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L.A. Fashion Week can't get no respect

Los Angeles could benefit from a strong Fashion Week, but it hasn't caught on. What will it take to be on par with New York or Paris?

October 10, 2010|By Adam Tschorn | Los Angeles Times

We've just come off a global jaunt through the fashion capitals of New York, Milan and Paris, with several weeks of runway shows. Now what about L.A.?

To the armchair fashionista, it may seem puzzling that a metropolis that's home to so many fashion designers, stylists and companies that churn out a variety of things from blue jeans to ball gowns is entering its third consecutive year without the kind of tightly organized, highly visible and media-saturated cadre of high-caliber runway shows that are staged twice a year or more in other cities.

Ever since the five-year partnership between IMG and Smashbox Studios folded its Culver City tents in October 2008 (and that wasn't even in Los Angeles, technically), a professionally produced, industry-focused fashion week capable of consistently attracting the time and attention of the media that matter most — fashion editors of the glossy monthly magazines based in New York — has proved elusive.

Instead, each of the last three seasons brought a grab bag of low-budget, high-frustration runway shows, presentations and events haphazardly spread across nearly a calendar month that generated little beyond local interest. The fourth such season begins this week.

The Los Angeles situation can seem all the more perplexing because the ranks of fashion weeks have swelled over the last few years to include those in Portland, Ore.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Alexandria, Va.

But if IMG, which successfully stages fashion weeks in cities around the world (New York, Berlin and Mumbai, among them) couldn't make it work here, is it a forgone conclusion that America's dream factory is somehow simply incapable of — to borrow a term from the entertainment world — getting this particular project out of turnaround?

Or for that matter, why does Los Angeles even need a fashion week? And what's at stake if nothing more organized ever materializes?

"The real question you have to ask is: 'Why not here?'" Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "And I think the answer is that it's only a matter of time. If they can get Sarah Jessica Parker to show up in New York, imagine what we can do here."

Villaraigosa says about three years ago he was approached by leaders of the city's fashion community and asked to help draw attention to that industry. His past efforts have included attending fashion shows, hosting a fashion week mixer at the official mayoral residence and, most recently, getting behind the global one-day shopping extravaganza known as Fashion's Night Out. He can quickly rattle off statistics that underscore the size of L.A.'s fashion business, and he sees promoting the work of Los Angeles designers as part and parcel of his recently announced "shop local" initiative.

Timing and economics

Historically there have been two hurdles in efforts to establish a world-class fashion week here: timing and money. Timing is an issue because L.A.'s traditional spot on the calendar comes at the end of an already monthlong marathon through the major shows that begins in New York and ends in Paris. (Next season, a new group called Fashion Los Angeles has addressed that issue head on, shifting the showing of the fall and winter 2011 collections here to a Feb. 1-7 berth, before the New York run of winter shows).

The other consideration is economic. A designer who spends the time, energy and money to mount a full-scale professional runway show in Los Angeles still won't get the level of media exposure he or she would in New York, which is attended annually by 232,000 writers, editors and the like from 30 countries.

That's why the IMG-Smashbox shows ended up as a de facto farm team, with the cream of the crop showing just one or two seasons before bolting to the opposite coast. Left behind were less-established brands, celebrity clothing lines, lingerie shows featuring the Pussycat Dolls and acres of tattoo-emblazoned street wear. The kinds of designers who craft elegant red carpet gowns and cater to the ladies who lunch found it increasingly difficult to maintain brand cachet.

"By the end I just didn't want to show there," Sue Wong said. "It would be my line and [porn star] Jenna Jameson. It wasn't how I wanted to showcase my collections."

Next week, Wong will present her spring and summer 2011 collection to about 400 members of the fashion media and invited celebrity friends in her 6th Street atelier. "I can control everything about it — right down to the furniture — which I designed myself," she explained. That's where she showed her previous collection, too. The season before that she showed in her home (the Cedars, the historic former home of Norma Talmadge, Jimi Hendrix and Dennis Hopper, among others). Although she says that's been as effective, if not more so, in generating media impressions, as she expands the Sue Wong brand she has her eye set on New York. "I think I'll show my spring-summer 2012 collection there a year from now," she said.

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