Showing off what this city does best

Eric Kim’s tweed jacket - staid it’s not.
(Lawrence K. Ho / LAT)
Times Staff Writer

This will be remembered as the season that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios found its way. Aside from one ill-advised men’s underwear show, what was on the runway was polished and respectfully reflective of L.A.’s vibrant fashion industry. The number of shows — a mere 23 — may have been at an all-time low, but the quality was up, and the swell of fashion events that have sprung up across Los Angeles this week and into next only reinforces the power of this market and the potential of its anchor event.

We are the leader in technically innovative denim treatments, which Oligo Tissew showcased beautifully; in affordable eveningwear, which Sue Wong did so well earlier in the week; and in contemporary clothing from designers such as Donny Barrios of Crispin & Basilio, who makes fashion-conscious pieces for less than $1,000.

But this is also the kind of market that can nurture talent such as Rami Kashou, who turned fabric from a 25-cents-a-pound rag house into something elegant. Two years ago, Kashou was one of those L.A. designers who staged consistently good shows but lacked the production team to fill orders. So he took a break to focus on the business and assembled a design team, before returning to the runway Wednesday. He presented just 15 dresses, but each proved his draping skills have reached a new level. His color sense was extraordinary — a bias-cut gown in a terra cotta hue, a silk gabardine Empire style in mustard yellow with cutouts at the waist and braided trim.


It was nice to see Kashou do short lengths too. A cocktail dress in a lovely purple bouquet print was ruched through the bodice with a corseted tulip skirt. Another in silver metallic lam– was draped asymmetrically, reminiscent of one of Esther Williams’ swimsuits. But it was his use of vintage men’s neckties that made an impression. Striped silk piping curved around the bodice of a lilac silk taffeta V-strap dress with a silver metallic frill in front — the nice mix of masculine and feminine.

Imitation of Christ’s Tara Subkoff is another one to make good use of vintage fabrics. The designer, who has been showing in New York, did not disappoint in her return to L.A. on a runway strewn with human bones and models in dagger-print dresses talking on cellphones. A scoop-front, gold beaded fringe dress looked chic over a tank top, while a lacy black gown with a scalloped hem left just enough to the imagination. Subkoff’s deconstructed tux looks were immensely cool — white shirts with shoulders scooped out worn over black skinny jeans, or layered under a strapless black velvet dress.

There were plenty of evening looks to love at Kevan Hall’s show too, where a gray plunge-front chiffon gown was super luxe with chinchilla cap sleeves and a diamant– belt. Hall also focused on daywear, having fun with the jet set theme by pairing a mink hoodie with white wool pants and a nailhead textured camisole, and a reversible double-face cashmere wrap coat with a sleek jumpsuit.

He played up the metallic trend that’s continuing into fall with a tailored ruby herringbone skirt suit, a bronze pinstripe pantsuit and an allover pleated, amethyst taffeta frock described aptly in the show notes as the “propeller dress.”

On the street wear side of things, show organizers spared us the bare-breasted models and mechanical bulls that lent a sleazy vibe to past seasons. Instead, we had Christian Audigier, the Ed Hardy tattoo brand impresario, showing his new, higher-end line accompanied by a choir. (Of course, they were wearing robes with Audigier’s crest in crystal studs.) The clothes actually weren’t bad.

Scarf-print dresses had a 1980s Versace feel, the best one in a graffiti print, while metallic leathers — a gold trench and crinkled silver biker jacket — were totally now. Denim washes were clean, and the shapes varied from super skinny to wide-leg trouser jeans with the new, higher waist.


Eric Kim’s Monarchy show harnessed the military look running through the fall season and crossed it with preppy Americana. A cropped leather bomber jacket topped glazed black jeans and a cobweb knit sweater, while a pencil skirt was made from Army green field jackets, laced with a corset belt. With frayed edges, Kim’s tweed jacket was anything but staid, worn by a model with an outsized Mohawk. Even argyle sweaters were toughened up, overstitched and patched at the elbows.

Thankfully, denim was kept to a minimum on the runways. Instead of being faced with brands looking to capitalize on name recognition, with little design behind them, we had Oligo Tissew whose work never fails to inspire. For fall, he rolled color over waxed denim to create striking metallic effects. Imagine jeans shining like a copper penny, a lustrous miniskirt in electric purple or a sunshiny jean jacket with a texture as stiff as leather. There were gold-dusted corduroy pants too, with Tissew’s signature star back pocket treatments, worn with chunky cardigan coats, artfully graphic sweaters or T-shirts emblazoned with Samurai warriors.

Presented off-site at an art gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, Barrios’ Crispin and Basilio contemporary line is emerging in its third season as a bright spot in the contemporary market. A mushroom-colored hooded blazer worn over a blue cotton, box-pleat dress was tailored but not stuffy, while a long silk drawstring cardigan in steel-colored tulle, a wonderfully versatile piece, looked just ladylike enough layered over a cream silk shell and wide leg gabardine pants with a bow at the waist.

“Working in L.A. used to be a consolation prize in the fashion industry,” Barrios said. “But now, I wouldn’t have it any other way — the mix of high and low, polish and non-polish, heavy fabrics and lighter ones. With global warming, everyone is dressing like us.”

Sad but true, sad but true.