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The Next Look : From Los Angeles, Designers Adding Menswear Lines

Times Staff Writer

For Los Angeles designer Christian de Castelnau, menswear falls into two camps: “Very expensive Armani or affordable things that aren’t tempting.”

Convinced many males agree with him (“They want something nice, but can’t afford a $1,500 suit”), Castelnau has added menswear to his repertoire of women’s and children’s clothing.

His first collection, out next spring, will include items he personally wants to wear, such as gentlemanly linen suits and shirts ($325 and $125), along with less-expensive casual cotton tops (some bearing the Castelnau family crest) and trousers.

With his 45-piece entry, Castelnau joins the latest group of Californians who are known for their women’s designs but have decided it’s time to make the men’s clothing they themselves want to own.

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Except for the Esprit collection, which is designed in Italy, new menswear by Karl Logan, Pepito Albert, a.b.s. and Castelnau reflects all that is good about L.A. design. The components are casual, comfortable, buoyant and witty without sacrificing the sophistication and flair that is associated with the best of European and Japanese designer offerings.

The growing California impact on American menswear is a favorite topic for local garment gurus such as Allen Schwartz, one of the original owners of Esprit and now head of a.b.s.

Although his merchandise is sold across America in stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Schwartz has gone one step beyond. Last week Schwartz opened the a.b.s. flagship shop on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. Next spring, along with high-end “fashion classics” for women, it will be stocked with equally high-end menswear.

Items such as jaunty jackets, vests, pants and walking shorts in silk, cotton, rayon or wool gabardine are products of the local environment: “I think all the energy today is coming from the West Coast,” Schwartz contends.

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“Fabric people from New York come out here to see what our company is doing. They want to know if we believe in certain patterns or prints and we tell them,” he says.

Ron Arden, menswear director for the California Mart, adds that local designers are inspired “by the environment and life style they have around them.”

Arden feels the menswear designers with reputations already established in women’s wear have a definite advantage: “You must remember that a certain amount of menswear is bought by women, and these names are known to them,” he observes.

When Esprit decided it was time to add men’s clothing to colorful, energetic designs for women and children, the company moved with expected flair. The sweaters, jackets, jeans and suits come from the newly established Italian division and all garments (even a youthful, debonair tuxedo) are, according to CEO Doug Tompkins, “casual, sporty, international.”

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In America, the collection is being tested in Esprit’s three Superstores (Georgetown, Dallas and Los Angeles). The merchandise officially debuted in Los Angeles Sept. 8 at a jam-packed AIDS benefit, which was attended by men who fit Tompkins’ description of the target customer: “Upscale, likes style and doesn’t dress in a traditional way.”

Pepito Albert is by far the least traditional of the new menswear-five. A year after the Manila-born designer launched his first collection of dramatic women’s clothes (with equally dramatic price tags), he has expanded into menswear.

Albert uses expensive Swiss fabrics and will cover something such as a gray denim jacket with sparkling appliqued numerals or add rows of rayon fringe to snug-fitting Lycra pants and T-shirts.

George Gavitt, men’s buyer for the Southern California Apropos stores, has purchased a number of pieces from the collection including the fringe-covered designs “in limited quantity,” he says. “They’re pricey and for a special customer.”

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He calls Albert’s 12-piece holiday collection innovative; he’s expecting that in locations such as Apropos’ Woodland Hills store, it will appeal to entertainment-industry customers.

Somewhere between the refined Christian de Castelnau collection and the exuberant designs of Pepito Albert is the menswear of Karl Logan, which will debut in spring.

The romantic, nostalgic spirit of Logan’s 25-piece collection is reflected in names such as Deauville, Hampton and Hacienda given to groupings of pants, jackets and topcoats.

Known for women’s clothing that blends whimsy with the classical, Logan explains that he has “been trying to do menswear for eight years, but no one in the business would touch it. They thought I would do a freaked-out, feminine look.”

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He describes both his men’s and women’s collections--which share many of the same soft, sensual fabrics--as “polished and neat with a ‘30s and ‘40s feeling.”

Logan created the menswear, he adds “because there is a void in the market. I’ve always had to make my own clothes. I could never find the things I wanted to wear. I’m being very selfish,” he confesses cheerfully; “I’m designing just for me.”


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