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Change of Hart

A dressier, higher-priced, more mainstream collection grows out of the tees and hoodies of Morphine Generation.

October 12, 2008|Emili Vesilind | Times Staff Writer

WHEN designer Erik Hart launched Morphine Generation, his darkly romantic streetwear line, in 2003, imitators came flocking -- ripping off the collection's skull-and-flora silk-screens ad nauseam. "There were people who built their lines around my first collection," said the Los Angeles native, "but I've accepted it and moved on."

Hart stayed one step ahead of his copyists by evolving Morphine Generation from a T-shirt-and-hoodies line into a full-fledged clothing collection, known for black tailored jackets and capes with a "Sleepy Hollow" vibe. The brand picked up illustrious devotees along the way, including Scarlett Johansson, Lindsay Lohan and Brad Pitt.

Now the 28-year-old is hoping to make an even bigger impact (though he could live without the copycats) with his new namesake collection, Erik Hart: Factory of Aesthetics & Dreams.

The higher-priced line, which retails for $98 to $650, is a move into dressier apparel for Hart, who started Morphine Generation out of his garage -- with no formal fashion training under his belt -- after years of cobbling together clothes for the various rock bands he'd played in.

"I thought it was best to take the fashion elements out of Morphine Generation and call it Erik Hart," said the designer, sitting in his sparsely beautiful downtown loft, between drags on a Parliament Light. "Then I could keep Morphine an artisanal streetwear line."

The line, which is pretty but not girly, with a dash of Hedi Slimane-style androgyny, is also a step toward more mainstream designer fashion.

Filled with sporty buffalo-check jackets and little black dresses, the debut collection for fall/winter might have been billed as a capsule collection for Morphine Generation; it shares a similar attitude. But Hart's spring/summer offerings, wrought in black, white and canary yellow, veer into trendier terrain. High-waisted miniskirts and riffs on the classic motorcycle jacket (including a yellow motorcycle vest) would fit niftily on the rack with a number of young designer collections, including Alexander Wang and Jenni Kayne.

Though Morphine Generation pieces are almost instantly recognizable, Erik Hart is more incognito and so infinitely more wearable. "I want the pieces to transform," Hart said. "You should be able to throw a jacket over a dress you've been wearing all day for a cocktail party."

Cotton is a staple at Morphine Generation, but Hart upped the fabric ante for his namesake line, importing men's suiting fabric, silks and treated nylon from Italy, Japan and France. "It's about high and low," he said, "a mix between high sartorial elements and street elements." For instance, he added, "I'll use menswear suiting fabrics in a sleek, form-fitting dress."

Underground rock 'n' roll is Hart's first love -- he's been playing and touring with bands since high school -- and music has always played hugely in his designs. When conceptualizing fall/winter Erik Hart, the designer referenced no-wave and art-punk bands and artists such as Television, Cabaret Voltaire and Glenn Branca -- ultimately designing looks for the members of a fictional band, dubbed the Dark Harts, made up of fantasy rockers Lucien and Sophie. (The collection is available now at Scout and Ron Herman in L.A.)

Hart is also inspired by art and pop culture; his loft is strewn with kitschy vintage books and magazines. And the forthcoming spring/summer 2009 line is based on American contemporary artist Robert Longo's "Men in the Cities" paintings, which depict people dressed for the office, writhing in torment. "One of the paintings was of Cindy Sherman in this amazing poplin shirt with this black, body-conscious skirt," said Hart, who created a shorter black skirt and a more stylized white button-down as the starting point for the line.

The collection's name, Erik Hart: Factory of Aesthetics & Dreams (no doubt a nod to Andy Warhol's famous Factory), is intended to be a butterfly net for Hart's artistic pursuits -- musical, sartorial or otherwise. "It doesn't limit me to one specific genre of creative outlet," said the designer, who's working on a jewelry collection for fall 2009 that will be "simple, with lots of dark metals -- like a ring that has a bolt detail on it and one single diamond."

Look for the plastic version at Forever 21 next year.

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emili.vesilind@latimes.com

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