Let’s get something straight: Los Angeles is not a fashion capital. A style capital, perhaps. A capital of the garment trade, yes, inasmuch as a good deal of buying, selling and producing goes on there. Increasingly, a shopping capital, boasting not only stalwarts such as Fred Segal and the paparazzi-plagued Kitson, but also a growing number of trendsetting stores like Klasse LA, Scout, Creatures of Comfort, and as of next month, the West Coast outpost of New York cool kid boutique Opening Ceremony. But a fashion capital is something different, a city whose runways set the pace not for the locals but for the world. L.A. remains mired in provincialism, hosting only a very few designers able to conceive a world where people wear things other than jeans, bikinis, spangled tee-shirts, flip-flops and red carpet gowns.
This is not, emphatically, due to a lack of native talent. Jasmin Shokrian, one of America’s most directional young designers, hails from and designs in L.A., but she does not show there, when and if she shows. The Trovata gang come from nearby Orange County, and have winningly put an idiosyncratic spin on preppy sportswear basics. Michon Schur and Jenni Kayne specialize in party dresses, which is very L.A., but both lines claim a design intelligence unusual to the city and shrug off their hometown when it comes to style. And those are only a few examples. But there’s a reason why some of the recent heat on L.A. fashion week has cooled – too much same old, same old, too many fashion shows that seemed like excuses to gather a bunch of celebrities in the same room.
There are bright spots. Juan Carlos Obando is the likeliest new designer to graduate, and quickly, to a berth in New York – for one thing, his lightly sculptural clothes bespeak cityscape urbanity far more than they suggest beaches and velvet ropes, and for a second reason, because the craft behind his designs stands up to serious inspection. Alms is another line that can lay claim to cosmopolitanism: Designed by ex-model and occasional stylist Isabelle Carter, and presenting this season as part of GenArt’s group show, Alms so far specializes in a flirty minimalism more in tune with Carter’s French roots than her California casual context. But she’s carried some of that casual energy into her designs, and it’s part of what makes the line so promising and commercial.
Elliott Hans has history in the L.A. design community; his Morphine Generation brand, recently shuttered, specialized in punkish sportswear. New line Literature Noir is as edgy, but together with partner Kaya B., he’s up to something more sophisticated, with an emphasis on tailoring and texture. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Mintee (pictured), designed by Mintee Kaira, who puts unexpected polish on her gamine separates. Donny Barrios’ Crispin & Basilio marries the gamine and the sophisticated; there’s a lot of thought about shape and movement in his luxe collection, but thanks to savvy drapping, especially, the effect is loose and insouciant. And finally, there’s Joey T., brainchild of the former stylist to Britney Spears, among other notably louche celebrities: judging by the advance shots of Joey Tierney’s new collection, however, the designer seems to have put herself through style rehab, and she’s asserting a more sober, eloquent style. How very Hollywood, indeed.