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Fashion Diary: L.A. fashion designers say 'Hello world'

March 26, 2010 |  5:52 pm
Gregory-parkinson-emily-jer Who needs a runway when a rack is better?

L.A. designers Katy Rodriguez, Gregory Parkinson, Emily Jerome and Jerome C. Rousseau hosted a cocktail party Monday night at the Palihouse Holloway in West Hollywood to preview their fall lines. A few garment racks in the courtyard, a little informal modeling and some vino were all it took to make this one of the most compelling events of Los Angeles' disjointed Fashion Week.

Of course, the clothes were pretty great too. No jeans and T-shirts here. These designers sell to the likes of Barneys New York Harvey Nichols and Ron Herman.

The group was coming off a trip to Paris Fashion Week earlier this month, where they showed their collections together in the "5 From California" showroom at an art gallery in the Marais, along with Jenni Kayne. The idea was that their combined experience and contacts (not to mention a collective air of L.A. cool) would get them more bang for the buck than if they rented spaces on their own at trade shows or in hotel suites.
In just the second season of the showroom experiment, the designers have generated dozens of new retail orders and a fair amount of media coverage, suggesting other local designers of this caliber might want to consider the model.

Katy diary In other words, if you can't bring the world to Los Angeles Fashion Week, why not bring Los Angeles Fashion Week to the world?

British designers have a similar setup in Paris, only on a larger scale. Held over a week at an art gallery, the partially subsidized London Showrooms allow more than a dozen up-and-coming designers to showcase their work for international editors and buyers.

In the last four seasons, rising stars Erdem Moralioglu, Mark Fast and Todd Lynn have all participated in the London Showrooms. The enterprise has been so successful, in fact, that it moved to New York City for a three-day stint last week at the Soho Grand Hotel.

The London Showrooms are organized by the British Fashion Council, a nonprofit supported by industry and government funding, most recently a roughly $6.2-million (U.S.) grant from the Mayor of London's office.

The five from California pay their own way. "But it would be great to get some funding from the city," Rodriguez said. Los Angeles Mayor  Antonio Villaraigosa has been a proponent of  efforts to elevate the profile of L.A.'s fashion community (and generate jobs). This could be a great one.

The L.A. designers who  participated in the Paris showroom have grown from it. And their lines, which have California's cultural throughline of art and landscape, benefit from being shown together.

"We're a good face of Los Angeles, because like every fashion city there are some good things here and some bad things," Rousseau said diplomatically. The luxury shoe designer who relocated from London six years ago isn't so much inspired by L.A. as he is inspired in L.A. "There's a lot of space to think," he said.

His fall collection is part late '70s punk (the triangular-heeled Artemis shoe in denim-blue leather with kiltie detail) and part late '70s disco (the black glitter peep toe Kessell bootie with a scooped out shaft). But it's all about the kind of nonchalant  beauty embodied in his new muse, French actress Roxane Mesquida, who just relocated to L.A. herself.

There was a 1970s quality to Rodriguez's collection too. As in, after technology overload, it may be time for a new New Age. Adorable crepe de Chine dresses and jumpsuits in a cosmic moon and dot print designed by Vienna-based artist Sara Galaxia, worn with metallic jacquard obi belts, made me want to head for the hills in search of higher consciousness.

Jerome diary "So often when we think about the future, it's a very silver and white, cold and robotic vision. But there is another vision of the future that is more colorful and soul-bound, more Sun Ra and Bootsy [Collins]," said the designer, who is also co-owner of the influential L.A. and New York Resurrection vintage boutiques with Mark Haddawy. Next, she'll be shooting a video of her fall collection at Haddawy's 1970s-era Futuro flying saucer house. Think Sun Ra's 1974 film "Space Is the Place."

The Aztec-meets-high tech vibe of Emily Jerome's collection would fit right in. The newbie in the group, she sketched all the prints for her first full collection of knit T-shirts, tank dresses and leggings, designed to be layered for a mobile uniform. "I like the idea of something rooted in the ancient and updated in Day-Glo colors," she said.

Inspired by  Indonesian ikats, guinea fowl foliage and the native dress of Himalayan  sorcerers and more, Jerome doesn't have any formal art training (she was a journalist before taking up fashion). But the minimalist artist Donald Judd was her godfather. "We did a lot of vacationing in Marfa," she said. 

For fit, Jerome studied old rock 'n' roll T-shirts at L.A.'s Lo-Fi vintage store, co-owned by her pal Gary Wagner. She looked at Allman Brothers, Eagles and Steve Miller Band shirts, but the best fitting was a 1980s tee from the Dirty Strangers, the band that counts Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood as sometimes members. And so a clothing line was born.

Parkinson is the veteran designer in the group. He was bringing a DIY approach — or "potpourri" approach, as he likes to call it — to fashion design when the Rodarte sisters were still in diapers, hand dying and fusing fabric and lace to create casual, bohemian separates. For fall, he worked with lighter, all-season fabrications in an earthy palette and lowered prices 30% to 50 % to better address the way women shop now.

A blousy, dolman-sleeve jacket with pink, brown and rust tweed overlay; a russet-colored snakeskin- print chiffon sack dress with a tie-dyed flounce on one side; and a green, brown and black tie-dyed and lace-appliqued skirt sell for $200 to $500, which is amazing considering how special the pieces look.
"It's about accessibility and layering pieces," Parkinson said. "That's really the essence of sportswear. For so long sportswear was a dirty word, but now it's the new word in fashion."

In Paris, maybe. But in L.A., it's always been in style.

-- Booth Moore


More photos: Emily Jerome | Gregory Parkinson | Katy Rodriguez | Jerome C. Rousseau

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Top photos: Left, Gregory Parkinson, credit: Marla Aufmuth; Right, Emily Jerome, credit: Jeremy Goldberg. Middle photo: Katy Rodriguez, credit: Katy Rodriguez. Bottom photo: Jerome C. Rousseau, credit: Jerome C. Rousseau.