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L.A. Fashion Week: Betsey Johnson brings heat, theatrics to town

Forget for a minute that the collection Betsey Johnson sent down the catwalk here Wednesday night was the exact same one she had already shown at New York Fashion Week less than a month ago.

Forget too that the show - scheduled for 8 p.m. -- didn't start until almost an hour and 45 minutes late.

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While we're at it, let's just go ahead and forget that the Style Fashion Week tent essentially sits on what's probably one of the least glamorous stretches of real estate in the city -- a parking garage roof within spitting distance of the freeway.

Forget all those things because when the lights went down, the music cranked up and models clad in Betsey Johnson's fall and winter 2014 collection hit the runway, none of those things mattered a whit to the over-heated, under-hydrated people crammed cheek by jowl into folding chairs who had the chance, some maybe for the first time, to truly feel the transportative magic of a top-notch, well-produced runway show.

Throw in the fact that Johnson's mere presence (whatever the transaction entailed) at Style Fashion Week helped bolster the event's profile and the clothes that came down the catwalk were almost beside the point.

We say almost because there was no way to ignore these clothes - a cacophony of bright color, a zoo's worth of animal prints, a mother lode of metallics, acres of sparkly sequins and yards of thigh-high striped stockings - sometimes all at once.

The real heat in Johnson's "Hot" collection came from a full crayon box of color including lace bodysuits in pink, blue and yellow, shaggy vests in orange or blue, and purple, crystal-studded leggings. There was just as much going on in the pattern department, with green and black reptile print capes, blue and black reptile print dresses, skirts and dresses festooned with rose prints or cherries and lip-stick prints, and sweaters filled with intarsia handguns.

Dresses ranged from thigh-skimmingly immodest flirty shirtdresses to mid-calf sequin-spangled disco dresses, and while trousers all seemed to end at the knee, horizontally striped socks ranged so far north they were practically knocking on chaps territory. Despite all the bare skin there was a nod to the fall and winter season in the emphasis on sweaters, shaggy faux fur outerwear pieces and Lurex flecked knit hats that, when paired with the rest of the models' ensembles, felt like what one might expect to see at an acid-soaked rave in an abandoned ski lodge.

The show closed with two hunky shirtless male firefighters taking to the catwalk with leafblowers in hand, a cadre of T-shirt-clad models dancing to "Hot Hot Hot" and Johnson performing her signature end-of-show salute  -- a cartwheel into a split.

Theatrical and over the top? Absolutely. And the audience ate it up with both hands.

It's worth pointing out, by the way, that this is a good example of what a consumer-driven (rather than industry-driven) Los Angeles Fashion Week might look like: essentially the staging of high-production-value personal appearances or glorified trunk shows by brands regardless of their affiliation to the local design community. (Johnson's a carpetbagger in this instance since her label is based in New York City).

What should Los Angeles Fashion Week look like? What purpose should it serve? Who should be in -- or out - of the big fashion tent? With Johnson's "Hot" collection in the 'hood this season, those burning questions are once again rekindled.

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