Dark, brooding and brilliant. These tastemakers are changing the face of L.A.
Style Section L.A., 2009
*This is a project I conceived and produced for the launch of Style Section L.A.
When American painter Grant Wood divined the idea for American Gothic, he asked his sister, Nan, and his dentist to pose as the steely, agrarian subjects of his 1930 masterpiece—easily one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. As the co-founders of Style Section L.A., none of us has any sisters, nor a photogenic dentist. But nevertheless, we were inspired to create a photographic homage featuring our favorite hometown tastemakers from diverse creative disciplines (and not at all suited for the greasy pages of Us Weekly). Produced by contributor Alexis Johnson and photographed by Joseph Llanes, the series is a look at the tide-changers who inspire us to call Los Angeles home. Welcome to Style Section L.A.
“I’m one of those girls who started out as a go-go dancer,” says Ava Garter, the red-headed mother of two. “I figured out you could make a lot more money if you’re stripping.” A longtime friend of Dita Von Teese, burlesque’s premier glamour girl, Garter is positioning herself to follow in her famous friend’s footsteps, starting with a performance with Von Teese at the Avalon earlier this summer. “Dita and I have been friends for 20 years. We met on a first date—we have no idea where the guys we were dating ended up,” she says with a laugh.
After dancing together at Orange County’s strip joint Captain Cream (now Captain’s Cabaret), Garter gave up the stage for married life. But after a few years, she couldn’t help herself, and left her marriage for her true passion: burlesque. “I don’t believe in doing things halfway. There was no point in making it into a hobby,” she said. Instead, she founded The Black Glove, her burlesque training school in Costa Mesa, and launched a new monthly series in Silver Lake dubbed “Stiletto Camp,” where Garter imparts her tricks of the trade to women (and even a few men, with “boylesque”) of any age. “Women in their seventies are such a hoot. They’ve totally lost all of their inhibitions and just let it roll,” she says.
Words of wisdom to the novice: “I kind of recommend having a cocktail beforehand,” Garter says. “You’re always a little more sexy to yourself and a little more comfortable in your skin after a glass of wine.” —Alexis Johnson
Ryan Heffington, the avant-garde dancer, choreographer and co-founder of envelope-pushing dance collective Hysterica Dance Company, always delivers the provocative. And now the innovative artist—who teaches the jam-packed hipster dance class “Sweaty Sundays” each week in Silver Lake—is launching SiteUnseen, a roving art party of evocative performances mixed with fashion and art.
For the recent Sex on a String party, guests were led by two flight attendant “hosts” along Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, across city parks and parking lots before entering a backyard where a “mirage-like series of installations and performances appeared under luminous moonlight,” says Heffington, who’s currently work-shopping an “unorthodox theater-dance piece,” directed by Terence McFarland as part of the UCLA’s Hothouse Program.
The Hollywood resident, who was once aptly described as “the sweaty love child of Martha Graham and Freddie Mercury,” has a gender-bending personal style that pulls as much from the The Golden Girls as it does from Olivia Newton John (think sequins jackets, eighties pumps and legwarmers). “Too big, too trashy, too formal—it’s all appropriate,” he says by way of description. “I’d say half my closet consists of pieces designed for women and heels. A Beatles-versus-Ralph Lauren look with a high ballet bun works for me.” —A.J.
The Retailers/Style Curators
Eastside boutique Confederacy has barely been on L.A.’s fashion retail scene for a year, but is already one of its best assets. And now it has entered a phase two of sorts, with co-founders Ilaria Urbanati and Danny Masterson launching an e-commerce site (shopconfederacy.com) and adding a quaint outdoor coffee bar, Jarksy’s, to their sprawling Los Feliz space. “The outdoor courtyard is just heaven—in my dreams it reminds me of a shrunken version of the wedding scene in The Godfather,” Urbanati muses.
