Right from 'Oprah' to L.A.

Times Staff Writer

New York-based designer Tory Burch has brought her Palm Springs-meets-Morocco brand of tunic-wearing chic to Robertson Boulevard with a new Tory by TRB store.

Construction workers were still fiddling with the air conditioning in the boutique inspired by designer Arthur Elrod and artist David Hicks an hour before the opening party began last week. But Burch, 38, an Upper East Side socialite and former fashion editor, stayed cool among the driftwood lamps and leopard stools. She had just come from two days of R&R; with her twin 7-year-old sons at Disneyland.

Launched just two seasons ago, her label is inspired by the jet-set lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s. Signature pieces include button-down shirts in geometric prints, tank tops embellished with leather paillettes, embroidered linen tunics, reversible terry cloth caftans, wedge espadrilles and printed beach totes.

Burch is no stranger to fashion, having worked for Ralph Lauren and luxury conglomerate Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. She's married to venture capitalist Christopher Burch, who launched the popular 1980s clothing line Eagle's Eye and sold it in 1999 when it was reportedly valued at $60 million. Her friends include such regulars on the charity ball circuit as Kathy Hilton, Jamie Tisch and Nancy Davis, all of whom showed up for the opening fete where Southside cocktails were passed on silver trays.

Burch's business got a major boost last month when she was featured on "Oprah." Apparently, one of the show producers had given Winfrey a Tory by TRB top as a Christmas gift, and the TV mogul was immediately hooked. She invited Burch onto the show, which featured a runway presentation of spring looks.

"When they first called and asked me, I said, 'Are you sure you have the right person?' " Burch remembers.

She also got a plug on the cover of this month's O magazine, on which Winfrey wears her green-and-white tunic.

The timing of Burch's foray into Middle America couldn't have been better.

Her graphic-heavy bohemian style is perfectly in step with what's going on in fashion this spring. Although she says she will probably always do tunic tops, the designer is intent on not being a one-hit wonder.

She wants to build a lifestyle brand based on her philosophy of "easy-to-wear, day-into-evening pieces that keep price in mind." (Prices range from $40 for a tank top to $795 for a shearling vest.)

Next up -- a collaboration on denim with Habitual and costume jewelry with Erickson Beaman. Burch is also partnering with Guerlain to relaunch the fragrance Vetiver, a personal favorite. Housewares will be next, she says, along with a TRB store in Atlanta.

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Unglamorous life

It may not have gotten the kind of hype that "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith" did when it screened at the Cannes Film Festival last week, but the documentary "Seamless" explores a dark side of its own, in the fashion industry. Director Douglas Keeve's last take on the rag trade was the 1995 "Unzipped," a behind-the-scenes look at the larger-than-life Isaac Mizrahi (then at the top of his 7th Avenue game) planning his fall 1994 collection, with appearances by such frock stars as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, John Galliano, Kimora Lee and Andre Leon Talley.

"Seamless," still in search of a distributor, examines the less-glamorous side of New York fashion through the eyes of three of the 10 fledgling designers who competed last year for $200,000 in funding awarded by Vogue magazine and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. It tries to make sense of the passion that every season drives design school graduates, socialites and former reality stars to try to beat the odds, convinced that their clothing line will be the next big thing.

Alexandre Plokhov, who designs the Cloak menswear label, has dinner alone every night because his wife lives in London, and he works every weekend. Doo Ri Chung, the daughter of Korean immigrants, works underneath her parents' dry cleaning shop on Staten Island, staring at dress forms for hours on end.

Only the photogenic Proenza Schouler boys Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough seem to be living it up at all, shown in one scene having a champagne-soaked brunch in their downtown loft.

Clearly the fashion world has changed in the decade since Keeve first trained his lens on it. "No major designer has emerged with his own label since Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs came on the scene 20 years ago," the filmmaker and fashion photographer said in a phone interview. "The process of designing is the same, but the business side is changing. There is no model for a small label, no way for it to be profitable. So the film looks at that struggle between art and commerce. How do you do what you love and not turn into Pierre Cardin, selling your brand, your name, your soul?"

It used to be that outsiders tried to sneak into runway shows to get inspiration, Keeve said. But now the shows are on the Web live. "I think it was Zac Posen in the film who said, 'I do a dress, and before I have it in the store, it's in someone else's store faster and cheaper than I could possibly do it."

But even with the trials of becoming a designer laid bare in his film, and on TV in "Project Runway," Keeve does not see an end to the throngs clamoring to get into the business. "The same way people want to go to Hollywood and become actors, people want to become fashion designers."

Despite the film's dark messages ("Most designers come and go in three seasons" and "Fashion is the only industry where you can be perceived to be a success and not be making money"), there is a fun side. "No matter how hard you work, it's always worth it when you make something you love," Keeve said.

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Rush moves in

British handbag designer Lulu Guinness has closed her store on West 3rd Street in L.A. But her loss is the former boutique manager Hillary Rush's gain. Rush, a Manhattan native, opened her own store in the space with an eclectic label mix.

"The 'denim wars,' as I am calling them, made me work harder and inadvertently helped my store not become yet another jeans and T-shirts place," she said.

Instead, Rush features clothing by up-and-comers such as the single-name San Francisco designer Talla's whimsical print dresses (about $240). She also emphasizes affordable pieces. Jute coral print totes with leather handles are just $28, wood bead and kukui nut necklaces are $35, and at $59 a pair, Dr. Scholl's platform sandals are a nice alternative to Chloe's high-end huaraches.

For fall, Rush will stock clothes from Brazilian designers Maria Bonita Extra and Maria Garcia, Imitation of Christ's party dresses and Tara Subkoff's line of shoes for Easy Spirit. For added spice, she'll throw in some vintage pieces too.

For denim, she stocks James Jeans, and she can't keep L.A. Made T-shirts and culottes in the store. Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry has also been a hot seller. And, of course, she carries an assortment of $44 Le Tigre polo shirts. What else would you expect? Her father, Bob Rush, created the brand in the 1970s.

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