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Los Angeles Fashion Week: Skingraft explores the elegance of death and the circle of life

March 14, 2011 |  2:00 pm

The Skingraft presentation on the closing night of Concept Los Angeles Fashion Week is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me slogging out to art galleries, former cathedrals and assorted, random warehouse spaces all over the city during Los Angeles Fashion Week.

Even though the Los Angeles-based label has its flagship boutique and atelier barely a coat hanger's toss away from the Los Angeles Times offices downtown, chances are I wouldn't have escaped the gravitational pull of my various and sundry obligations and deadlines to stop in and have designer

Johnny Cota walk me through the fall and winter 2011 collection.

But, since the line -- which has long been an L.A. Fashion Week presence -- was on the Concept Fashion Week calendar, I made it a point of stopping by on Sunday night, and was surprised to see just seven looks in all -- four women's and three men's -- arranged in a static presentation.

Rage_skingraft4 "There's a full collection," Cota assured me, "We've just done the big runway shows in the past, and I just wanted to do something different and focus on a couple of key looks."

Cota told me the collection had been inspired by the grace of death -- specifically the passing of his grandmother two weeks ago. "Because of her I was thinking a lot about the whole circle of life and the idea that after you die you can be anything you want to be."

Standouts that included a mixed-fabrication form-fitting mini dress that combined leather with panels of heavy stretch cotton, a jacket with monstrous hairy shoulder pads (a mix of goat hair with human hair extensions woven in) and, in a departure from the brand's signature second-skin aesthetic, a couple of double-breasted jackets.

When I pointed out the jackets, Cota said it was his first such attempt. "I've always wanted to experiment with the double-breasted jacket," he told me. "In a way I think it's an indication that we're kind of growing up."

The fragility of life was reflected in the black-and-white feather-like headpieces that offset the sturdy, fierce-looking garments, which Cota said were made from human hair painstakingly held in place by multiple coats of latex.

"Those were inspired by Isabella Blow and the hats she used to wear," Cota explained. "She was very into [exploring] the dark side."

If part of "growing up" means acknowledging the inevitability of death, then maturity might well be measured by how we respond when confronted by the fleeting, transitory nature of our existence.

Cota's brief and poignant eulogy in leather and latexed hair should stand as evidence that Skingraft isn't just growing up -- it's matured as well.

-- Adam Tschorn

Photos: Looks from the Skingraft fall and winter 2011 presentation on Sunday, during Concept Fashion Week Los Angeles at Ace Gallery. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times.