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Bicoastal beatnik

Model Erin Wasson and surf-skate brand RVCA form an unlikely partnership for her line.

September 07, 2008|Adam Tschorn and Booth Moore | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Heidi and Tyra, make room for Erin -- as in Erin Wasson, the next top model to be having a pop-culture moment. Wasson appeared as the down South Bonnie to Justin Timberlake's Clyde in the first-ever ad campaign for his William Rast label this fall, and she's been modeling for Victoria's Secret, H&M and Maybelline cosmetics, designing jewelry and negotiating an upcoming reality series with MTV.

Now the 26-year-old bicoastal beatnik beauty is kicking off Fashion Week here by rolling out her first capsule collection of Erin Wasson X RVCA clothing -- the first beat of a three-year collaboration with surf-skate brand RVCA. At first blush, that teaming seems like a fashion mismatch, but it's the opposite.

And that's the point

"It's a real yin-yang thing, which is RVCA's whole mantra," Wasson said Thursday, hours before her debut as a designer.

Costa Mesa-based RVCA (pronounced "ROO-kah") represents the avant-garde of the action sports arena, and is known for its support of athletes and artists from outside the mainstream. But until now its bread and butter has been in the board sport basics -- shorts and graphic Ts. And that makes the upscale collaboration with Wasson a major departure.

"It's like all these divine interventions have followed me around," she says, sitting in an overstuffed chair in the funky Lower East Side apartment that serves as her New York live-work space. She is barefoot with her legs crossed, wearing a pair of silver lame cutoffs and a blousy black top with tiny lightning bolts, both from the new line.

Wasson calls Santa Monica home, but grew up in Dallas and spends much of her time working in New York. Her personal style, East Coast-meets-West Coast hippie grunge, has had far-reaching influence of late -- the cutoff shorts, the men's vests, even the slouchy boyfriend jeans that are making their way back into fashion are all Wasson signatures.

Her first "divine intervention" was meeting up-and-coming designer Alexander Wang, who lives just three floors below her in New York. She credits her experience styling his last two runway shows, with their distinctive menswear-hits-the-street look, with giving her the skills she used at RVCA.

Wasson met RVCA founder and creative director Pat Tenore's 15-year-old son during a Huntington Beach on-location shoot for French Vogue, which led to a meeting with Tenore and an invitation to work on a line.

That was a year ago.

"He wanted to meet and I literally walked in with a box of vintage clothes and all these ideas, and Pat said, 'Wow, you know exactly what you want to do.' " Wasson gets inspired, like so many designers, from vintage shopping -- at the flea market off Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, Catwalk on Fairfax Avenue.

The 16-piece capsule collection hitting stores in January (the only confirmed boutique to date is Opening Ceremony in New York and L.A.) is a modern take on stoner chic -- dark denim shorts with the word "LOVER" spelled out on the waistband in studs mimicking a belt; a blue-and-white striped romper; distressed, rolled-cuff boyfriend jeans; and a black-and-white color-blocked jacket with a zipper up the back that's like the center vent on a men's jacket. Prices range from $50 for a tank top to $115 for a dress and $230 for denim cutoffs.

Her favorite piece is the lightning-bolt print top she's wearing. It's called the Zeppelin, "as in the band."

Her path to California

Wasson started modeling at age 16 after winning a local contest in Dallas. She went to New York the next year, and was being shot for Vogue by Mario Testino "within three weeks."

In 2003, about five years in, she got burned out and tired of the drama. A road trip brought her to California.

These days, she says, she likes balancing the pace of New York life with the simplicity of, say, riding her bike to the farmers market in Santa Monica. But now that she's got a TV show in the works with MTV about being a stylist (she's reluctant to discuss it because the "ink isn't dry yet"), it sounds as if her life is only going to get more chaotic.

"I just tell myself, 'Never get too cheesy,' you know what I mean? I think celebrities become complacent, and say, 'Oh, OK, you guys want me to be your puppet, I'll be your puppet.' "

She sees her MTV project as more approachable than "Project Runway" and "America's Next Top Model" because the model-hosts of those shows, Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks, are "inaccessible girls. I'm looking at the show to be an opportunity to be a mentor to these kids. . . . I think that hopefully I can be a voice for youth culture that's just not on TV right now. Maybe something that's a little more blunt, a little less edited, a little less cookie cutter. I want to say how it really is."

She's especially interested in communicating "the spiritual and emotional terror you have to deal with every day" as a model.

"There are a lot of egos involved and you have to swallow your pride a lot, and know when it is a good time to speak up. . . . It's lonely and it's an emotional roller coaster, there is no preparation."

She should know. "I didn't know how to deal with it in the beginning. I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. There was so much expected of me and I kind of resented it. Then I got a reality check and realized I was the luckiest girl in the world."


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