Satine, to the seams

Times Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES has always been a boutique town. Sure, we have Saks, Neiman's and Barneys, but indies evoke a sense of ownership in shoppers -- as in "I know the owner" -- that meshes with L.A.'s maverick spirit. Influential stores Maxfield, Fred Segal and Tracey Ross are the well-established names, but 5-year-old Satine is one of the most successful new kids on the block.

The popular fashion outpost on West 3rd Street has built enough of a following that it's launching its own clothing label -- giving loyalists another reason to make the pilgrimage. Famous for its selective mix of high-end brands (Lanvin, Chloe, Alexander Wang and Balenciaga) and exclusive Japanese imports (Tsumori Chisato, Foundation Addict and Toga), the tiny but packed store has zeroed in, season after season, on styles both sophisticated and fashion-forward, eschewing anything too trendy or precious.

All of this is due to the sensibility of owner Jeannie Lee, who is now bringing her eagle eye to a capsule collection of casual, daytime pieces with a high-fashion twist that depart from the frocks and dressy finery that Satine specializes in.

"I wanted something that's more lifestyle," she says. "Also, I don't see that many designers doing it well with much of a point of view."

To orchestrate that lifestyle look, Lee chose Corinne Grassini, founder and designer of one of the city's most boundary-pushing labels, Society for Rational Dress, as chief designer. Not only does Grassini share Lee's taste, but she's also a born-and-raised Angeleno who understands SoCal dressing. "It was really important that the designer be from L.A.," Lee says. "I think Corrine is one of the best young designers in America right now. I'm personally attracted to everything she makes."

The Corinne Grassini for Satine Collection also is the first step toward expanding Satine into Japan. Lee, who ditched her career as a commercial real estate lawyer to open Satine in 2003, will open the first of 10 stores next week in Tokyo. The licensed stores "are the same concept as the L.A. Satine store," says Lee. "But I'm working backward. I bring Japanese brands to L.A., but now I'm going to try to bring more L.A. brands there."

In the U.S, the new collection will be available only at Satine (starting in April), but in Japan, it will probably end up in a variety of stores including the Satine boutiques. (Lee's financial partner in both endeavors, Yutaka Tada, is the co-founder of iconic Japanese brand Issey Miyake.)

The collection is small in size but full of big ideas. It's based around nine tops and dresses made from a soft, sinuous cotton-poly fabric called "burnout" for its threadbare, patchy look. The prints, both edgy and organic-looking, have a tie-dye feel but with a techno quality that more closely resembles static on a TV screen, with slivers of eggplant and tan replacing black.

With its amorphous fits (dresses double as tops, and everything can tucked, belted, knotted, whatever), it also works on a variety of body types -- not just the willowy.

"When I first started to design, all I wanted to make were really thin, threadbare T-shirts," says Grassini, who two years ago launched a line called Guild, which was based around the fabric. She's since shuttered the collection, but says that "more than any of my other pieces, I see people wearing Guild all the time. The fabric just gets better with time."

The collection also features menswear-inspired twill vests that fasten in front with a brass chain and a skinny leather belt-like clasp.

Two coordinating bags (including a rounded model that cinches closed on a long silver metal chain) and a simple belt round out the debut. Prices range from $135 to $250.

Lee says her main concern was that the line not be derivative of anything already out there. "I didn't want it to feel like I took all the trends of the season and cut-and-paste," she says.


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