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So West Coast

Times Staff Writer

When Petro Zillia’s fashion designer Nony Tochterman rode a bubble gum-pink bicycle festooned with lilac flowers down the runway Monday night to take her bow, it was the culmination of many seasons of hard work. The collection was simply her best yet, sophisticated and salable, and at the same time full of the sunny spirit that is unmistakably West Coast. It was also a hopeful sign that the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios -- the newly combined effort of the New York-based 7th on Sixth production entity and L.A. brothers Dean and Davis Factor -- may have a future worth watching.

The Petro Zillia show was packed not only with friends and fashionistas but also with editors and buyers, and it rocked with the live sounds of the jazz band Elements of the Outer Realm. Tochterman, all smiles, with her quirky pink curls and black glasses, is on her way to becoming a darling of the design set here. She struck a South American beat with a sherbet-colored Guatemalan-stripe jacket that was tailored to perfection, paired with a short pleated skirt in banana wool. Her blush-pink belted sweater coat was polished, worn over a lavender floral silk dress. A gown had the same floral in a long skirt, but with a dollop of chiffon ruffles and a sexy, marmalade-striped knit halter. But the best dessert was a corset tied with pink ribbons over a vanilla chiffon blouse and a black wool trumpet skirt. The cherry on top was a wide raspberry men’s tie. It was the designer’s first foray into red-carpet dressing, and it worked.

The rest of the shows Monday were a mixed bag. Rachel Pally, a dancer who takes classes at Lula Washington Dance Theatre, designed some sexy pieces for the cellulite unchallenged in razor-cut, buttery rayon jersey: a dramatic, draped, backless peach halter gown; a black strapless short dress that fell in four soft tiers like a wedding cake; and a gray jumpsuit with culotte pants. It was a modern look, accessorized with oversize geometric silver or gold jewelry, that brought to mind Martha Graham and Norma Kamali.

Maria Bianca Nero did some nice things in the difficult cocktail category, including a black chiffon gown with spaghetti straps, ruffles along the bust line and a whisper of movement at the hem; a brown column gown with chiffon ruffles down the front; and a silver strapless stunner with allover star-shaped beaded appliques. It was dress-up for grown-ups, which is not easy to find these days. Whether or not it needs a runway is a different story.

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Lloyd Klein must be cited for encouraging more bad wardrobe decisions in Beverly Hills, with a show full of enough stretchy, sequined leopard print to fill an African savanna. The whole collection seemed designed for Jocelyn Wildenstein, who sat front and center in her Botoxed glory, a woman for whom Google searches turn up both “scariest celebrity” and “awful plastic surgery” entries.

The fact that Klein was able to get a show together at all this season was quite a feat. In February, the designer suffered life-threatening injuries in a car accident in Paris on his way to a flight for New York to show his collection. L.A. offered Klein a second chance, but model Janice Dickinson didn’t help his cause with her tired voguing, and his clothes -- reptilian jeans and leopard fur bombers, a black suit with a cape that evoked “Shazam!,” a corset-top dress with a purple tulle skirt ready-made for the electric slide -- looked cheesier than what they will cost. The Terracotta makeup was dated too. Remember that stuff?

Coco Kliks, known for her embellished T-shirts, debuted a collection of feminine suits in yellow, red and green candy stripes with flower and heart embroidered details. As she moved into heavier wool, though, things got a bit clumsy, with droopy biker jackets in black herringbone, wide trousers with cuffs that seemed tack-stitched, and an Evil Stepmother dress with puffy sleeves and oblong, oversize crystals at the shoulders that was downright scary.

Again, 2 B Free’s show of sweatpants and hoodies was a waste of time for those looking for a real fashion show.

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“I have to think about the relevance to our customers, and the look now is so much more polished,” said Dina Relkin, fashion editor of the Tobe Report, a New York-based service that distills runway styles for a weekly trend report that goes out to clients such as Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Kmart.

Relkin pointed to one of the lingering issues that still needs to be worked out at L.A.'s fashion week -- namely, who shows. Many buyers and media would like to see a system in place to more tightly edit which designers participate.

Relkin wishes the organizers, including the Factors and Fern Mallis of 7th on Sixth, would “take a stand and make the event three days instead of five, so that buyers and media could spend time seeing designers who can’t afford to show. That’s where the talent is really germinating.”

Gen Art is an arts and entertainment organization dedicated to showcasing just that kind of emerging talent, and indeed was the first to show Louis Verdad, Zac Posen and other now noteworthy names. On Monday night at a studio space in Culver City, three designers presented self-designed, live fashion installations replete with elaborate sets, models in character, bubbles, fake snow and glitter, prompting one observer to remark that it reminded him of a CalArts graduate exhibition.

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Using straps and buckles, Society for Rational Dress’ Corinne Grassini produced some sweet, pastel silk baby-doll bondage tops and shorts, which she paired with suede boots with straps that looped around the leg. Madley (by Central St. Martins’ alum Coryn Madley and Fred Segal buyer Naama Givoni) was all about knitwear with a thrift store vibe -- revamped numbers such as a crocheted blanket made over as a sweater, with bits of lace and sequins sewn on top. Cosa Nostra, by Jeff Sebelia and Michel Berandi, deconstructed mass-produced garments, such as leather and denim pants with skull-and-bones details. It was a presentation worthy of a David Lynch movie, with leg splints, crutches and blacked-out eyes.

Speaking of a Lynch movie, those in the crowd at the Michelle Mason show Saturday night, held in the closed-off 2nd Street Tunnel downtown, might have thought that’s what they were headed for when a firetruck came barreling through. It took everyone a few minutes to realize that the truck was not part of the fun and that they should get up off the benches where they were waiting for the show to start and head for cover. Before anyone knew what was happening, a man with an earpiece had flagged the truck through -- and the crowd erupted in applause. What a way to kick off a collection.

The clothes were urban, well-tailored and at times futuristic. One could see Mason’s always-subtle Asian influence on a salt ‘n’ pepper tweed jacket with puffed sleeves, a stand-up collar and a row of buttons snaking down the front as on a cheongsam shirt, and also on a subtle black and silver rib-knit kimono-sleeve dress. The designer captured the imagination a la Alexander McQueen with a magical hooded tunic in a loose silver knit that trailed threads as the model walked the yellow line, and a leather jacket in bright metallic gold, as if painted in bold brushstrokes, worn with a gathered miniskirt. Just the thing for stopping traffic.


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