AROUND TOWN : Understated Opulence From Rank's House of Hope in Brentwood

The white wall beside the front door of Hella-Barbara Rank's home and studio in Brentwood reads "Villa d'Esperance"--the house of hope.

For the German-born clothing designer who relocated here in the late '80s, it has indeed been a house of hope, a place to restart a fashion career by way of a small-scale couture business.

After 7 1/2 years of fashion education and training at the Munich Fashion School and various designing jobs in Munich-based couture houses, Hella-Barbara Jahke unexpectedly found herself moving to Mexico to become the art director of Vanity, a large clothing company. At the end of 15 years in Mexico, she married an American and moved to Los Angeles.

Now divorced, she turned to designing, which seemed the logical choice, "because it was what I learned and what I did best."

"My clothing has a terribly understated style that's nothing like Hollywood."

Her fabrics are opulent: brocade, quilted iridescent taffeta, silk chiffon and organza, sheer lace and crushed velvet. But shapes are clean and simple--fingertip-length cardigans are the basic pieces upon which the entire collection revolves. These long and lean jackets are paired with a choice of short skirts, palazzo pants, lean trousers or sweeping floor-length skirts, usually of a different fabric.

Prices for a complete outfit start at about $1,000.

In California, the studio is the only place to purchase her label.

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