Judging by last season's show and this season's buzz, two things will be in the spotlight when L.A.'s Fashion Week opens today: jeans and skin.


Los Angeles appears to have wrapped up the market on both.


"L.A. Fashion Week seems to be more casual than New York Fashion Week," said Astride Howell, an attorney who represents several fashion designers. "L.A. has made jeans acceptable for regular wear, even in the workplace."


Irreverence hit high gear at last season's fashion blitz as denim brands played a larger role. Rock 'n' roll attitude and Hollywood glitz come with denim, of course, as does mass-market accessibility.


Patty Handschiegel, editor of StyleDiary.net, said the bawdiness is part of the experience, and it gives a local flavor to the shows. "I always tell everybody, 'New York is the older sister, Chicago is the middle child, and L.A. is the bratty little sister that gets away with everything,'" she said. "I don't find that offensive. That is just L.A."


With its billfold-busting jeans, Rock & Republic Enterprises was almost universally judged to have hit it out of the park at last season's Fashion Week.


For the finale, a model strutted down the runway in a denim-topped wedding dress and high heels. "When you see that, you say, 'Wow, they have really pushed the envelope," said Andrea Bernholtz, president of Los Angeles-based Rock & Republic.


After initial hesitancy, event organizers 7th on Sixth and Smashbox Studios have accepted denim brands into the local fashion show fold. And when the event starts this week, a new feature highlights that acceptance: Denim brands will have an evening to themselves on Tuesday.


"It is definitely a growing segment, and it doesn't seem to be going away," said Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth. "We resisted it at the very beginning because we thought to get a Fashion Week established, we needed to have designer names and designers that people could relate to."


But Fashion Week couldn't avoid the influential local jean market. Premium denim has taken off since the current version of the event began here three years ago. Despite grumbling that the premium jeans bubble could burst, companies keep jumping into the sector, and suitable alternatives to expensive denim haven't caught on.


"L.A. is the premiere market for premium denim," said Ali Fatourechi, co-owner and creative director of L.A.-based Genetic Denim. "Per square inch in someone's closet, they probably have more denim than anything else."


After all, Rock & Republic's revenues grew 500 percent last year. Commerce-based Blue Holdings Inc., which has three brands showing at Fashion Week, expects to rack up $60 million to $70 million this year, compared to under $37 million last year. And it is estimated that over 1,000 other brands are vying to get a piece of the pricey denim market.


With all the competition, runway shows are a way for denim companies to stand out from their peers, especially by capturing the lens of magazine, newspaper and television cameras. Bernholtz, for example, said pictures of the denim wedding dress taken in L.A. ran in publications all over the world.


"It gave Michael (Ball, the chief executive and designer) a chance to create some designs that weren't necessarily street ready, but they were runway ready. It really made a stamp," she said.


Shock value
The response to denim companies' runway extravaganzas hasn't all been positive. In the dash for the spotlight, these companies have been accused of going too far, showing too much skin and not enough clothing. They've also been accused of hogging the limelight from emerging designers trying to break onto the fashion scene.


Even Bernholtz, who wouldn't point a finger at a specific company, said that runway shows in L.A. sometimes become contrived in the drive to grab attention. "It is a fine line, and I think it gets crossed in Los Angeles. It doesn't have to be a circus," she said.


This season, Rock & Republic intends to tone down its L.A. Fashion Week splash. Instead of producing a runway show, the company will be hosting a black-tie event to showcase wares for the fall season. That means 800, rather than about 4,000 people, will be treated to a Rock & Republic soiree.


On the runway, Mallis suggested bare breasts aren't going to be quite the distraction they were the last time around at some denim shows. "I am fairly certain that our producing team talked to everybody about that," she said. However, she added, "We are not the squad that is putting in ratings on shows out here."


Besides, any restrictions on the shows could backfire. The denim companies maintain that they aren't creating a stir for controversy's sake, but they know it attracts an audience both at the Culver City Fashion Week venue and with the public at large.


Denim companies have a major runway challenge: they have to make shows entertaining, while at the same time focusing mainly on jeans. Rock & Republic uses the time to highlight some of its other items. Bernholtz said the company tries to mix things up with its edgy designs and by adding accessories and shoes to the shows. "It showed a range of the lifestyle of a rock girl," she said.


Lindsay Johnson, an assistant buyer at Hollywood clothing store Tracey Ross, is not planning to attend a fall season jean show, although she has attended denim company Frankie B. Inc.'s in the past. There's only so much that can be done with jeans, she said.


"It is really hard to break the mold in denim. Runway shows are about the drama. And a pair of jeans, if you really look at it, is a pair of jeans," Johnson said.


