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L.A. fashion week: The big moments that seized on what makes SoCal special

Los Angeles Fashion Week’s memorable runway shows
Looks from memorable October runway shows in and around Los Angeles including, from left, Coral Castillo, Heidi Merrick, the Hundreds X Obsidian and Charbal Zoe.
(Manny Llanura; Elizabeth Lippman; the Hundreds; Arun Nevader / Getty Images)

Another Los Angeles Fashion Week is in the rearview mirror. And, while the twice-yearly slate of runway shows, presentations and events clustered around the California Market Center’s market week continues to suffer from a host of logistical challenges (including, but not limited to, multiple competing organizers, far-flung venues and a calendar that ends up stretching across three weeks), the standouts from October’s recently wrapped run of fashion happenings all seemed to have one thing in common: seizing on what makes Southern California special.

For the sophomore outing of Vegan Fashion Week, which kicked off on Oct. 10 with an awards show at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A., that meant tapping celebrity presenters Mena Suvari, Moby and singer-songwriter Kate Nash and showcasing designers that focus on animal-free fashion. The event’s creator, Paris-to-L.A. transplant Emmanuelle Rienda, said she picked the City of Angels as the place to base her event for a specific reason. “I think Los Angeles is so advanced ethically,” she told The Times. “It just passed the fur ban. We banned foie gras. We have a community that is already very vegan. … It resonates with me and this movement. … I am trying to establish L.A. [as a] new ethical fashion destination.”

L.A. Fashion Week, which forged a relationship with the Petersen Automotive Museum in August of last year, returned to that Miracle Mile location for a third season of shows Oct. 8-12. It was notable for the number of international brands in the mix, including Lower (a South Korean footwear brand), Luooif Studio (hailing from London) and a handful of Thailand-based brands (Kanapot Aunsorn and Renim Project among them). “On the fashion scene, a lot of brands look at L.A. as a great PR play, a conversation starter,” said event organizer Arthur Chipman. “The cool kids are in L.A., so it really helps all these brands coming in from Australia and all these other places.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t tangible benefits to be had for the hometown brands on the docket, particularly Coral Castillo, whose Oct. 11 runway show was sponsored by the accounting firm Moss Adams, longtime presenter of the Moss Adams Fashion Innovator Award, which comes with $5,000 worth of consulting services. “The [MAFI] is given to a designer who has done something innovative with respect to fashion and design over the past year,” said the firm’s Martin Hughes in presenting the award before the runway show. “And this year’s designer certainly deserves that award with her edgy and bold yet beautifully feminine designs.”

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2019 MAFI Award winner Coral Castillo
Coral Castillo, winner of the 2019 Moss Adams Fashion Innovator Award, at the finale of her runway presentation during L.A. Fashion Week on Oct. 11, 2019, at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
(Manny Llanura)

Castillo, who was born in Mexico City and studied fashion design at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco, designs her collections in an Echo Park studio and sells them online to clients as close as SoCal and as far away as the U.K. and Greece. She’s sent previous collections down L.A.’s runways in the past and is a firm believer in the runway-show format. “It’s like magic seeing all these beautiful women in beautiful dresses,” Castillo said in a backstage preshow interview. “I don’t think we should lose that. I know you can find out all about clothes [by looking online], but there’s nothing like the experience of seeing it live. I love that.”

The designer said her most recent spring and summer 2020 collection was inspired by classical mythology. “I love how Greek people portrayed women. If you see the goddess Nike, she’s a woman and she’s beautiful and she’s the goddess of victory and strength and everything that is glorious. Think of the [Winged Victory of Samothrace] sculpture — I wanted to bring that to the runway. I want women to feel beautiful and strong and powerful and feel like they can conquer the world if they want to.”

Coral Castillo runway  collection at LAFW
Looks from the Coral Castillo runway collection presented at the Petersen Automotive Museum on Oct. 11, 2019, during L.A. Fashion Week.
(Manny Llanura)

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On the runway, that took the form of flowing dresses that mixed feminine touches — fringe, tiered ruffles and floral lace — with metal embellishments including studding and grommet-like rings. (It wasn’t all dresses, though; there was a sharp-looking pantsuit accessorized with an asymmetrical fringe-trailing belt that would be the perfect ensemble for a modern-day goddess of victory.)

The next day, the scene shifted 64 miles north to a rural patch of land in Ventura County, where L.A.-based designer Heidi Merrick presented her first full runway collection (and her first menswear pieces) framed by grassy hills. “This place calms me. I become more myself when I’m here,” the designer said of the 55-acre mix of orchards, forestland and sage-filled fields outside of Ojai. “And it gives me the inspiration to go back [to L.A.] and do stuff.”

Heidi Merrick spring and summer 2020
Looks from the spring and summer 2020 Heidi Merrick collection presented on Oct. 12, 2019, in Ventura.
(Elizabeth Lippman)

On Oct. 13, the focus was on downtown L.A., where two things of note were unspooling. One was the second (and sold-out) Unity: Equality Fashion Week gala — organized to honor and uplift the LGBTQIA2S community — which took place at the Globe Theatre and where Allison K. Joseph of August Brave received the emerging designer award. “From designers, hair and makeup artists to models, we created a platform for members of our community to shine and increase visibility,” event organizer Nik Kacy, a shoe designer and nonbinary queer activist, told The Times. “Having a safe space with inclusion and diversity is our mission, because through exposure and visibility is where understanding and acceptance comes from.”

The other big event was the first-ever fashion show from streetwear brand the Hundreds in collaboration with a collective of indigenous-owned labels called Obsidian, which took place on the front steps of City Hall as part of the city’s official Indigenous Peoples Day celebration.

The Hundreds X Obsidian collaborative collection
Looks from the Hundreds X Obsidian collaboration presented on Oct. 13, 2019, as part of Los Angeles’ Indigenous Peoples Day celebration.
(The Hundreds)

On Oct. 17, Art Hearts Fashion picked up the mantle, kicking off a four-day slate of runway shows and art installations at the Majestic Downtown that marked the group’s 13th season presenting shows in the City of Angels. The occasion was noted by the office of L.A. City Councilman José Huizar, which issued a certificate of recognition — presented before the night’s first runway show — to organizer Erik Rosete for the group’s “contribution to the cultural diversity and economic contribution to the city of Los Angeles.”

Charbal Zoe opens Art Hearts Fashion Week in downtown Los Angeles on October 17, 2019
Looks from the spring and summer Charbal Zoe runway collection show that kicked off the four-night run of shows at Art Hearts Fashion Week in downtown Los Angeles.
(Arun Nevader / Getty Images)
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That was followed by the runway show of Charbel Zoe, who hails from Lebanon and whose glitz-and-glamour gowns have been seen on the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Nicki Minaj. His runway collection served up plenty of red carpet-worthy looks, many festooned with intricate beading and embroidery. Despite the abundance of ruffles, tulle and frill, the collection had a certain armor-like vibe to it, which reminded us of Castillo’s aforementioned Victorious collection presented the previous week.

The stunner of Zoe’s collection was a gown with a bodice of beaded flames and a voluminous skirt of red tulle that’s almost certainly destined for a future awards-show red carpet.

Bharbi Hazarika contributed to this report.


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