Handout photo of Project Ethos model casting for L.A. Fashion Week.
Handout photo of Project Ethos model casting for L.A. Fashion Week. (Photo by Raphael Maglonzo)

Now that the Oscars are over, L.A.'s real fashion show is now underway.

VIPS from the worlds of retail, media and showbiz converged on Los Angeles this past weekend for the launch of Style Fashion Week at L.A. Live: five days of runway shows, product launches and installations, all spotlighting dozens of designers, brands and local businesses.

The March 9-13 event's 20,000 attendees bring a ton of business into the city's hotels, restaurants, stores and nightlife. And the shows highlight an industry that contributes more than $40 billion to the Los Angeles and Orange County economies.

 

Still, L.A. is the runt of Fashion Week compared with other cities — New York, Paris, London and Milan — for a reason, said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.

Angelenos find it hard to earn haute couture cred in part because here, the industry is dominated by denim, casual ready-to-wear and children's garment manufacturers. It's not driven by sophisticated, complicated pieces.

And the style icons here don't hail from the world of high fashion.

“Ours is not an industry based on fashion shows,” Metchek said. “Our fashion comes from the street — what the Kardashians are wearing, what we see on TV, what Miley Cyrus is doing. That's what we do.”

 

While the other cities produce over-the-top shows around cutting-edge designers in pursuit of endorsement deals and a page in Vogue, L.A. is about fashion-forward trends. A buyer's market if you will.

“What you'll see at L.A. Fashion Week is hundreds of buyers taking notes and looking at what will be in stores for fall,” Metchek said. “At Style Fashion Week, you'll see bloggers who will get media exposure for the exhibitors rather than orders.”

But this year's Style Fashion Week — the single biggest event in L.A.'s overall Fashion Week — is a symbol of how hard the city has worked to overcome its off-the-rack reputation.

 

Back in 2008, the local industry took a serious blow when Mercedes-Benz — which sponsors prestigious Fashion Weeks in New York, Berlin and other cities worldwide — pulled its backing of L.A.'s event. That sent a signal to the entire industry and dimmed the fashion spotlight on Los Angeles.

Enter Veronica Welch.

A PR professional, Welch came up with a plan to put Los Angeles Fashion Week on the map once and for all. Insiders scoffed at her vision, calling it a lost cause. But to her, creating what would become Style Fashion Week by 2011 seemed like the solution to a mystery that had long baffled her.

 

“It still doesn't make sense to me how L.A., which has so many designers, so many manufacturers, so many celebrities that live there, didn't have a legitimate fashion week,” she says.

Now Welch's pipe dream opens its 7th biannual season Sunday as the city's biggest, star-studded fashion party around.

Veronica Welch is the founder of Style Fashion Week, the city’s premiere industry-only event. Los Angeles, CA. March 4, 2014
Veronica Welch is the founder of Style Fashion Week, the city's premiere industry-only event. Los Angeles, CA. March 4, 2014 (Photo by John McCoy / Los Angeles Daily News)

Part of Style Fashion Week's vision, for example, is expecting its young designers to “look like they're already established although they're new” if they want to be part of the show.

“I think we all know after you've seen two or three fashion shows, you've pretty much seen it,” Welch said. “The challenge is really how do we create an entire week of day-to-night performances, celebrities, musicians and shows that keep editors and guests coming back for more.”

 

And even though Los Angeles is still in the shadow of New York and the others, it is gradually earning respect.

“I think when designers are striving for that (high fashion) they tend to take their shows to New York,” said Leslie Fremar, the stylist behind Charlize Theron's '50s silhouette on Oscar night and an Ask.com contributor. “I can see why it would be hard, but I think L.A. has really come into its own and broken down a lot of those stereotypes and is doing interesting things.”

Style Fashion Week was also honored at City Hall on Wednesday and Mayor Eric Garcetti plans to attend opening night.

 

In part, that's also a recognition of how much the industry itself contributes to Los Angeles.

“L.A. is the creative capital of the world, and the fashion industry is a key element of our creative ecosystem and economy,” Garcetti said. “I want L.A. to not just be the place that sets the trends, but the place that puts people to work creating and manufacturing them.”

