IF the fashion weeks held in New York, London, Milan and Paris could be compared to a four-course gourmet meal (London being the ho-hum albacore dish), L.A. Fashion Week might be the cupcake at the end -- frivolous in comparison, but still tasty.
Since L.A. Fashion Week's 2002 inception, its shows have failed to lure big-shot retail buyers or the global fashion media. And in turn, they've failed to anchor the city's talent. More established local designers such as Magda Berliner, Grey Ant's Grant Krajecki and Jenni Kayne have chosen to stage presentations in New York, where the industry's heavy-hitters are seated ringside.
But by now, everyone involved in L.A. Fashion Week knows the score. Wrangle a clutch of celebrity attendees and enjoy the barrage of tabloid-style media coverage that ensues. For those not willing (or able) to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to show at New York's Bryant Park, it's a low-cost way to build buzz (and if you're a red-carpet gown designer such as Kevan Hall or Sue Wong, showing in L.A. is a form of front-line marketing).
For the second consecutive season, IMG's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios -- which runs from Sunday to Thursday in Culver City -- is competing for designers with BOXeight, a nonprofit organization offering designers time slots in downtown venues, at no cost to them. BOXeight's schedule kicks off tonight at a majestic new downtown venue, the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral. (It's really a one-night affair, with a free-form evening of music, dance and spoken-word performances planned for Saturday.)
The no-cost trend has also extended to Smashbox Studios this season, where the pay-to-play atmosphere of seasons past -- where it seemed like anyone with an imprintable T-shirt company could score a spot in the tents if they had the green -- is being turned on its ear, as more notable local designers are being offered gratis spots, courtesy of corporate sponsorships (Smashbox itself is sponsoring a number of shows).
So whose collections are worth the life-draining valet lines that seem to go hand-in-hand with Fashion Week? We caught up with Gregory Parkinson and Jeremy Scott, proven talents who are returning to the fold with shows this week at Smashbox Studios. We also checked in with Fashion Week newbie Jeffrey Sebelia of Cosa Nostra, who will kick off the BOXeight shows tonight.
Pack your flask and check your impatience at the door. It's showtime in L.A.
Gregory Parkinson would normally be in South America this time of year, overseeing the production of knitwear and embroidery for his 15-year-old namesake collection. But the British designer thinks a triumphant return to his adopted home city is in order. Parkinson will return to L.A. Fashion Week this season -- after many years of showing solely in New York -- with a runway show scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at Smashbox Studios. (He also presented the line in New York weeks ago.)
"All of a sudden I became aware of how much goodwill there is toward me here," says Parkinson, perched on a stool next to rolling racks of his Technicolor spring collection in his downtown studio. "I think people are rooting for me." (Sweetening the pot is the fact that Parkinson's show is fully sponsored.)
Though Parkinson has been on the L.A. scene for years, he's still relatively unknown to those outside the fashion community -- another reason to show in L.A. "Just to become visible again locally is a great thing," he says.
The designer says he's most inspired by how his friends put themselves together -- an illustrious group (in that low-key L.A. way) that includes handbag designer Brigette Romanek, Jacqui Getty, stylist Jane Ross and his unofficial muse, jewelry designer Liseanne Frankfurt. "The best-dressed women in the world live here," he says, adding, "I'm looking forward to everyone who's supported me for 15 years sitting in the audience."
Parkinson's spring collection is defined by pastel and jewel-toned silk tops and dresses -- all in a tank silhouette -- that he delicately tie-dyes himself ("It's not a messy, Venice Beach tie-dye"). It's a fashion-forward departure for the Manchester native, who in recent years has offered knitwear and revved-up basics, i.e. simple skirts and dresses featuring lace overlays that seemed geared toward an older customer. The shift away from basics to more directional looks makes good business sense, says Parkinson. "My consistent customers have a wardrobe of my clothes, so unless I give them something different, there's no reason to buy more. And no one can say this collection isn't spirited."