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Hip, Hip, Gallay! A New Bloom on Melrose Ave.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles retailer Charles Gallay has a knack for launching new stores on the winds of fashion change. He opened his Azzedine Alaia boutique on Rodeo Drive in 1983, just moments before the workout craze caught hold and women began to feel fit enough to wear Alaia’s steamy, skintight clothing.

In 1987 came the Gallay shop on Sunset Boulevard, a monument to modern minimalist clothing housed in a store built to match. Among cutting-edge designer labels of the time, the store featured decorative but disciplined Romeo Gigli as well as Alaia.

Now, the retail pioneer has put a stake in Melrose Avenue with his newest store, Gallay Melrose. “Melrose was my first, last and only choice,” Gallay says of his decision to buy into the street known for funky club clothes.

He brings a level of sophistication, along with higher prices, to the club-fashion scene. At Gallay Melrose, the body-huggers are by such emerging European designers as Helmut Lang, whose mulberry-colored knit turtleneck dress for fall has a diaphanous bubble attached to the top. From New York designer Giorgio di Sant Angelo comes a column of tissue-weight fabric shirred from neckline to ankle-length hem.

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For customers with more conservative taste there are Dorothee Bis designs from Paris. Her suit features a cropped red knit jacket with silver dollar-size gold buttons. The matching knit skirt has a 2-inch-wide fringe hemline. Prices range from $300 to $2,000.

Some clothes cost less, including the $150 black cotton and Lycra dress with a sweetheart neckline and thigh-high hemline from Isaia of New York. There are comparably priced stretch items by Norma Kamali of New York.

Alaia is also a strong presence in Gallay Melrose. An entire room is devoted to the Tunisian-born, Paris-based designer’s creations, such as a $1,000-plus fringed dress and a $2,000-plus black patent leather jacket.

The inner sanctum houses Alaia accessories. The shoes are sky-scraping high heels for nighttime wear and the belts are wasp-waisted cinchers. Black patent leather stiletto-heeled pumps and a lace-up corset belt give an X-rated edge to the black and white pin-striped suit for which they were designed.

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Among so many sleek items, two designer labels seem out of place: Martin Margiela and Vivienne Westwood.

Margiela, a one-time assistant of Parisian Jean Paul Gaultier, shows the tailoring--seams, darts and interfacings--on the outside of his garments. An inside-out Margiela jacket costs $1,075; a long-sleeved turtleneck shirt with unfinished edges is $188. The construction is the hero of his designs.

Westwood, who won London’s designer of the year award in 1990, has a unique vision too. Her work is decorative as well as dramatic. A conventional looking pin-striped suit has short shorts cut like a diaper instead of pants. ($270 for the pants, $750 for the jacket.)

Gallay sees these designers as “the fashion horizon” and “the next step.” He calls them precursors of a fashion age of artistry. If his prediction is correct, if artistry overtakes tight and sexy as the prevailing trend, Gallay is ready to move with the change.


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