According to the Fashion Industry Association, the industry provides jobs to more than 73,000 people in Los Angeles. That's second only to New York City, which has 121,000 employed in the industry. Apparel and textiles are the second largest commodity sector coming through the Port of Los Angeles, trailing automobiles.

 

Among one of the more popular events during L.A. Fashion Week is Project Ethos, a showcase of emerging talents in fashion, music and art. The show at the Avalon Hollywood on March 18 is open to the public with tickets priced $20 to $100, plus fees. Tickets can be purchased online at http://projectethos.tv.

Think “hunky, hot men” wearing eco-friendly Wood Underwear, models sashaying down the catwalk in gowns by “Project Runway” alum Layana Aguilar in her West Coast debut and bikini-clad bods showcasing designs by the brand Indah Clothing, which just made a splash in Sports Illustrated. The event also features DJ sets and live music by electro-soul duo Denitia and Sene. Upstairs, attendees can explore a henna tattooing exhibit by Mehndi artist Neha Assar, the gun violence messages in the art of 11-year-old artist Charles Gitnick of Woodland Hills and a creation in progress by street artist Paige Smith.

 

“Everyone always wants to hype up the fashion but it's a whole experience for people that night,” said Brianne Bear, chief operating officer of Project Ethos. “It's about curating events with different types of art mediums — DJ acts as well as live bands, different kinds of fashion from ready-to-wear to couture, swimwear, street wear because at the end of the day we're trying to excite the crowd and make sure there are elements that buyers and art gallery dealers are going to be pleased with as well.”

 

For participants, L.A. Fashion Week is a steppingstone.

Style Fashion Week alum Skingraft just showcased its latest creations at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York and its line is worn by Justin Bieber. Alternative Apparel's collection of ready-to-wear basics attracted international buyers after its show.

“All of these opportunities are wonderful; unfortunately, these opportunities are only available to someone with a huge backing; and that's the problem,” said Elisa Randazzo, designer of Cameo Clothing, an ethical, sustainable line made in L.A. from fabric that's mostly milled locally and has been seen around town on stars like Heidi Klum, Kate Hudson and Rachel Bilson.

 

While she's never showcased her wears at L.A. Fashion Week, Randazzo has attended the shows both as a stylist and an observer over the years.

“I started out my line with $5,000,” she said. “What shows can I do? And can I get into Fashion Week? That's a different and very expensive road to take.”

Depending on the show, participating in Fashion Week can cost a designer upwards of $50,000.

While it's still in its infancy, Style Fashion Week is growing. In October, the event moved its platform from Vibiana to a 42,000-square-foot tent at L.A. Live and “quadrupled” in size. That spring show saw famous faces like Lindsay Lohan, Adam Lambert and Dita Von Teese in the crowd. This time around is expected to be bigger given the show's growing roster of designers from all over the world, including “Project Runway” alumni Michael Costello, who designed the sheer floral lace gown that Beyonce wore to the Grammys.

 

Fashion icon Betsey Johnson, up-and-comer Quyhn Paris and more will also send their latest creations down the catwalk.

Yes, in L.A.

“People always talk about how we'll never be Milan, we'll never be New York — and that's absolutely correct, we actually don't want to be,” Welch said, chuckling. “We're L.A., where people are beautiful and the styles are amazing. It's definitely different than everything else.

“Yet, it is very fashionable.”

Staff Writer Rick Orlov contributed to this report.



Style Fashion Week will be taking place from March 9-13 at L.A. Live. Here is the schedule of shows:

Opening Ceremony: March 9, 6 p.m.

Ina Soltani: March 9, 7 p.m.

Tatyana Designs: March 9, 8 p.m.

Nancy Vuu: March 10, 5 p.m.

Andre Soriano: March 10, 6 p.m.

Mimi Couture, Mariely Pratts and Tatiana Shabelnik: March 10, 7 p.m.

R. Michel'le, Walter Mendez, MT Costello, Michael Costello: March 10, 8 p.m.

Skinny Bikini Swimwear, Kinsman SWIM: March 11, 5 p.m.

Vanwolff, Consort 62 Miss Consort: March 11, 6 p.m.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Presents Art Hearts Fashion: March 11, 8 p.m.

Dede Allure: March 12, 5 p.m.

Civil Society, Control Sector: March 12, 6 p.m.

Altaf Maaneshia: March 12, 8 p.m.

