Friday, March 02, 2007

Fashion Week Comes To Downtown Los Angeles - Cowboy Style!!

The Downtown News has the first press on how members of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council are bringing Fashion Week back downtown. One thing the article does not mention, though, is that the donor of the main venue - Broadway's historic Los Angeles Theatre - Michael Delijani - is also a board member of DLANC.

To me, the important point to make is that most of us would not have known each other unless we all served on DLANC's board - and if that were the case, then Fashion Week would still be everywhere - but Downtown Los Angeles.

To Catch the Catwalks

Upstart Group Plans to Return L.A.'s Fashion Week to Downtown

by Kathleen Nye Flynn

The group of men gathered in a top-floor office near Broadway and Ninth Street were a motley crew: There was the slick promoter, the hip magazine editor, the cool, tattooed artist, the serious businessman in a suit, and the boisterous neighborhood activist, who donned a cowboy hat.

As mismatched as they seem, these five men are hatching a very stylish plan: They want to lure Los Angeles' elusive Fashion Week back to Downtown.

Their idea began just six weeks ago, over drinks at J Restaurant and Lounge. There, Downtown advocate Brady Westwater, developer Gary Warfel and artist Peter Gurnz - all members of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council - were brainstorming projects that could improve the area.

Suddenly inspiration struck: They would recapture Los Angeles' Fashion Week - an event where designers parade their new lines in front of stylists and media - which has evaded Downtown since 2003, when Culver City's Smash Box studios won the battle of hosting the extravaganza.

Now, these organizers say, Downtown is ready to fight back - or at least join in on the fun.

"This will be sort of a calling card," said Westwater, who is vice president of DLANC, while sitting in Gurnz's artsy office. "Basically, we're showing that this event can work in Downtown."

In its arsenal, the group has the kitschy Standard Hotel, the architecturally-renowned Los Angeles Theater and a whole lot of gumption that comes from a burgeoning community where business people, artists and city boosters all share the same love for an urban core.

They also have a fairly lengthy list of names: designer Eduardo Lucero is scheduled to headline at the Los Angeles Theater on March 17, proceeded by both established and emerging designers like Jarod Gold and Kit Pistol who will show on March 16. KushCush, Krel and Kevin Johnn's collections, among others, will traverse the catwalk at the Standard Hotel in a three-day event starting March 15.

Six Weeks to Plan

After the Fashion Week seed took root, Gurnz, whose company BOXeight is producing the show, called his friend Mike Vensel, publisher of Kitten magazine, and Stephen Hauptfuhr, a promoter. In just a matter of weeks, the group had arranged the locations, sent invitations to fashion critics and buyers and put together an after party to host 3,000 guests.

Warfel put up $20,000 to jump-start the events, Chapman Flats donated another $5,000, and Michael Delijani of the Los Angeles Theater donated the venue for the nights and handled all the permits to produce the event.

The fact that it has only taken six weeks to produce and promote the event, the group says, proves that Downtown can once again be Fashion Week friendly.

"We will have a beautiful production in an older theater, and it will show what we have going for us, and what Smash Box doesn't have," Gurnz said.

The two Downtown events will have different titles: the Standard Hotel show is listed as Kitten Fashion Week and the event at the Los Angeles Theater is the BOXeight Fashion Week.

The planning hasn't come without some snafus. Gurnz hit a major roadblock when IMG Fashion - which produces Smash Box's Fashion Week, sent a legal protest against Gurnz's production company name, which, coincidently, was called IMG-81. The names were a little too similar for two companies about to work in the same scene, Gurnz said. He changed IMG-81 to BOXeight.

Unfortunately, however, the IMG-81 tattoo that runs up Gurnz's torso is permanent.

While major cities around the world host well established and exclusive Fashion Weeks that draw international crowds, Los Angeles is relatively new to the event.

Official Fashion Week events, now produced by IMG, began in Los Angeles only four years ago at the then-premiering Standard Hotel in Downtown. At that time, promoters complained that parking and organizational problems at the location made the event chaotic. IMG moved the production to Culver City in 2004.

But, what really makes Fashion Week difficult in Los Angeles is that the city is better known for its fashion business - not its flashy shows, said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association. The Fashion District's Market Week, where buyers come from around the world to purchase the latest styles wholesale, is the city's most prominent fashion event, she added.

That already difficult audience can make it hard for anybody to throw Fashion Week events in Los Angeles, Metchek said, let alone start-up groups who enter the ring so late in the game.

"Unless fashion shows are done to the teeth like they are in New York, with gorgeous models, tons of fanfare, great attendance and lots of press, it's going to be a waste," Metchek said.

Even though the hodgepodge team from Downtown will have produced the event in just two months, they said they expect it to be a success that will help make Downtown's Fashion Week next season bigger and better.

"There are a lot of talented designers who can't afford to do shows at Smash Box," said Vensel of Kitten magazine. "So they are in limbo, and they are looking for something different. The shows that we are doing will help those designers out."

Contact Kathleen Nye Flynn at

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