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A golden state

July 19, 2009|BOOTH MOORE | FASHION CRITIC

Financially speaking, California is circling the drain. But the sun-kissed image of the state isn't losing its currency -- even in France, the capital of chic. This fall, French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels is launching "California Reverie," a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by West Coast icons -- both real (sunsets, palm trees, poppies) and Euro-imagined (flamingos, toucans, pineapples). And in August, Paris' Le Bon Marche, one of the two best department stores in the world in my opinion, is opening an exhibit showcasing art and fashion from Los Angeles.

Van Cleef & Arpels may be a red carpet favorite, but instead of Hollywood, creative director Nicolas Bos was inspired by Ansel Adams' photographs of Yosemite, Beach Boys music and cartoon visions of cactuses, he told me last week at the Rodeo Drive store. (The house debuts a new themed haute jewelry collection each year; past collections have been based on Atlantis and "A Midsummer Night's Dream.")

After he tried walking to Santa Monica from Beverly Hills on his first trip here eight years ago, it took a while for Bos to warm to the L.A. lifestyle. But he has grown to love the Getty, drives up the coast and weekends at the Post Ranch Inn.

When conceiving the 100-piece collection, he and his design team started with sketches and mood boards, coupled with stone research. "We wanted to get away from the details and precision of nature, and look at how nature can be organized as a panorama," he explained.

The result is bold and colorful, occasionally veering into Elizabeth Taylor territory. The house had a spectacular 100 carat yellow, orange and green Ethiopian opal in the vault for a number of years, not knowing what to do with it. "Then, it became obvious, when we were working on this, that it was a sunset," Bos said.

On the "Paysage d'Opal" clip, the large oval stone is the backdrop for two diamond palm trees, creating a brooch that will sell for about $350,000. (Prices are still being worked out, but most will be six figures or beyond.) The "Panorama" bracelet is a 1970s-ish mix of onyx and pink and blue sapphires creating a coastal landscape reminiscent of a long picture postcard. The more subtle "Big Sur" collar has faceted tourmalines dangling from a row of mother-of-pearl squiggles mimicking a cloud line.

Each piece takes 12 to 18 months to produce, Bos said, and most pieces in the themed collections do sell. "California Reverie" will launch with 60 to 70 pieces presented at a private party in Malibu in October, before going on a world tour. ("It's a rock-star business model," said Emmanuel Perrin, the company's president and chief operating officer. And it accounts for about 50% of the company's sales.

Still, I wish they would lose the flamingo clip. It's like confusing Burgundy with Champagne.

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Le Bon Marche's ode to California aims to bring the best of L.A. design to Paris. But rather than focusing on the high-end fashion that has put L.A. in the spotlight recently (Rodarte and Band of Outsiders took top honors at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards last month, and jewelry designer Tom Binns has been bejeweling Michelle Obama), the store buyers are opting for a disappointing mix of tabloid chic denim (Current/Elliott, J Brand, William Rast) and T-shirts (James Perse, UCLA, Disney Couture and Kitson). King Baby jewelry, Bonnie Young children's wear, Ugg boots and L.A. Eyeworks frames also made the cut, but not Libertine jackets, Jeremy Scott knits or even Vans slip-ons.

It's a shame that the exhibit, which runs Aug. 27 to Oct. 12, could not offer much-needed global exposure for L.A.'s haute designers, especially considering the temple to high fashion that is Le Bon Marche. (Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Rick Owens have considerable floor space at the Left Bank store.)

Maybe the buyers should have consulted Liz Goldwyn (granddaughter of famed studio head Sam Goldwyn and a champion of Rodarte and other emerging L.A. designer labels) for an insider's opinion on the merchandising mix. The store did tap the L.A. tastemaker, author, filmmaker and fashion historian to guest curate an accompanying art installation, design the store windows and appear in the ad campaign shot by L.A. artist Todd Cole.

Her plans sound very cool. Goldwyn's "L.A. at Night" installation will pay homage to car culture, with film clips of billboards, headlights and traffic lights projected onto the hard angles and mirrored surfaces of a geodesic dome that viewers can step inside.

Store windows will feature color-saturated newsprint images of palm trees. A superimposed musical staff will display and play the notes of an original melody composed by Money Mark ("a love letter to California, 1960s Beach Boys and girl bands," is how Goldwyn describes it). Viewers can walk quickly by the windows to hear the whole melody, or pause in front of each window to experience it note by note.

"It's based on this idea I have had since I was a kid driving around L.A., seeing rows of palm trees and imagining staff bars overlaid on them," she said recently over coffee. "The palm trees became notes and I'm hearing that in my head. I never knew what to do with it, but the windows are perfect."

California dreamin' indeed.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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