Saturday, March 24, 2007

Downtown News Wrap-Up On Downtown Fashion Week!

Another article on one of the five Downtown Fashion Week events of last week:

Downtown Flaunts A Fashion of Its Own

Culver City Has Smashbox, but the Los Angeles Theatre Knows How to Party

by Kathleen Nye Flynn

I'm no fashion expert, but in the last few years I've snuck into my fair share of catwalk events. I've wiggled into Culver City's biannual Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios a few times, either through the front door or the back.
Jared Gold's fashion show at the Los Angeles Theatre, with an aisle carved out of the venue's grand ballroom, was far friendlier than similar events on the Westside.

So I had an inkling of what I was getting into when I showed up (through the front door) at Downtown's first Fashion Week event in years, which began March 16. The two nights of shows at Broadway's Los Angeles Theatre, I knew, had the potential to be memorable.

I arrived at the Friday night show just in time for Jared Gold's collection. The theater's ornate ceiling swooped above a crowd glammed out in avant-garde dresses, handmade hats and vintage styles.

The lustrous, colonnaded walls and wide, tumbling staircases, combined with the artsy folks on the guest list and DJs spinning tunes, provided the groundwork for one enticing evening - especially for an event that began as a random notion over drinks.

A motley crew of neighborhood advocates slapped the show together in just seven weeks. The group included Brady Westwater, the Downtown Neighborhood Council's vice president with a penchant for cowboy hats and wrestling team shirts, along with artist Peter Gurnz, Gary Warfel, a local CEO, and Michael Delijani, the theater's owner. They're not exactly a fashion forward group, but they obviously knew something about attracting a scene - each night drew more than 800 people.

After working my way through the crowd, I squeezed into a space on a tightly filled bench. Instead of the usual raised catwalk, bleachers lined an aisle carved out of the theater's grand ballroom. The layout created an intimate, parlor room effect, which made the vibe more friendly than self conscious, rare for a fashion show.

I sat near Westwater, who was wearing a dapper red button down, sans cowboy hat but still hiding a wrestling shirt underneath the formal front. He stole glances at the woman on the other side of him, L.A. artist Dame Darcy, who donned a feather hat, a long white lace dress and carried a doll in her likeness. Surely, this was no City Council meeting.

The crowd was boisterous, cheering on each model. Unlike Smashbox events, there was an air of congeniality - probably because we were able to bring our drinks and get sloshed while watching.

Gold's collection was in line with its edgy audience. The pieces - a post-apocalyptic mixture of Edwardian collars, 1970s-style skirts and one dress apparently made from a bed sheet - matched the rebelliousness of the models, who threw off shoes and succumbed to silly dance moves.

Even though the show was intended to supplement Smashbox's events rather than compete with them, as I sat amid the raucous audience, I couldn't help but draw some comparisons.

Smashbox is in Culver City, far from any sort of party scene. The building is pristine, austere and streamlined - much like the catwalks that the models strut down, much like the models themselves.

The Los Angeles Theater proved measurably more interesting. It boasts dark, mysterious corners and historical beauty, its glamorous architectural arches like the curls in Marilyn Monroe's hair.

The show was not without hiccups: Up until the last minute, organizers were scrambling to get city approvals for street closures and other permits. Later, the after-party only captured a smallish audience.

I came back the next night with a few friends and high expectations. But, sadly, I learned that much of a fashion event's scene is directly affected by the designers who are showcasing. On Saturday night, Eduardo Lucero, an established designer with a store on the Westside, showed off his stunning collection of refined, high-waisted skirts, open-backed cocktail dresses and a pair of perfectly nipped alabaster gowns.

Lucero did much of his own promoting, and with him came a decidedly different scene, more mainstream, more, well, Smashbox. The crowd seemed out of place in the unique, if primitive, surroundings. Some critics may call the second night the more professional of the two, but to me it lacked the energy that made night one so memorable.

The two nights made me think not just about fashion, but about Los Angeles and its role in the industry. There's no reason why our fashion shows shouldn't represent the city's playful, anything-goes lifestyle. With the east side of Los Angeles home to so much creative energy (mostly because of the cheaper real estate), it makes sense that an old Broadway theater would be an appropriate venue to saddle that originality.

Overall, Fashion Week - whether in Culver City or elsewhere - would do well to keep playing up its differences, its youthful, creative qualities, its edginess and serendipity.

This fledgling, quickly planned event went a long way in proving that L.A. fashion, along with Downtown, can truly foster a niche of its own.

Contact Kathleen Nye Flynn at

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