Berlin's Brave New Designers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Could Berlin replace Antwerp as the new capital of avant-garde fashion? Twelve young German designers who showed their work here hope so. The graduates of Berlin's Institute of Experimental Fashion Design, who were taught by legendary designer Vivienne Westwood, presented an eclectic mix of looks at a runway show last week sponsored by the L.A. branch of Goethe-Institut.

Westwood could not make it to the show at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, but her passion for historical costume no doubt inspired the 18th century ball gowns with corseted waists and bustled backsides, as well as the pinstriped dandy suits presented to an audience of about 200 during the fund-raiser for the Actors Fund.

The looks ranged from the demure (Miriam Sommer's preppy red sweater with two extra sleeves knotted across a scoop neckline) to the outrageous (Friederike von Wedel-Parlow's long blond hair cape, made from real human hair).

Despite her reputation as a subversive, Westwood is a stickler for the design basics, according to student Frank Schelhase, who brought the house down with his corseted, codpiece-covered male models. "We had to study the old masters and learn the details. Then, if we could do that, we could get more creative."

Studying with the queen of punk was quite an experience. "She's tough," said Wedel Parlow, who is now working as an assistant to the designer in Berlin. "But I love her."

As for the new Antwerp, the students admitted it would take years for their hometown to become a world-class fashion center. (There's no organized fashion week, for example). But if their work is any indication, Berlin looks promising. U.S. Customs officials certainly had never seen anything like the hair cape and codpiece get-ups that came through a couple weeks before the show. They held 120 of the students' designs at Los Angeles International Airport for four days.

In the News

Gucci design guru Tom Ford took top honors at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards last week in New York, where he was named Womenswear Designer of the Year. Beating out Sean "Puffy" Combs for Menswear Designer of the Year was John Varvatos.

The Perry Ellis award in recognition of an up-and-coming menswear designer went to William Reid. Fashion rabble rousers Imitation of Christ (L.A.'s Tara Subkoff and Matt Damhave) were passed over in the up-and-coming women's wear category, in favor of Bruce's Daphne Gutierrez and Nicole Noselli.

Calvin Klein, who took home a lifetime achievement award, was creamed on his way into the event at Lincoln Center by pie-wielding members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He took it like an old pro, facing media with tofu cream still dripping off his face....

Supermodel Niki Taylor was upgraded to good condition and moved out of intensive care at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta Thursday. She has been hospitalized nearly eight weeks after suffering life-threatening liver damage in a car accident April 29. Taylor, 26, is "doing great," said her spokeswoman.

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