Late spring is always a wonderful time in L.A. – the weather, (usually) idyllic, neither too cool nor too warm; the air perfumed with jasmine, citrus, honeysuckle and magnolias; the jacaranda trees in blossom, or, as spring fades into early summer’s June gloom (and it becomes still cooler), carpeting streets and sidewalks as they shed their purple flowers. It’s a wonderful moment on the streets in street-style terms, too yes – even in traditionally pedestrian averse Los Angeles. But let’s just qualify that a bit: the truth is that L.A. is actually becoming less and less pedestrian averse. It’s not as if our still colonial-level mass transit systems have seduced us out of our cars, but we’re finding more places to walk and even taking to the sidewalks of thoroughfares that were once pedestrian deserts. And then there are the bicyclists. We’re finally learning to walk in L.A. and it’s wonderful to behold.
And I’m not the only one enjoying it. You see the pleasure people take in bringing out long cool day dresses in patterns and pastels, nautical stripes and crisp waist-jackets, or floating kimono-like coats, wraps or shawls,, shifts and dresses in cool spring pinks and greens, loose shirts and blouses in gauzy linens and silks, sandals or ankle booties that are really elaborations of strappy sandals. It’s not hot enough for people to pare down to their skate, surf and sweat looks; and by evening, one needs a jacket or wrap. (An advisory about short-shorts: if you have any doubts about bringing it off, don’t even try.)
It’s a nice time in the stores, too (something I don’t say very often). I couldn’t help smiling the other day driving by the Neiman-Marcus windows on Wilshire Boulevard and seeing three very pretty Alaïa dresses for spring (or anytime). Designers are out and about showing their resort collections and we’re seeing pre-fall collections in some of the (mostly designer) stores – and they all seem very much in-synch – especially in a climate like L.A.’s. (Proenza Schouler’s recent resort looks seemed very much – almost uncannily – in synch with L.A.’s current crop of street fashion.)
Maria Cornejo, eponymous designer of Zero+Maria Cornejo was in town last week-end to showcase her pre-fall collection alongside the strong, versatile spring looks already in the store; and her designs, too, felt very much of the moment both in terms of the impulses coming from the street, couture design and broader cultural currents. You feel the pulse just walking into the Melrose Place store – the visual rhythms and color harmonics that vibrate right off the fabrics: the graphic definition of blacks and whites; the firelight glow and soft atmospherics of prints taken from iPhone photographs, then abstracted and recomposed into boldly constructivist designs that nevertheless retain recognizable facets of the images’ physical elements and charm.
Cornejo, of course, is a kind of design visionary; but with both feet planted firmly on the ground. She has that rare grasp of drape and geometrics – how to fuse these elements in constructing a garment that properly fits, flows and moves with a human body. She frequently plays with asymmetries in her designs, but it all coheres in the balance she strikes between architecture and movement, extending to the lightweight, rich yet subtle textures of her garments – in silks, silk-blend jacquards, Tencel, viscose and other fabrics. Her sculptural drapery has become a signature. The signature elements were in striking play in a number of pieces that caught my eye: a long, narrow, swagged black skirt – with just enough stretch to be far from ‘hobble,’ yet holding the line of its silhouette; a pair of silk-jacquard ‘jodphur’-sihouette pants, cropped, in jagged black-and-white that sparked and pulsed electrically over the fabric – this paired with a silky ivory Tencel tailored shirt; a draped, asymmetric iPhone-print dress, its gathered drapery falling into a handkerchief hem, the cool foliage greens and atmospheric grays anchored by black shadow (or fence posts – the ‘plaids’ of the built environment); and so many more.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Cornejo would want to take the accessories for anything she produces to the level of art. (The shoes and boots seen in her runway presentations are frequently remarkable – and rarely produced for the stores.) She brought Alice Waese to L.A. with her to show off both art (elegant watercolours) and jewelry, examples of which adorned some of the store’s mannequins. More on Waese next post – but readers of this blog are encouraged to check out the designs both in the store and on-line. I can personally recommend the Melrose Place store – its current resident ambassador for the line, Alexis Kawahara, has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the line, her customer’s needs, and wears the line herself with great flair.