Pair Fit In With Young, Adventurous
Who says the young generation isn’t going anywhere? When two designers, Karen Caid, 28, and Liz Berry, 24, found that their beloved, groovy Atlanta wasn’t big enough to realize their pop fashion dreams, they trekked West.
But they didn’t navigate toward the strobe lights of L.A. Instead, last year, they landed in Costa Mesa.
Everything, from fabrics to contractors, is more plentiful here than in Georgia, says Berry. Such factors matter when producing funky-yet-affordable fully lined jackets or constructed dresses that will survive longer than one night at a club. Available resources translate into better quality and lower costs.
Five months after their arrival, the designers’ office and warehouse feel lived in: Bolts of every kind of glamour fabric--sparkling, opalescent, satin and patent--lean against the walls or just lie like fallen timber. In Caid’s space, where she creates her Hooch line, the walls are drenched in hot pink and dotted with sketches and swatches. Upstairs, Berry designs her line, Relish, in what looks like a kooky boudoir.
Although Hooch and Relish vie for the same young, adventurous customer, Caid and Berry practice a business relationship of cooperation. One offers suggestions when the other is in a creative freeze, and they invest in joint advertising.
“We have the philosophy there’s room enough for everybody, so if everyone would just help each other we’d all be better off,” Caid says.
The message hasn’t been lost on members of the local fashion community, who have offered support, manufacturing contacts and party invitations. All that, they say, has eased their longing for Southern hospitality.
Smoothing out the stiff wrinkles of her vinyl miniskirt and adjusting the chunks of blonde hair piled high on her head and set with red Chinese chopsticks, Liz Berry defines the philosophy behind her 3-year-old company, Relish (formerly known as Parragon, the name of her Atlanta shop): “I see clothes that are either too funky, too sleazy, too body-conscious or too expensive.” She vows not to make these mistakes.
Her line this season includes fake furs (including a blue “Cookie Monster” cropped hooded jacket), plaid wools and plastics in candy brights such as yellow, purple, pink and red. The plastics, she says, reflect her “extreme side.”
Vinyl and nubby plaid wool are paired in a jacket and skirt that can serve as a uniform for the cyberpunk executive. “I love mixing hard (fabrics) with soft,” she says.
Berry’s fashion experience stretches back to a high school internship that allowed her to apprentice for a juniorwear designer in Virginia. After graduation, she moved to Georgia to study fashion merchandising at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
With an associate’s degree, the then 20-year-old worked under a designer of funky business suits, then opened an alternative clothing store. She began designing her line in 1991 for men and women (after a three-season hiatus, the menswear line will resume this fall, she says).
For spring, Berry offers a slew of short, flirty dresses and constructed jackets in pastel patent leathers, chiffonlike nylon with a satin sheen and a glitzy stretch fabric. Designs reflect the new frontier she’s moved to. She takes on the Wild West and Hollywood mystique with Western-style snaps and seams, Jean Harlow halters, cigarette-slim jeans and hot pants in glitzy and patent materials.
“I try to consider whether these clothes will still be hanging in their closets in two seasons and still look good,” she says.
But a customer isn’t going to want to fill her wardrobe with the same silhouettes every season, says Berry, so she changes every collection. “I don’t want people to see my stuff and automatically know it’s a Relish piece,” she says. “I want them to have to look at the tag. You have to offer variety. That’s what’s going to keep it fresh.”
Berry considers the latest “magazine trends” and interprets them into clothes that are accessible to her young customer.
Making her clothing affordable ($38 to $78) has been one move toward accessibility. Relish is at the Ladies Lounge, Newport Beach; Electric Chair, Huntington Beach, and Mondorama M.O.A. and Wasteland in Los Angeles.
Most Relish pieces are fully lined. Berry has been called crazy by industry peers for going to the extra expense of lining while still keeping her price low. Her response? "(My customers) don’t have a ton of money to spend on one good piece. I’d rather sacrifice profit for quality,” she says.
“Do it yourself” could be tattooed on Karen Caid’s forehead. But it would take away from her ‘50s starlet looks already updated with a pierced eyebrow and nose.
Her junior line, Hooch, is a lifelong dream. Caid has spent most of her adult life at jobs that she could never pretend were career options. Then in late ’93, she got a taste of her future working under an Atlanta designer.
She did everything at the fledgling company--so much so that she recalls “feeling if this idiot could do it and almost make it, then I could do it, too.”
Hooch debuted in May at a New York fashion trade show. Its founder’s only sewing experience came from the clothes she made for herself while growing up.
“I don’t mind saying that I lack the experience to do this, because I’m a quick learner. I’ve gotten this far already,” she says.
Inspiration for the line’s name--which is slang for, among other things, cheap whiskey--struck Caid when she and her friends were making a toast with their favorite poison on the rocks.
The name Hooch has attracted attention among store buyers and customers who have never seen the clothes, Caid says. “People love saying it. They yell it out or I’ll catch them repeating it.”
Its meaning has been part of the appeal in a market that craves anything remotely rebellious. Even Hooch’s logo--a Vargaslike vixen dressed in a devil’s outfit--fits current tastes among hip gals who want to wear clothes emblazoned with slang or symbols once considered anti-feminist.
Caid designs with these fierce young women in mind. It’s their empowerment that lets them enjoy the inherent whimsy of Hooch.
Her second collection ($20 to $120), toys with the ingenue look. There are sweet jumpers, cropped jackets, pleated skirts and dresses with Peter Pan collars and made in pastels of snugly polar fleece and micro chamois. For nighttime, the same silhouettes take shape in satin and opalescent metallic.
For spring, the schoolgirl grows up into a lounge lizard. A regular of piano bars that are part of the club circuit here, Caid says she itched to dress the part. Her quirky view of glamour resulted in vintage looks cut from textured satins, such as the kind smoking jackets were once made from. Dresses, slim skirts and cocktail jackets with hoods have been trimmed with marabou. For the space-age lizard, she offers hologram and other sparkling, futuristic fabrics.
Hooch is available at Ladies Lounge, Newport Beach; The Closet, Costa Mesa; and, in Los Angeles, Mondorama M.O.A. and Beat Non-Stop on Melrose.
Keeping the fun factor in her collections will keep Hooch in a perpetual happy hour. Good thing, because, Caid says, “I’m in this for life.”