FASHION : Modasport Sticks to Basic Business


Her name is Georgiana Ivan-Treivush. Her kingdom is Modasport, a collection of five sleek, airy stores that cater to female executives and members of the brunch bunch. For 10 years--from the day Ivan-Treivush opened her first store in the Beverly Glen Centre to this April when she opened her latest in San Francisco--she has guarded her privacy, believing "the less people know, the better."

To some, extent her accomplishments speak for themselves. She is considered the master builder of a distinctly California approach to dressing. The Modasport "look" is a mix of spare, modern suiting pieces combined with more decorative ones. It reeks of money (summer prices range from $26 for a T-shirt to $4,000 for a beaded linen jacket) without screaming any famous designer's name. It is eclectic rather than funky, often embellished but never ornate. And it is a formula that Ivan-Treivush predicts will bring in $12 million in retail sales this year.

Despite the quiet start--one small shop on Beverly Glen near Mulholland Drive--people from California to Cannes now know Modasport (a word Ivan-Treivush coined to reflect a casual approach to fashion) and its credo: "Trends without being trendy from designers who are not overexposed," she says.

She has always carried California designers among her lesser-known labels, especially the more feminine and romantic--Bonnie Strauss, Antony Moorcroft and Katayone Adeli for Laundry. But she leans more heavily on European designers, particularly Claude Barthelemy of France, whose fitted, soft-edged jackets, skirts and pants are considered classics-with-a-twist, or "basics to build on," as Ivan-Treivush calls them. And there are always items to be mixed and matched with "Claude" from an ever-changing group of high-spirited international designers.

Some industry insiders say Ivan-Treivush's achievements have little to do with her taste, timing or drive and much to do with her husband's money. She is married to Menachem Treivush, owner of the BB1 sportswear stores and several apparel companies, including Ton Sur Ton and Bonnie Strauss.

But Ivan-Treivush points out that she met Treivush after the success of her Beverly Glen store and during the planning stages of her second one, on Brighton Way in Beverly Hills. And, she insists, "he has invested nothing in my business."

There is also talk that she is hard as nails. The designation comes, in part, from her long-standing demand that designers supply her with exclusive merchandise. She does not expect to see anything she orders in nearby stores, including neighboring retailers in her three other locations: Brentwood Gardens, Fashion Island and the San Francisco Center.

"Everyone is afraid of her," one designer says. "If you want to do business with her, you have to cater to her, dance around her." Asked why anyone deals with Modasport's mastermind, the response is quick: "She gives huge orders, bigger than anyone else."

If she has critics, she also has admirers. They say the tall, blond entrepreneur (born Georgiana Ivanisevic in Zagreb, Yugoslavia; raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio) is a self-made woman blessed with brains, business acumen, an enviable sense of style and a tremendous instinct for knowing how to satisfy her fashion-hungry clientele.

Jumping to Ivan-Treivush's defense, Katayone Adeli says: "I always felt she was one of the best buyers I've ever seen, because she really knows her customer."

As for Bonnie Strauss, when she was in financial trouble two years ago, Ivan-Treivush recommended she contact Treivush, who became Strauss' backer. "So you understand why I say she is my favorite buyer in many respects," Strauss says.

Ivan-Treivush agrees she is tough, "if that means I have certain rules and guidelines I stick with. If I give a designer an order, I'm giving him a commitment. And I expect that commitment to be filled: prompt delivery, proper fit, no dialogue, no problems."

Her intensely competitive spirit has been part of the package since she started her business, alone, with $25,000 inherited from her grandmother.

"This has all evolved from that money," she says. She has "no partners, no backers, no publicist." Her only forms of advertising are word of mouth, occasional ads in L.A. Style magazine and two to four fashion shows a year (at a cost of about $10,000 each) for carefully selected charity events.

She traces her business savvy to her grandfather, "an entrepreneur in Yugoslavia before the communists took over." Fashion inspiration came from her mother, a former model, and from jobs she held as a teen-ager. She worked for a retailer ("he put me through a great schooling") and as a personal-improvement instructor at the Barbizon school of modeling. (Her "strict European background" qualified her for that job, she says.)

Retail wasn't her first career. When a friend interviewed for a summer job with Northwest Airlines in Cleveland, Ivan-Treivush went along and landed the position instead. She stayed on with the airline's reservations department and came to California in 1972 as "the youngest supervisor in the industry. I was 21."

With the windfall from her grandmother, she decided to do "something more creative." She owned a home near the Glen Centre and opened her boutique "in the middle of nowhere, because Beverly Hills and all the other places seemed very frightening." Inspired by an Italian club called Jacki'o, she dubbed her store Bibi'o and filled it with unusual European merchandise. A year later, she rented additional space and named the store Modasport.

Menachem Treivush says he tried to discourage her from leasing the 1,000-square-foot location on Brighton Way (enlarged now to 2,500 square feet). "It was the beginning of the '80s, and we were just coming out of a major recession in the United States," he recalls. "I thought she needed a lot of guts to jump in the sea with the big sharks who were controlling the area at the time. But she showed me she could really run with the best of them."

The couple, married for four years, own an apartment in New York, a home in Los Angeles and "a small estate" in Montecito. In lieu of children, "there are eight dogs," Ivan-Treivush says with a big grin. "Right now, my shops are my children."

She tends them from a bright, luxurious upstairs office she converted from a drab three-bedroom apartment. Downstairs, at the corner of N. La Peer Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, is City Warehouse, a clearance center she established to protect her customers: "I'm always afraid to sell something I have left over to a jobber, who might sell it to someone down the street from me."

Her setbacks seem few, but in May, when her five-year lease expired, she closed Modasport Encore in the Beverly Hills Rodeo Collection. She says she decided to incorporate the dressy evening clothes into her expanded Brighton Way store.

Carolyn Mahboubi, in charge of leasing and promotion for the Rodeo Collection (and owner of the Gianni Versace boutique there), says, "I never understood the concept of the store. I'm not saying it was good or bad. It just never looked the same as her other Modasport stores."

Mahboubi gives her friend and former tenant high marks: "She's smart, she's fun. But I can see how she can come across hard. This is a tough business, and it's dominated by men. You have to be hard, you have to stand your ground. There were women with far more money at their fingertips who couldn't do what Georgiana did. She's an innovator. Her concept is still fresh. Everything matches everything else. It works visually when you start to put on the clothes. That's what good merchandising is all about."

Disenchanted shoppers and some industry observers complain the merchandise is boring and overpriced, and that the "sales stylists" (well-groomed, well-dressed women who work on commission) are overbearing and intimidating.

But the faithful can't get enough. In a typical Modasport scenario, Carole Sherman, a Beverly Hills real estate broker and wife of entertainment manager Richard Sherman, recalls she walked by the Brighton Way store "and fell in love with the window displays. They're incredible."

No doubt she has become a preferred customer. Sherman says over the past two years, she has frequently whizzed in, selected clothes without trying them on and dropped "a few thousand dollars" in as little as 45 minutes.

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