NOLA L. SARKISIAN
Come Sunday, fashion designer Allen B. Schwartz will gather his four-person design team at his ranch-style home in Mandeville Canyon.
They'll turn on the Academy Awards telecast and sketch like crazy to capture the look of the most striking gowns. By the time host Whoopi Goldberg says goodnight to millions of viewers, they'll get down to the serious business: deciding what clothes they want to knock off.
The next day, seamstresses in local factories will whip up samples. By Tuesday, the designs will show up at Schwartz's New York showroom. Three weeks later, they will be on sale at department stores all over the country.
Schwartz has made a name in recent years as the knock-off king of Oscar fashions. He takes stunning designs worn by stars like Sharon Stone and Minnie Driver, and with a few minor changes, makes them available to the rest of the world for $150 to $350 apiece.
(A reproduction of the red Halston dress worn by Driver last year sells for $245. The white V-neck worn by Ashley Judd costs $275.)
"I'm the guy who says, 'You don't have to have sticker shock to wear the fantasy dress,' " he says.
As president of Los Angeles-based A.B.S., Schwartz has created a label for the masses who flock to his six outlets nationwide, as well as upscale department stores, after the latest Hollywood awards in search of the dress worn by their favorite star.
"The day after the Golden Globes, one woman called me and asked where the Gwyneth Paltrow dress was. They are impatient to get his renditions," said Mark Roberts, an evening dress buyer for Bloomingdale's. "He's developed a niche. These women are hungry for fashion. They look up to these stars and want to be like them."
How does Schwartz account for all the interest?
"People are getting more practical. They have their own sense of self and don't need layers of taffeta and chiffon to prove it," says the 54-year-old New York native. "There's a tremendous resurgence toward femininity and simplicity."
The strategy is paying off for A.B.S., which posted $40 million in sales last year, with knock-off gowns accounting for roughly 15 percent of the business.
"He reaches the working woman, the average salary, basic middle-class individual who likes disposable clothes. These women want to be in the trend of the moment and won't necessarily wear the gown next season," said April Hughes, fashion editor for Elle magazine.
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