Betsey Johnson: March 12, 8 p.m.

Jamie Elyse Stephens (Presentation): March 13, 4 p.m.

Kicka Custom Dsign (Presentation): March 13, 6-8 p.m.

Lolly Clothing: March 13, 7 p.m.

Quynh Paris: March 13, 8 p.m.

Furne One: March 13, 10 p.m.

Here is a list of other Fashion Week related events happening in March:

CM2K show: Cheryl Koo will be debuting her new collection on March 13. Dinner and drinks will be provided with the show at 7:15 p.m. at supperclub The Restaurant, 6675 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. To RSVP, email chris@valentinegroupla.com.

Fashion sense-ability: Learn.Help.Teach. is a non-profit organization that focuses on promoting skill sharing communities. The “Potluck Presenter” event invites the community to join a conversation with fashion conscience experts who break the mold such as Jason Peskin, CEO of Project Ethos; Elana Pruitt, writer of Good Girls Shops; and Taryn Hipwell, producer of Eco Diva TV. The discussion is March 13 at 7:30-10:30 p.m. at the LHT Loft, 900 E. First St. #106, Los Angeles. The event is free but a $20 donation is suggested. For more information, visit www.lht.la.

A Night in Casablanca: Clever Vintage Clothing will have a show that features the colors and textures of Morocco in the Mid-Century. The night will also include Moroccan food and wines and belly dancers. The event is 6:30-9:30 p.m. March 14 at The Backyard of The W Los Angeles, 930 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets are $25-$30. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/TcJcHj.

Rock that Fashion: Runway magazine will be having a release party for their spring issue. The red carpet is 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 14 and the designer showcase is 8:30-10 p.m. at Boulevard3, 6523 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. The party begins right after the fashion show. Proceeds from the event go to VH1 Save The Music Foundation. To get tickets, visit www.rockthatfashion.biz.

Lingerie party: Porscha Starr is a custom lingerie brand created by Porscha Woodard. There will be free entry into the party before 11 p.m. for all who are dressed in lingerie. The event is 10 p.m.-2 a.m. March 14 at Club Couture, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $10 pre-sale and $20 at the door. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.porschastarr.com/pages/events.

SewDown: The fashion show and sale will feature 10 up and coming fashion designers who have the opportunity to show off their designs to buyers, the press and the public. The event is 8 p.m.-2 a.m. March 15 at 333 Live in Downtown Los Angeles, 333 Boylston St. The runway show begins at 10 p.m. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis will be performing during the show along with Evan Roman, Doc Martin, DeeJay Heidi and more. The night will also feature art installations and live paintings. Tickets cost $20, $50 for VIP with two drink tickets and a Lisa Kline gift bag, and $100 VIP Gold tickets get you two drinks, Lisa Kline gift bag and front row seating for the runway show. To get tickets to the event, go to www.sew-down.com.

Project Ethos: On March 18, Project Ethos will have three fashion shows at 8:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. at Avalon Hollywood, 1735 Vine St., Los Angeles. Designers featured in the show include Marialia, Rochelle Carino, Aleena Khan, Layana Aguilar, Wood Underwear, Rochelle Carino, David Tupaz and Indah Clothing. There will be a performance by Denitia and Sene at 9 p.m. There will also be an art gallery with live and visual artists. Tickets range from $20-$100. For more information, visit http://projectethos.tv/events/la-fashion-week-3-18-14.

Spring Fashion Show: Avenue Q 15 magazine presents a show displaying the latest Quinceanera dresses. There will also be appetizers, drinks and entertainment. See the dresses hit the runway on March 22 at 6 p.m. at the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, 5930 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call 951-992-6199 or visit http://goo.gl/wUfRCS.

Rock and Shop: Mad Girl Productions presents an all day event with shopping, food and music. Over 40 vendors will be displaying their designs and food trucks will be lined up serving delicious treats. The shopping extravaganza begins March 22 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. at KESSPRO Studios, 435 Molino St., Los Angeles. Tickets are $5-$20. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/b7QOmr.

Fashion in the City: Six emerging designers from Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Texas will showcase their designs. You must be 21 and older to attend. The show is on March 27 from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. at The Savoy Entertainment Center, 218 S. La Brea Ave., Inglewood. Tickets are $20-$40. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/4xX2gj.