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Gen Art’s Fresh Faces in Fashion showcase returns to Los Angeles

Gen Art’s Womenswear Designer of the Year 34N118W

Looks from 34°N 118°W by Jodie Dolan, Kate Anlyan and John Renaud, the Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion womens wear designers of the year, that were presented in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 4.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Snakes slithering across chunky signet rings, models clad in vegan shoes see-sawing on a patch of fake grass and a runway show that includes skeleton-shaped knapsacks sounds like a scene straight out of Los Angeles’ twice-yearly fashion week. But this particular event unspooled in early August, nearly three months ahead of the city’s traditional fashion week timetable.

The Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion event, held Aug. 4 in an Arts District warehouse, showcased five labels.

Footwear designer of the year Taghrid Zorob’s Rafa line of eye-catching, chunky-heeled vegan footwear was on display on a swath of artificial turf off to one side of the runway. Among the colorful kicks in the mix: pale-pink faux suede sandals with 3-inch heels, blunt-toed Mary Jane pumps in green velvet and a pair of lace-up-the-back midi boots covered in a blue-and-white textile pattern that fell somewhere between snakeskin, floral and camouflage.

On the opposite side of the runway were a couple of glass display cases containing (in addition to a pair of slithering snakes) jewelry designer of the year Legier Biederman’s chunky signet rings from her year-old, L.A.-based Legier collection. The handsome, hefty-looking hand candy consisted of brass, silver or gold rings inlaid with square-cut stones like opal, turquoise and amazonite or slightly more rectangular strips of lapis or onyx approximately the width of a USB jump drive.

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The runway show gave three local labels a chance to strut their stuff. First up was Bristol, an athleisure-meets-retro range from menswear designers of the year Tommy Nowels and Luke Tadashi, which showed an assortment of vintage-inspired bombers, car coats and button-downs and denim. Memorable pieces included a baseball-inspired ticking stripe Henley and a maroon sweatsuit in French terrycloth that consisted of a mock turtleneck pullover top and three-quarter-length drawstring bottoms with a raw hem.

That was followed down the catwalk by 34°N 118°W (pronounced “34 North, one-18 West” – coordinates designating L.A.) by womenswear designers of the year Jodie Dolan, Kate Anlyan and John Renaud. The label’s website cites “the spirit and sensibility of the Downtown L.A. Arts District” as inspiration, and if that means breezy, laid-back and just-this-side-of-flirty rompers, gauzy dresses and tunic tops, then its mission was handily accomplished. Standout looks included a pale pink tunic top/maxi-skirt combination with a loopy, scrawly black abstract print that looked like the result of a Sharpie pen binge — in a good way — and a blue-and-white dobby-weave raw-hem romper.   

Bringing things to a close was avant-garde designer of the year Elliott Giffis’ biker-apocalypse-flavored Elliott Evan label, the centerpiece of which were multiple riffs on the asymmetrical-zip motorcycle jacket — black, white or gray, served up in goat leather or oiled denim, some deeply textured, others crackling with paint. A couple had outsize flyaway collars, others sported generous fur (or fur-like) trim. Many were layered over loosely knit, face-obscuring hoodies with frayed edges that draped like half-unwrapped cartoon mummy bandages. The specter of the afterlife — or at least death — was slightly more overt in the choice of the statement accessorizing several looks: molded silicone backpacks shaped like the upper torso of a human skeleton — head attached, bony hands resting upon the wearer’s shoulders.

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One the aforementioned brands will be chosen by organizers (assisted by a fashion industry jury that includes designers Betsey Johnson and Trina Turk, the latter of whom was at the August event) to receive a free year’s worth of marketing, sales strategy and supply-chain support from the group’s in house agency. The winning label will be announced on Oct. 1.

While the notion of local brands competing to land valuable support services isn’t exactly noteworthy (Kelsi Smith’s Los Angeles Fashion Council staged a several-season Open Runway competition a few years back), Gen Art’s involvement is. Founded in 1994, the music, film and fashion platform, which counts Zac Posen, Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy and Turk as alumni and had once been a reliable launch pad for local talent, has been missing in action for the last several years, cycling through owners and various iterations along the way.  

It’s now owned by a local partnership with Keri Ingvarsson, a former Gen Art employee (and later consultant), at the helm. Ingvarsson called the showcase “a love letter to L.A.” and explained that the first West Coast event (Gen Art 2.0 officially held its first fashion event last September during New York Fashion Week) was timed to be more convenient for the brands headed to the mid-August trade shows in Las Vegas.

“We may do something within L.A. Fashion Week next February or March,” Ingvarsson said. “But we’ll do whatever makes the most sense for the designers.” And she’s apparently undaunted about the prospect of jumping into the city’s fractured fashion week fray. “There’s room for all of us,” she said, “because there will never be enough support for young fashion brands.”

One of the new ways Gen Art is supporting the Fresh Faces in Fashion Class of 2016 is by making it possible for consumers to support them too. Ingvarsson has brokered a deal that makes pieces from each of the designers’ collections available for purchase online at shopspring.com.

For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me @ARTschorn.

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