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L.A.'s Derby Dolls setting the fashion pace

The punk spirit of roller derby is racing through the design world. Members of L.A.'s league have helped blast open the way.

November 29, 2009|By Sophia Kercher
  • REGAL: Tough Cookies teammates Constance Marshall, left, and Ane Jens head a clan of glam skaters known as the Diva Jammers.
REGAL: Tough Cookies teammates Constance Marshall, left, and Ane Jens… (Marc Campos )

At a recent sold-out roller bout, almost 2,000 Angelenos rallied with beer and high spirits to support their favorite Derby Dolls teams. A long-haired, newbie attendee stood in awe of a skater zipping by.

It wasn't just the skater's athletic prowess that was enviable . . . it was her sporty fishnets and hot-pants "boutfit."

"I want to try it, just to see what I would look like in the outfit," new fan Cassandra McGrath, a 24-year-old teacher, said wistfully.

Roller derby's growing popularity can be seen in the approximately 400 leagues that the Women's Flat Track Derby Assn. says have sprung up around the country and in "Whip It," the movie released this fall starring "Juno" darling Ellen Page as a novice skater.

Now the sexy, punk-infused fashion that rules the rink is influencing real-life fashion.

Search keyword "derby" on forever21.com and you'll find look-at-me silver hot pants. Do the same at Hot Topic and you'll come up with a ruffled plaid mini; skate-shaped charms; a black wristband emblazoned with the phrase "talk derby to me"; and knockoff Derby Dolls tees. Even the more staid Nordstrom offers derby-inspired fashion. Our favorite is a Jean Paul Gaultier velvet pencil skirt with a provocative fishnet inset that looks like a naughty window to the thigh.

"What's funny is that we've been doing this for so long, and it's, like, we started the whole fishnets/derby revolution, and it's just now showing up at Hot Topic and in Halloween costumes," says longtime skater Robin Rosenzweig, who is known on the rink as Suzy Snakeyes.

The trend of designers being inspired by underground scenes isn't lost on Nordstrom fashion director Gregg Andrews, who talks about the huge punk influence in this season's styles.

"It's about the use of hardware. Chains, pyramids and studs. . . . You could equate it to an urban armor," Andrews says. He adds that the aggressive look of the season comes from the idea of women preparing for what lies ahead in our rough economy.

Nowhere is there more evidence of the strength of women than on a Derby Doll track. The skaters' day jobs vary: teacher, scientist, hairstylist, mortician, sculptor, parole officer and animator. But come time for a bout, they all don fishnets and domination duds.

The sex appeal of derby is overt, with cleavage-baring uniforms complete with skin-tight booty shorts. Team members are christened with noms-du-rink such as Long Island Lolita, Krissy Krash and TaeKwon Ho.

Los Angeles' Derby Dolls is one of the biggest leagues in the nation, and since it started in 2003, co-founder Demolicious (a.k.a. Rebecca Ninburg) has promoted the marriage of sexed-up punk style and sport. "[Punk] is our culture so we wanted to take these two things we love and blend it together," she says.

The rules of derby are simple. It's essentially a race round the track: Two "jammers" compete to out-skate each other while earning points by plowing through a swarm of thrashing "blockers." Each time a jammer gets past a blocker, she racks up a point for the team. The league epicenter is the Doll Factory on Temple Street in historic Filipinotown just west of downtown, where violent falls, slams and hip-checks are the main event.

Rachel Piplica (a.k.a. Iron Maiven), captain of the popular Tough Cookies team, says she grew up in the underbelly of the punk scene and, for her, skating has become an extension of that. The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising alum designs the Iron Doll clothing line of roller derby uniforms.

Most of the punk spirit of the leggy boutfits comes from edgy hair styles, short skirts or shorts, dark eye makeup and outrageous stockings. "I am always blown away with how many layers of pantyhose you can actually wear," Piplica says as she adjusts a bandanna patterned with skulls. To rep the derby style, it doesn't hurt to have a few tattoos, but layering tights is a must.

Ane Jens (a.k.a. Gori Spelling) says that as the Dolls fashion has become more mainstream, it's become easier to shop for rink accessories. Gori, who rocks a white-blond mohawk, and her Tough Cookies teammate Laguna Beyatch (Constance Marshall) started a clan of glam skaters known as the Diva Jammers. The divas, who can be on any Derby Dolls team, show up to practice decked out in roller-chic outfits, pillage stores such as Target, Forever 21 and American Apparel, and post sales alerts to their Diva Jammer Yahoo group. To become a Diva Jammer, Dolls have to spend time as a fashion-forward "pledge" to Gori and Laguna, which involves being able to assemble fanciful boutfits, look especially good in photo shoots and score points. There's even a ceremony initiating new Dolls into the group.

If roller derby continues to influence fashion trends, we might find ourselves wearing the hallmark yarn pompoms that Gori attaches to her footwear or Suzy's fabulous faux-fur leg warmers, nicknamed "sasquatch," which resemble the legs of a polar bear.

"There's a company, Wicked Skatewear, who started making them. They're named sasquatch because of me," Suzy says with a grin.

Whether your future fashion will involve pompoms or furry leg warmers, if you ask a Derby Doll, she'll tell you that a little punk goes a long way toward a winning look.

The Derby Doll Season Championship, featuring the Swarm versus the Tough Cookies, is Saturday at the Doll Factory, 1910 W. Temple St., L.A. Doors open at 6 p.m.; the match is slated to start around 7 p.m. Must be 21 or older.

derbydolls.com/la

image@latimes.com

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