on, it was an all-white, Essene-inspired look, which included white Mexican cotton pants, shirts and headdresses. This evolved into more colorful Greco-Roman, Atlantean and Knights Templar looks, with some Victorian lace thrown in for good measure (it was the '70s, after all).

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