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Designers want that L.A. glow

Times Staff Writer

L.A. occupies a special place on the fashion calendar. After all the runway shows are over, during the months of October and November, it becomes home to a shadow community of image-makers from New York, London and Paris, in town to shoot spring’s glossy ad campaigns and editorial pages.

Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquiere was recently here, and so was Yves Saint Laurent’s Stefano Pilati, along with editors, stylists and photographers working for every magazine from i-D to Elle. These global fashion nomads camp out in the lobby at the Chateau Marmont, poolside at the Hotel Bel-Air, on location at the beaches or at photo studios in Hollywood and Venice. Listen in and you’ll hear them debating Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ new Versace ads, the styling talents of Elizabeth Taylor’s granddaughter Naomi Wilding, and whether the 4 p.m. flight to New York beats the red-eye.

But their reasons for coming to L.A. are always the same.

“The light is very special,” Ghesquiere explained over a cup of Earl Grey at the Bel-Air. Apparently it’s particularly special in San Pedro, where his team shot the ads for his smashing spring collection, with its futuristic bent. “And the weather -- I don’t want to leave!”

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Ghesquiere spent most of his week here in fittings but made time to stop by Fred Segal, where he picked up a few pieces by current L.A. menswear fave Band of Outsiders. He also dropped by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Breaking the Mode” exhibit, where he was completely wowed to see his first Charles James gown in the flesh, a 1951 burnished orange silk and satin chiffon creation draped as lightly as if fairies had done it.

Pilati’s stay was briefer. He stopped into artist Jorge Pardo’s design studio and into pal Liz Goldwyn’s book party at the Sunset Tower Hotel. But what he really wanted to do was take his design team farther west, to the North Shore of Hawaii. “It’s my favorite place in the world,” Pilati said, soaking up the rays as best as he could, wearing gray trousers and a wool sweater by the Bel-Air’s pool. “I learned how to surf there, but when I see how real surfers surf, I say I don’t know how.”

Turns out he and Ghesquiere are friends. After crossing paths at the hotel, the two shared a coffee and a chat. And for one brief moment, not on Oscar night, L.A. may just have been the center of the style universe.

Galanos creations of a different sort

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The recent collision of designer superstars was just part of the convergence. From James’ marvel of construction at LACMA to the cocoon-like gowns in Viktor & Rolf’s Russian Doll collection at the “Skin and Bones” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, rarely has there been so much fabulous fashion on display at one time in one city. Taken together, the exhibits showcase some of the most radical, boundary-pushing designs from the last 50 years.

The LACMA exhibit features mostly Japanese and European designers but also turns the spotlight on hometown legends Rudi Gernreich (a to-die-for red knit dress), Gilbert Adrian (a very Hollywood heroine hourglass-shaped worsted wool suit) and James Galanos (a chunky, beaded lace overdress layered over a bodysuit).

Galanos’ impeccable tailoring and hand beading earned him fiercely loyal clients, including Rosalind Russell, Dorothy Lamour, Diana Ross and, most famously, Nancy Reagan. He retired from fashion in 1998, after LACMA devoted an entire show to his career, and now nurtures his creative side with photography, some of which is about to find its way into a museum as well.

Galanos, 82, creates mirror-image landscapes, as well as abstract compositions. He uses ribbons, paper and fabric cutouts that look as if they could be scraps from the floor of his old studio on Sepulveda Boulevard. Now he does most of his work on his kitchen counter, but still with the same keen eye to color combinations, shadow and light.

In September, he mounted his first photography exhibit at the Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco, with more than 40 works, many of which have already been purchased. Dixie Carter, Wolfgang Puck, Denise Hale and others turned out to fete the designer-turned-artist, while Robert Flynn Johnson of the Achenbach Foundation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is selecting a photograph to include in the museum’s permanent collection.

“It’s intuitive,” Galanos said on a sunny afternoon at his stucco house in West Hollywood, where the black granite floors are shined to perfection.

Tatiana Sorokko agrees. A couture enthusiast and former model who runs the gallery with her husband, Serge, she says of Galanos: “His tools are still the same, but the product is altogether different. I fell in love with these photographs as much as I fell in love with my first Galanos gown.”

The Sorokkos learned of Galanos’ new hobby through Ralph Rucci, another fashion designer who crossed into fine art, and exhibited his work at the Serge Sorokko Gallery. And to hear Galanos tell it, Rucci is just about the only designer working today who has earned his respect.

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“Let’s face it, we are living in an age of vulgarity.” Even in the tony shops near his house, the clothes “look like rags,” Galanos says. “In my day, you couldn’t give them away.”

Divine Design to be better, really

After a disappointing event last year, organizers are promising next week’s Divine Design will be bigger and better than ever at its new home in the former Robinsons-May building in Beverly Hills.

Divine Design is the largest shopping fundraiser on the West Coast, with clothing, home accessories and furniture offered at 50% to 90% off the retail price. The event attracts about 10,000 shoppers over five days, raising money for Project Angel Food, an organization that supports people affected by HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.

Last year the goods, donated by fashion and interior designers, weren’t as chic as they had been in seasons past, in part because of competition for donations from a similar event held in New York and chaired by Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour. So this year, Fern Mallis was hired as honorary chairwoman and Lauren Gurvich as fashion director.

Since both women work for IMG, the event production company responsible for producing New York and Los Angeles fashion weeks, their relationships in the fashion community run deep, and they were able to gather clothes from heavyweights such as Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Monique Lhuillier, Nanette Lepore, Vera Wang, Ted Baker London and Sue Wong.

“We wanted to get back to having it be a high-end event at good prices,” says John Gile, executive director of Project Angel Food. “And we’re happy to have some really big names.”

In all, $4 million worth of clothing and products has been donated by designers and companies such as Mattel, KitchenAid and H.D. Buttercup. The L.A. holiday shopping tradition kicks off Thursday with a gala honoring Teri Hatcher with the Woman of Style award, Catherine Malandrino as Divine Designer and holiday ornament king Christopher Radko as Divine Philanthropist.

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Tickets are $25 for general admission to the sale Friday through Monday, $275 and more for the gala, and $100 for shopping only Thursday night. For tickets and information, see www.divinedesign.org.

Rodeo Drive award for Versaces

Donatella Versace and her brother, the late Gianni Versace, have been selected to receive next year’s Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award, the Rodeo Drive Committee and city of Beverly Hills announced this week. The ceremony will be held Feb. 8, when the Versaces will be honored with a plaque on the sidewalk on Rodeo Drive.

Donatella took over as creative director in 1997 shortly after her brother’s murder. After a public battle with drug addiction, she has recovered and her collections have been a highlight of Milan Fashion Week for the last few seasons.

The Versaces will be the ninth and 10th recipients of the award, following Salvatore Ferragamo, Edith Head, James Acheson and Milena Canonero (2006), Herb Ritts and Mario Testino (2005), Tom Ford (2004) and Giorgio Armani (2003).

booth.moore@latimes.com


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