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Fashion week season: Is LA's week relevant?

Model strikes a pose in a floppy, 70's inspired, felt hat at the First.LA Fall 2012 runway show.
Model strikes a pose in a floppy, 70's inspired, felt hat at the First.LA Fall 2012 runway show.
Shereen Marisol Meraji
Model strikes a pose in a floppy, 70's inspired, felt hat at the First.LA Fall 2012 runway show.
First.LA Fall 2012 runway show
Shereen Marisol Meraji

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Fashion Week is wrapping up in Los Angeles and local designers have been using runway shows to show off their fall 2012 collections. But, with the prestigious New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks long over, how important is L.A.’s?

To find out, I started at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in downtown where I posed a probing question to students, "When I say L.A. Fashion Week, you say...?" Many could not find their words and responded in grunts, mehs, ehs and ummms. Jenny Rosas, a product development major, clarified what that meant after a bit of a pause, "I guess I don't have much...anything to say about it, I guess it happened? It's happening?"

Lauren Kirk, a merchandising and product development major who graduates in June said her teachers never mention L.A. Fashion Week. "I hear a lot about New York Fashion Week," she said, taking a drag off her cigarette, "but as far as L.A. Fashion Week, it's a lot of up-and-coming designers. Our teachers don't really push us to make those connections as much as they would with already established designers in New York, Paris and London."

Famous L.A. designers, like Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte and Trina Turk, are not participating in L.A.'s fashion week. In fact, Trina Turk is showing off her latest designs to fashion editors this week in, of all places, New York.

Robin Givhan actually won a Pulitzer Prize for her fashion and culture writing so her opinion about the fashion industry is nothing if not informed. When she picked up the phone this week, she did so in Paris. Givhan said each country should only be allowed one runway city, period. "France has Paris, Great Britain has London, Italy has Milan, and you know, the States has New York." Givhan said. "If I covered L.A. Fashion Week it would get to the point where literally all I ever did was go to runway shows."

Givhan added that if you’re an L.A. designer with clout, you’ll schlep to New York, make the six-figure investment, and put on a runway show at Lincoln Center. Why? Because the fashion press is there, not to mention an army of luxury department store buyers, including the sought-after Jim Gold, Bergdorf Goodman's CEO. "And you might luck out and get Jim Gold sitting in your front row, but Jim Gold is not going to L.A.," said Givhan matter-of-factly.


Even without Gold, models walked the runway for the first fall 2012 fashion week runway show Monday evening in L.A.’s gritty fashion district. The show happened three stories above wholesale stores, fronted with signs saying "EVERYTHING MUST GO" and "SUITS FOR AS LOW AS 49.99!"

Yet, L.A. maintains its pride. Shelda Hartwell-Hale, the vice president of Directives West, the merchandising consulting firm putting on the show, was flabbergasted by the question, "Is L.A. Fashion Week relevant?"

"What a question to ask! That's a horrible question," Hartwell-Hale said with a chuckle. "Well you're here tonight to find out that it is definitely relevant!"

On the runway, models high-stepped in high-end denim, ripped Jimi Hendrix T-shirts, floppy '70s felt hats, and colorful, skin-revealing knits. What you won't see are models rocking over-sized terminator sunglasses and gowns resembling pastel-frosted, multi-tiered wedding cakes made of feathers, the vision of Alexander McQueen. Ilse Metchek, the president of the California Fashion Association says L.A. Fashion Week is about reinforcing trends and selling clothes people will actually wear.

"In order to get press in New York and Paris you have to be outrageous, you virtually have to be in the business of not selling it," said Metchek,"Totally different here. We don’t care about having a big party for no return on investment, we don’t care about having Kim Kardashian in the front row, or anyone else of that ilk, that is not relevant to the world of business."

Metchek added that L.A. Fashion Week is not about tradition and definitely not about showcasing old-school fashion icons and their designs. And that, she said, keeps the industry fresh. "Who are the designers that you know of in New York, they’re all over 50! This is a free for all in this town, any color, any size, any age, anyone can make it." Metchek says L.A.’s put on some form of “fashion week” since the mid-70s. By her logic, the town must be doing something right.

Besides, where New York has the runway to influence fashion tastemakers, Hollywood has the red carpet to influence everyone else. Which means every week is fashion week in Los Angeles.