Still, young jean companies look to the runway as a vehicle for exposure. Genetic's Fatourechi hopes to show at L.A. Fashion Week in the future, once he's put together a full collection. He said the runway could be a great place to present what could be the next hot craze.


Right now, Fatourechi is pondering what's coming after the popularity of the skinny-legged jeans ebbs. When he figures that out, he knows the right place to showcase his latest styles. "LA is a hip city and it is sexy," he said, "and there are definitely trendsetters out here."


Unlike many other runway shows, Handschiegel pointed out that clothes at L.A. Fashion Week aren't just meant for the models they often make it to the mass market. Certainly, for denim companies, the public prods the jean mania, and the runways simply heat up consumer demand.


"Our fashion community is a lot of street wear. The stuff that comes out of our runways is what people wear and can afford," she said. "It is the everyday girl."


the very beginning because we thought to get a Fashion Week established, we needed to have designer names and designers that people could relate to."


But Fashion Week couldn't avoid the influential local jean market. Premium denim has taken off since the current version of the event began here three years ago. Despite grumbling that the premium jeans bubble could burst, companies keep jumping into the sector, and suitable alternatives to expensive denim haven't caught on.


"L.A. is the premiere market for premium denim," said Ali Fatourechi, co-owner and creative director of L.A.-based Genetic Denim. "Per square inch in someone's closet, they probably have more denim than anything else."


After all, Rock & Republic's revenues grew 500 percent last year. Commerce-based Blue Holdings Inc., which has three brands showing at Fashion Week, expects to rack up $60 million to $70 million this year, compared to under $37 million last year. And it is estimated that over 1,000 other brands are vying to get a piece of the pricey denim market.


With all the competition, runway shows are a way for denim companies to stand out from their peers, especially by capturing the lens of magazine, newspaper and television cameras. Bernholtz, for example, said pictures of the denim wedding dress taken in L.A. ran in publications all over the world.


"It gave Michael (Ball, the chief executive and designer) a chance to create some designs that weren't necessarily street ready, but they were runway ready. It really made a stamp," she said.


Shock value
The response to denim companies' runway extravaganzas hasn't all been positive. In the dash for the spotlight, these companies have been accused of going too far, showing too much skin and not enough clothing. They've also been accused of hogging the limelight from emerging designers trying to break onto the fashion scene.


Even Bernholtz, who wouldn't point a finger at a specific company, said that runway shows in L.A. sometimes become contrived in the drive to grab attention. "It is a fine line, and I think it gets crossed in Los Angeles. It doesn't have to be a circus," she said.


This season, Rock & Republic intends to tone down its L.A. Fashion Week splash. Instead of producing a runway show, the company will be hosting a black-tie event to showcase wares for the fall season. That means 800, rather than about 4,000 people, will be treated to a Rock & Republic soiree.


On the runway, Mallis suggested bare breasts aren't going to be quite the distraction they were the last time around at some denim shows. "I am fairly certain that our producing team talked to everybody about that," she said. However, she added, "We are not the squad that is putting in ratings on shows out here."


Besides, any restrictions on the shows could backfire. The denim companies maintain that they aren't creating a stir for controversy's sake, but they know it attracts an audience both at the Culver City Fashion Week venue and with the public at large.


Denim companies have a major runway challenge: they have to make shows entertaining, while at the same time focusing mainly on jeans. Rock & Republic uses the time to highlight some of its other items. Bernholtz said the company tries to mix things up with its edgy designs and by adding accessories and shoes to the shows. "It showed a range of the lifestyle of a rock girl," she said.


Lindsay Johnson, an assistant buyer at Hollywood clothing store Tracey Ross, is not planning to attend a fall season jean show, although she has attended denim company Frankie B. Inc.'s in the past. There's only so much that can be done with jeans, she said.


"It is really hard to break the mold in denim. Runway shows are about the drama. And a pair of jeans, if you really look at it, is a pair of jeans," Johnson said.


Still, young jean companies look to the runway as a vehicle for exposure. Genetic's Fatourechi hopes to show at L.A. Fashion Week in the future, once he's put together a full collection. He said the runway could be a great place to present what could be the next hot craze.


Right now, Fatourechi is pondering what's coming after the popularity of the skinny-legged jeans ebbs. When he figures that out, he knows the right place to showcase his latest styles. "LA is a hip city and it is sexy," he said, "and there are definitely trendsetters out here."


Unlike many other runway shows, Handschiegel pointed out that clothes at L.A. Fashion Week aren't just meant for the models they often make it to the mass market. Certainly, for denim companies, the public prods the jean mania, and the runways simply heat up consumer demand.


"Our fashion community is a lot of street wear. The stuff that comes out of our runways is what people wear and can afford," she said. "It is the everyday girl."

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