Fashion 88 : Cutting Path to New Career Is No Sweat

Times Staff Writer

Through the window of a shop called Laporte, you see spools of yarn and stacks of sweaters, but not the barber's chair behind them. And certainly not Lyn Laporte.

She's cutting hair on the far side of a partition made of cans filled with shoulder pads. But after more than 20 years with the clippers, she wants to start a second business.

These days, she's gearing up for changes ahead, playing self-esteem tapes or tuning the radio at work to the all-religious-music station. The regular customers to her barber shop have seen stranger phases. Some of the men have been with her for 20 years.

By now Laporte seems to understand men well. They've been the most important people in her life, she says.

Women usually strike her as too difficult and indirect. She won't cut their hair, except for the half dozen or so she considers to be like her. "Handsome women, and not fussy about themselves." If they want to stay occupied while they wait, they can play pool like everybody else. There's a portable table in the waiting area, and some customers say they've seen Laporte after work, shooting a game at Barney's Beanery.

Because she's always surrounded by men, you would think she dressed for them, but she doesn't. Not in a way most women would. Around the shop she wears black suede pumps and dark hosiery, trousers and one of her hand-knit sweaters. She considers herself to be a man's sort of woman mainly because she is like them. In her words, "I more build than decorate."

Until a year ago, when she got serious about sweaters, she didn't know much about the fashion business. Since then she's had her share of misadventures. She says she was the target of a wayward suggestion from a man who was a boutique buyer and that she has failed to collect from a shop that has owed her several thousand dollars since last spring. "There are a million mistakes to make, and I've made them," she says in her matter-of-fact way. "You've got to have courage. A faint heart doesn't make it."

If nothing else, her adventures have supplied months of conversation around the barber's chair. "I like to talk to my customers," Laporte says. She makes sure she has time, by scheduling appointments 45 minutes apart. Most hair dressers make appointments every 15 minutes.

At least half her clients own one of her crew necks, some have as many as 10, partly because there seems to be a story behind each one, partly because she's been displaying them right next to her barber's chair for several years. (Six professionals do the actual knitting.)

Advice From Men

The men have advised her on how to perfect the sweater's shape by changing it in very small ways. "Men love to educate and help you," she says. "I keep taking the kinks out. I want the best crew neck in the world."

There is only one basic style. It's for women too, made of cotton or wool, done in one of three traditional stitches and priced from $350. The style is so classic she never plans to change it. "I want to do for sweaters what I do for hair," she says. "I give the same haircut now that I gave 22 years ago. I'll make the same sweater 22 years from now."

To round out her own wardrobe, Laporte just added a hand-knit tube skirt in short and long, to wear with her tops. Mr. Guy in Beverly Hills will carry her label too, starting in February. This time, she says, it's all going right.

Laporte's shop is in the Antiquarius mall on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles.

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