Los Angeles designer Louis Verdad returned to the fashion scene on Thursday, showing on the runway for the first time in two years. The sexy tailoring that earned him a reputation with the likes of Madonna and Cate Blanchett when he first burst on the fashion scene nearly a decade ago, was back, only with a more measured touch and a more vibrant color palette.
Verdad toned down some of his signature screen siren glamour, showing feminine trouser suits and dresses that fit in with the 1950s housewife, "Mad Men" retro glam vibe that is informing fashion at large. Knits, made in collaboration with Anthropologie knitwear designer Steven Oo (whose work is also featured on Project Artisan), helped round out the collection.
My favorite look was a bubble gum-pink pantsuit. The single-button jacket was nicely tailored, with wide lapels and a sailor collar in the back, and paired with cropped pants. It seems like Verdad could find a niche with affordable suits (the ones in this collection start at $475) with special, designery details. There's not a lot of that out there.
I also liked the scoop neck, zig-zag crochet dress with candy pink and mint green lining, which was textural and fun, the yellow awning stripe jumpsuit with palazzo pants slit high on the leg, and a ruby red jumpsuit with a plunging neckline and buckle details in back.
Not everything worked, but the stronger pieces were a potent reminder of Verdad's talent for tailoring--and how it might translate to a more mass, mainstream market. Perhaps the Limited or Banana Republic should give him a call for a collaboration.
The salon-style show at the Boa gallery in West Hollywood, which had an audience of stylists, bloggers and local media, was momentous for another reason, too. It was the first time the designer had shown under his own name since settling a 3 1/2-year battle with a former business partner out of court.
It's been a long road for Verdad, who established his label in 2002, and was "discovered" by Madonna's stylist Arianne Phillips when he showed his first runway collection at Los Angeles Fashion Week in 2003. He dressed Madonna in a cashmere suit for the 2003 MTV Music Awards (where she kissed Britney Spears on the lips), and Maria Bello in an ivory satin column gown for the Golden Globe Awards in 2004. He was introduced to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, his clothes were featured in InStyle, Harpers Bazaar and other glossy magazines, and they were sold in Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.
He was the L.A. designer name on everyone's lips for a while. But, like so many talents in the fashion business, he expanded too fast, spent money foolishly, and failed to develop a strong business model. Verdad lost custody of his own name when a business partnership went south, and was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2007. In the last couple of years, he's shown a handful of looks (made on a shoestring) at L.A. Fashion Week, under the name LA Louver.
Now that he's got his name back, he's committed to doing things differently.
"It was a hard collection because I had very little budget," the designer said. "I wanted to do something sexy, to be more risky with color combinations, and to bring in cleavage, a sexy front or a beautiful leg."
"This show was for me to tell the press I'm back and still alive. Celebrities will endorse my label, they always have. But growth will depend on production."
The comeback collection was a collaboration with ProjectArtisan, a website that features the work of emerging and socially responsible designers, giving them a platform to sell to consumers who are looking to support grassroots fashion labels. The site is similar to ModaOperandi.com, in that it bucks the traditional fashion system by allowing consumers to bypass store buyers, and vote with their dollars for the next crop of designer talent. A selection of Verdad's runway looks will be available to order this spring on Project Artisan, at prices from $450.
"I’m looking for my visionary," Verdad said, referring to a partner who could be the business-savvy yin to his creative yang. "Someone who knows how to commercialize on this momentum. I need to be careful that I do the right thing. I need to think about business."
He's off to a good start.
Photos of Louis Verdad's spring 2012 runway show. Credit: X Xanthm L-9 Media Group.