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FASHION WEEK

BOXeight sets the stage for L.A. fashion event

March 15, 2009|Max Padilla

If the chaos of L.A. Fashion Week has an epicenter this year, it's the graffiti-covered downtown warehouse where Peter Eaton Gurnz, head of arts collective BOXeight, has overseen the planning of the week's lead-off shows.

BOXeight is no stranger to fashion week, having produced four related events since 2007, and Gurnz emerged as a central player last fall when the partnership between events producer IMG and Smashbox Studios dissolved, ending the 10-season run of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios.

At the time, Gurnz told The Times: "I don't think BOXeight is necessarily ready to be, or planning to be, representative of L.A. Fashion Week in its entirety." But BOXeight stepped to the forefront for the week's opener Friday night, teaming with nonprofit GenArt, whose Fresh Faces in Fashion and New Garde presentations had kicked off Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in previous years, and introduced such designers as Phillip Lim and Katy Rodriguez.

The lineup for BOXeight's three days of shows, ending today, includes Martin Martin ("They're sort of Comme des Garcons fun edgy," Gurnz said) and COA ("A high-end line like Endovanera or Morphine Generation").

Since BOXeight's fashion week events have always been open to the public and had a cash bar, they have a reputation for drawing a more raucous crowd than a typical fashion industry mixer. At a 2007 show at the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral, for instance, an invitee exposed himself to revelers in the event's garden.

"It's very indie, very fun," said Gurnz, a photographer and industrial designer who trained at the Rhode Island School of Design. "At 10 p.m. the shows turn into a concert -- a DJ and a band -- and we run to 2 a.m."

BOXeight's fashion forays to date haven't been untroubled. In October, an e-mail circulated among the fashion flock from Anika Warden, a manager at the St. Vibiana's venue, alleging that Gurnz and a former partner owed a balance of $10,463 for rental fees and damage to the space.

Warden says she sent the e-mail because after repeated attempts to contact Gurnz and his former partner to collect she "never heard back."

Gurnz doesn't dispute Warden's allegations but said a third party signed contracts on behalf of BOXeight and went over budget. "I've been repairing relationships and damage from that for over two years."

This season, BOXeight began charging designers to show, as is common elsewhere. "Our production has massively increased," Gurnz said. "About $1,500 gets you in the door -- we provide runway, lighting, trussing, hair and makeup artists." Making the shows profitable isn't easy, he said, but noted: "Our goal is not a financial one. Bringing fashion week downtown has it benefits and rewards in other areas.

"A fashion show used to be a necessity for a designer to introduce a new line and new collection, but now it's more of a PR stunt," he said. "You open it up to the public and make it more entertainment-based -- it helps your brand and gets your name out there."

In October 2007, Gurnz told The Times that his motivation for the BOXeight shows had nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with simply attracting attention, people and investment to downtown L.A.

Today he says his focus has "evolved" beyond that, but he makes it clear he sees the task of helping fashion week flourish under the BOXeight nameplate as a PR effort of a different sort.

"Look, I'm a photographer and I live in downtown Los Angeles. I don't want to spend the rest of my life shooting $200 look books," he said. "That can change, but right now people look at L.A. fashion as a joke, and I don't think corporations coming in from the outside are going to be able to change that. I think we can."

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max@maxpadilla.com.

Times staff writer Adam Tschorn contributed to this report.

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