THE BIRTHPLACE of haute denim and home to red carpet events that beam celebrities in designer gowns into millions of homes from Burbank to Belfast, Los Angeles is unique in its ability to serve up clothes that are not just coveted from afar but are worn by real people. Add to that the 24/7 celebrity exposure of every bag and shoe that steps out to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and the City of Angels is arguably the most influential style city in the world.
And yet, Los Angeles Fashion Week has never really taken off, partly because organizers have tried to make it fit the template of other fashion weeks around the globe, where success is a front row stocked with retail buyers and New York magazine editors. Because it's being judged by that yardstick, it falls short, and many influential local designers see no reason to show their work here. It also suffers from being an industry-insiders-only club in a city that thrives on pleasing the masses.
So brothers Dean and Davis Factor's announcement this week that the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios -- which kicks off today in Culver City -- would be the last under their five-year partnership with events producer IMG (which organizes fashion weeks in New York, Miami, Berlin and Mumbai, India, among other cities) provided an opportunity to dream. What would Los Angeles Fashion Week look like if it were built from the ground up, instead of being cobbled together from competing events, as the 10-season IMG-Smashbox partnership was when it launched in March 2004? What kind of showcase would play to the strengths of L.A.'s $33-billion-plus apparel business at the intersection of popular culture and popular fashion?
In the spirit of fantasy football, the Image staff has created a "fantasy fashion week." It's a modest proposal that could raise as many logistical problems as it solves. But it rethinks the basics -- the key elements that have the power to establish Los Angeles Fashion Week as a must-see for the design world and beyond. What would that take?
1 | Timing that makes the most of L.A.'s catnip
CURRENTLY, Los Angeles' myriad fashion events take place after the Paris women's shows, and more than a month after the Bryant Park shows in New York. By the time L.A.'s Fashion Week arrives, buyers have seen as much as they can absorb -- and spent most of their season's budgets.
But Los Angeles is a natural magnet for two high-profile fashion constituencies -- stylists and celebrities -- and that converge on our fair city twice a year, for the Oscars (in February) and the Emmys (in September). So why not plan Los Angeles Fashion Week to immediately precede each of these events? With the Academy Awards scheduled for Feb. 22, that would put the next Fall-Winter season on the calendar for Sunday, Feb. 15, through Saturday, Feb. 21. Though these dates conflict with the currently slated Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, with IMG and Smashbox parting ways, that's just one less hurdle between "fantasy" and reality.
2 | A convenient location that can deliver eyeballs
IN PARIS and Milan, fashion shows are held all over, using the infrastructure of the city as one big runway -- old churches, schools, even garages. In a sprawling, traffic-clogged city like Los Angeles, one central location makes the most sense. But that place isn't Culver City. And it's not downtown Los Angeles, where venues such as the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral and Nokia Theatre compete with a city center that's famed for rolling up the streets at night.
Instead, why not take advantage of the city's dream factories and stage L.A. Fashion Week on the grounds of a Hollywood studio? Centrally located Paramount Studios at 5555 Melrose Ave. would be a perfect spot, with controlled access (sorry gate-crashers and looky-loos) and perks such as screening rooms for programs of fashion-related short films like those chosen for the You Wear It Well series.
In an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Times announcing the dissolution on Tuesday, Smashbox Studios co-owner Davis Factor acknowledged as much and said he planned a change in venue. "We don't have a location secured yet, but I'm not looking downtown," he said. "I want it to be in Hollywood. Hollywood embraces the city of Los Angeles, there's so much creative stuff to take advantage of here, the red carpet, costume design, stylists, everything from the surf industry to Maxfield."
There would be an added upside to using a studio -- the ability to tape and re-broadcast the entire week on TV or the Web, as well as possible synergy with such style-centric shows as " Project Runway," " Top Design," "Shear Genius" and " America's Next Top Model."
3 | Top-notch talent that's not strictly local
THOUGH some of the buzz could come from the changes outlined above, the designer lineup is crucial and shouldn't be limited to local talent, any more than New York, Milan or Paris are limited to designers from those cities. But the shows should definitely reflect West Coast style in its many permutations.
We arranged our fantasy fashion week as a series of themed days, going roughly from most casual to formal, starting with the premium denim brands that thrive here and ending with heavy-hitting, red carpet-worthy designers. This way, editors, buyers, stylists and bloggers need attend only the days that interest them, which cuts through the clutter and saves time and energy for attendees. Although this week's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Los Angeles is a five-day, 23-show event, we've packed a seven-day week with seven shows a day.
In the end, any successful fashion week will be measured by just one thing -- exposure for the participating brands. Los Angeles can and should be a megaphone to the masses. Which leaves just one not-so-tiny point: Just what labels should be showing on the fantasy runway?