Saturday, October 13, 2007

LA Times Handicapping Of Competing Fashion Shows!

Lost and found

L.A. Fashion Week finally taps into its main asset: location, location, location. By Adam Tschorn

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer October 14, 2007

THE biannual gathering of the fashion flock known as Los Angeles Fashion Week has finally shifted out of soul-searching crisis mode. After five years, it is at last looking a lot like the city itself: tapping into the celebrity ether to generate buzz, sprawling with events from Culver City to downtown, cultivating the whole eco-chic movement and bringing back some of its runway stars for a victory lap.

In March, things weren't looking so good. Shows were at an all-time low, with just 23 scheduled for the tents at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, even including shows by an underwear company. Two upstart fashion shows in downtown L.A. were threatening to wrench the whole event away from its Culver City base. What a difference seven months can make.

One of the downtown upstarts, Kitten Fashion Week, sponsored by the online Kitten magazine, has packed up and left. The other, BOXeight, a downtown-centric arts organization, is looking less like a threat than an enhancement.

Now the BOXeight shows are taking place at the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral, with five shows added to the roster and the event morphing into a multimedia arts celebration. Back in Culver City, Smashbox, in partnership with event producers IMG, has turned the crank on the star machine, hoping that if celebrities turn out, the rest of the world will follow.

That strategy will be unleashed tonight when Nicky Hilton brings her celebutante wattage to the tents when her Chick by Nicky Hilton line makes its runway debut, and when Randolph Duke, gown-maker to the stars, returns from a seven-year, self-imposed catwalk exile in front of an audience that will almost certainly include an A-list award-show client or two. On Tuesday, the new Whitley Kros label debuts in front of fans such as musician Beck and actor Giovanni Ribisi.

It's a strategy that capitalizes on L.A's strong suit, says Kelly Cutrone, the publicist consulting with the IMG/Smashbox partnership for the next two seasons. "When you do a show in Europe, getting a celebrity usually requires two first-class plane tickets, putting them up at the Ritz, giving them free clothes and possibly paying them," she says. "Here, Cher can come down off the hill because she wants to. . . and it doesn't cost the house a dime, and it's a huge payoff."

But in a city full of recognizable movers, shakers and socialite power brokers, it doesn't necessarily require Cher in the front row to be a success. Cutrone says bringing big names such as Petro Zillia and Jeremy Scott back to Los Angeles for a quasi-alumni tour (both are Cutrone's clients) allows the faithful to reconnect.

"For someone like Jeremy who doesn't show in the U.S. anymore it allows us to capitalize on the cool-connect -- the Jacqui Gettys and Liz Goldywns of the world which in turn increases the brand awareness," Cutrone says.

It's a strategic end run around the tension between New York fashion editors (such as Vogue editor Anna Wintour) who don't deign to set a stiletto inside the tents due to a dearth of big-name designers, and the designers who decline to show because so much industry press isn't there.

"The entertainment press is really what a lot of these designers . . . are after," said Smashbox Studios co-founder Davis Factor. "If people just wanted to see the collections, they can download most of the stuff online. What I'm trying to do is generate a little buzz."

Sophie Coloma and Marissa Ribisi are sure to bring that buzz to the tents when they debut their L.A. label, Whitley Kros, on Wednesday. Ribisi, the sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi, is married to Beck, who has obligingly mixed the show's soundtrack and contributed some art work to the contemporary women's line.

Sue Wong, the only designer to show on the official calendar every season since 2002, points out that the success of the week is measured in more than just column inches of coverage or written orders. She credits the show for giving her a name in Paris and for her role as a judge on "America's Next Top Model."Room for both

From the perspective downtown, "IMG pretty much has the runway thing covered," said BOXeight founder Peter Gurnz before his two-day event got underway on Thursday.

"We envision this as more of a music, fashion and arts festival."

Dubbed "Have Faith in L.A." and held last Thursday and last night at the former St. Vibiana's, the schedule included seven fashion designers, including the downtown-based Bohemian Society. The spring collection is themed "violent playground" and involves a merry-go-round on the runway, according to designer Victor Wilde. It will play alongside art installations, dance performances by the Hysterica Dance Company and a festival of short fashion-related films. (Image went to press before the events occurred. The shows will be reviewed in Tuesday's Calendar section.)

And even though the BOXeight sophomore outing siphoned off only one recent designer from the tents (Louis Verdad, who didn't show anywhere last season), it's too early to say that the BOXeight-Smashbox drama is over.

In fact, BOXeight has been in discussions with the organizers of Gen Art to bring another showcase for up-and-coming talent into the fold.

And even Kitten organizer Mike Vensel is threatening to return next season.

Keep the claws sharpened.

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