Performance as accessory

Times Staff Writer

The three young L.A. designers in this season’s Gen Art show stayed true to the independent spirit this group applauds: They all abandoned the safety of a runway, and showed their collections in dramatic performance-art vignettes.

“The New Garde: A Celebration of Innovative L.A. Fashion” kicked off Fashion Week on Friday, with collections from Alms, Hazel Brown and Mintee presented in the sprawling raw space of Ivar Studios in Hollywood. Despite the theatrics (and the warehouse party vibe), the clothes had a feeling of austerity. Color palettes were muted, and models moved languidly, often looking bored. Nevermind. The crowd watched intently, wondering what they might do next.

Isabelle Carter, the Paris-born designer of Alms, presented her line in the simplest possible way: Models filed in through darkness, and paused one by one under a dim spotlight. The clothes needed nothing more. This was a beautifully modern take on wool knitwear and clean solid separates. The subdued palette of black, grey, purple and white let interesting details show, like silver buckles on the waist of a drop yoke pencil skirt and a pair of black tapered pants with quilted knee pads that was an edgy mix of motocross-meets-equestrian.


Designer Ali Blankely of Hazel Brown went back in time, apparently to the Depression era, showing in a sad living room set. Models wearing empire-waist, tea-length dresses in dreary gray, black and brown went through the motions of peeling potatoes, ironing and folding (and refolding) a blanket on the couch. The dresses were reminiscent of deconstructed ballet costumes with tattered edging on tiered skirts and strapless necklines. Unfortunately, the theatrics overwhelmed the design.

Designer Mintee Kalra went in the opposite direction, with a Versailles-like setting complete with models reading Le Monde. Kalra was having a love affair with appliques, showing elegant floor length chiffon dresses with cheerful crochet rosettes covering the back and neckline. But she should have stopped before attaching metallic origami pinwheels to her crimson velvet blazers.