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NOT everyone's gotten the memo yet, but the dress code from Echo Park nightclubs to Culver City galleries is changing. A renewed elegance is replacing L.A.'s relaxed signature style, thanks in part to a rising school of designers bent on creating clothes as sophisticated as they are beautifully made.
The city's restaurant, architecture and art scenes have grown up, motivating women who once would have gone everywhere in jeans to up their game. For some, the price of spiffing up is not a problem: Los Angeles now has the most millionaires of any county in America — four times as many as New York.
"This is a much more cosmopolitan place than it was when I was a kid, when there were horse stables on La Cienega," says designer Jasmin Shokrian, one of the standouts. "Many of my clients are Hollywood producers who have impeccable taste. They're in strong professional positions, and they want what they wear to tip people off that they're risk takers."
Shokrian is among L.A.'s young design sophisticates, along with Monique Lhuillier, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, Juan Carlos Obando, Katy Rodriguez, Rosetta Getty of Riser Goodwyn, Jenni Kayne and Stephanie Schur of Michon Schur.
Each has caught the attention of retailers and fashion editors around the world.
"We're seeing some true designers emerge from Los Angeles," says Beth Buccini, co-owner of the trendsetting New York boutique Kirna Zabete. "The Rodarte sisters are leading the pack with intellectual, incredibly designed, well-executed collections." Paradoxically, the members of this classy new class of designers — individualists, all — have so much in common that it suggests there must be something in the water. They all say having a life in Los Angeles is important to them, and the city influences their aesthetic. They maintain that quality and craftsmanship are key. They think like artists, and don't see their work as disposable. "I want to make something that will last," says Schur, "that you can have in your closet for 20 years."
There were always California designers who made clothes so timeless they are still coveted by collectors. James Galanos, Rudi Gernreich, Holly Harp and Richard Tyler set up shop here, and refused to move their headquarters to New York or Europe. Shokrian shows her line to buyers in a hotel suite in Paris twice a year. Lhuillier, Schur, Kayne and the Mulleavy sisters acknowledge that participating in New York Fashion Week has been crucial to their commercial success.
"When I started my business 10 years ago," Lhuillier says, "the buyers I was trying to reach and the pool of fashion editors weren't here to see my work and put it in the magazines. I kind of felt isolated." Her company, the most established of the bunch, projects sales of $25 million in 2007.
Obando's collection kicks off Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios today. It will be his fifth L.A. show, but he isn't necessarily staying: "I'd like my collection to develop here before I show it in New York."
Extraordinary attention to detail and fine fabrics elevate the cost of these collections. With price tags from $450 to $2,000-plus come an exclusivity the designers welcome. After all, they never set out to design for everyone.
"It starts with what I want to wear and what I can't seem to find," says Rodriguez, echoing her peers. "I wanted grown-up clothes that were still cute." Cute, yes. Also pretty, feminine, refined, even edgy. Sporty? Casual? Not so much. Time to retire the charge that California girls never get out of their yoga pants.
Don't hate them for being well-connected. Schur's husband, Jordan, is president of Geffen Records. Getty is married to Balthazar Getty, one of the stars of ABC's "Brothers and Sisters," and a great-grandson of industrialist John Paul Getty. Kayne's father, Richard, is one of the founders of a $7-billion investment management firm. "My mother is into art and fashion, and I was exposed to a lot in Los Angeles," she said. "I went to my first big Chanel charity show here when I was 8 years old. I knew I wanted to be a designer then."
Obando, who emigrated from Colombia 10 years ago, worked as an advertising agency creative director here, a position that sparked his desire to build a global brand. He is typical of these entrepreneurial designers, who never dreamed of working for someone else. Starting out, some were self-financed. Others received capital infusions from relatives or small investors. Some studied fashion design. Several did not.
They've all been schooled in publicity, and know the value of a celebrity mannequin. Their frocks show up on discerning ingenues who want to be photographed in something less va-va-voom than the prevailing notion of Hollywood glamour. If a more understated chic comes to rule the red carpet, the influence of this group will grow exponentially.
Last month, Harper's Bazaar featured a dinner party Getty staged at her Nichols Canyon home. Courtney Cox Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Selma Blair, Kirsten Dunst and Eva Mendes were among the guests posing in striking Riser Goodwyn dresses. Kayne and the Mulleavy sisters were spotlighted in the March Glamour. Rodriguez had her moment in the February Vogue, posing with actress Michele Hicks.
Who in L.A.'s stylish Facebook is most likely to succeed? Time will tell.
THE 2007 FACEBOOK
IF you think L.A. is all about denim and fast fashion, think again. A new class has emerged — both in terms of a heightened sophistication in quality and design, and in this new group of young designers who are leading the charge.
Monique Lhuillier, 35, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and celebrated designer of bridal gowns, began offering glamorous suits, cocktail dresses and evening gowns in 2003. Suits cost $2,000 and up. Gowns are $3,000 to $12,000. Self-taught Pasadena natives Kate Mulleavy, 28, and her sister Laura, 26, just presented their fourth Rodarte collection, priced at $1,800 to $25,000. By getting tremendous recognition and acceptance, this trio helped change the image of L.A.'s creators, and paved the way for others with similarly refined sensibilities.
For Jasmin Shokrian, 33, who studied painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, "fabric is the medium I'm working in now." Her sculptural designs, at once classic and modern, are priced from $300 for a top to $3,000 for a coat. When Juan Carlos Obando, 30, showed his first collection two years ago, fashion editors and buyers swooned, but no one bought. "They felt the clothes were these precious things that were unapproachable," he says. Obando often works with intricately folded fabric, and prices jackets from $800 and dresses to $1,400. "I don't want to make art pieces that hang in a museum," he says. "You have to wear them, trash them, live in them."
The cool girls
Katy Rodriguez, Rosetta Getty and Jenni Kayne all have the confidence to walk into a room and rule it wearing a simple, sleek dress and a pair of sandals. Rodriguez, 37, founded the Resurrection vintage stores in New York and L.A. before creating girly dresses priced from $450 to $2,000 that get their spirit more from beautiful vintage fabrics than froufrou. Getty, 37, is a former model and children's wear designer. Her Riser Goodwyn collection in black, white and strong, solid colors is austere and sexy. Dresses that can go from day into evening cost $800 to $1,600. Kayne, 24, treats leather as casually as terry cloth, and has a greater affinity for classic American sportswear than many in the new class. Prices range from $550 for a day dress to $1,600 for a coat.
The rising star
At first glance, the Michon Schur line exhibits the ladylike qualities of such popular New York designers as Peter Som, Derek Lam and Phillip Lim. On closer inspection, the gorgeous fabrics 28-year-old Stephanie Schur finds in France and Italy, and her beautifully detailed treatment of them, brings to mind such American masters as Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass. If the future of L.A. style is in the hands of Schur and others like her, it looks bright. The kids are all right.