A stylist by trade, Urbanati has dressed celebs including James McAvoy and Emile Hirsch, and earned respect in local retail as the buyer for Satine and Milk, two boutiques at the nexus of the West Third Street scene. She’s now into a second season of collaborating on Rebecca Minkoff’s apparel line (Elle is throwing a runway show for the collection this month at New York Fashion Week) and is launching Confederacy’s men’s private label collection with The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. “If I may so say myself, it’s pretty flawless,” she says. “All the clothes are handmade and hand-stitched in Brooklyn.”
Urbanati’s advice for the fashion masses is simple: Avoid hipster zeitgeist. “A hipster will wear the ugliest, most uncomfortable, most off-weather, sallow-looking thing just for the sake of it being cool or hip,” she says. “I think girls should just wear what makes them feel inspired and what makes their asses look high, their legs look long and their waists look small. When you’re older, you’ll look back and be glad you flaunted it while you could.” —A.J.
“I want the Mad Men look.”
Three seasons into AMC’s series on Madison Avenue’s bourbon-bingeing good times, circa 1963, Jonathan Kanarek still hears this from guys (some with pitch-perfect style, others sartorially tone-deaf) who shuffle into Jake Vintage, his men’s boutique in Los Feliz. Unless a three-piece suit comes with four Cedars-Sinai surgeons capable of a Jon Hamm face-and-body transplant á la Rock Hudson in Seconds, it’s tough to deliver on such a request—though if anyone’s your man, it’s Kanarek. He’s been wearing vintage for 20 years and can break down the 60s obsession into its measurable components: higher armholes, authoritative shoulders, lapels that slimmed as the decade progressed into mod suit resplendency. “Suits today just don’t seem to have the soul they used to,” he says. “Vintage is a uniform that really jettisons you back to a time when people could discuss politics and shake hands afterwards. When guys were drinking Manhattans instead of apple-tinis.”
Upon its inception in 2007, Jake Vintage may have appeared to be the exclusive domain of the iconoclast. No ’57 Chevy, no creepy, antiquated rat pack sense of humor; no service. But the layman’s wariness is unfounded. If you’re off to the Magic Castle or Perino’s, look for an anchor piece in the store to temper the contemporary (i.e. a Paul Smith shirt). “You don’t want to walk into an oak-soaked bar with oxblood banquets in a T-shirt and distressed jeans,” Kanarek says. “Rise to the occasion.” —Andrew Harmon
The Gallerists/Art Devotees
A longtime supporter of the city’s creative set, Heather Taylor, owner of Taylor de Cordoba gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Culver City, has carved out an arts-meets-fashion niche, regularly showcasing up-and-coming fashion design talent, including Jesse Kamm and Clare Vivier. Her recent summer exhibition, L.A. Fashion Bloom, featured pieces from the likes of Gregory Parkinson and jewelry designer Annie Costello Brown, with proceeds benefiting P.S. Arts, the arts education non-profit organization.
Taylor’s current L.A. Fashion Week lineup is yet-to-be decided, but if it’s anything like previous seasons, expect a high-profile guest list (Vogue’s André Leon Talley has attended in the past) and innovative installations, from commissioned films to models vamping on large, moss-strewn pots. The gallery opens its fall season on September 12 with “sculptural drawings” from L.A.-based artist Claire Oswalt. —A.J.
Peter Gurnz is digging even deeper into his art-style niche. The founder of BOXeight, an arts and fashion co-op, he’s transforming his collective into a multi-faceted production machine. And it seems likely he’ll get it done. After all, he’s already pulled off several seasons of semi-annual fashion shows–party-fueled events that held their own against the now-defunct IMG fashion shows at Smashbox Studios.
Next month, BOXeight is trading the runway for designer installations at the collective’s south-of-downtown headquarters and is amping up its art gallery component by erecting eight distinct museum cubicles (or “salons”) inside the studio-featured gallery space for artists.
The new salons will spawn a residency program, where artists rent space to live and work in “to get their careers launched,” Gurnz says. And the organization is further bolstering the visibility of local artists via monthly art parties, from the debaucherous, “I Think It’s Art, I Think It’s Fashion” and “Shake the Dust” shindigs, to scheduled gallery shows. —A.J.
The Club Impresarios/Creatures of the Night
If you’ve ever messed with Jen Rosero, you probably have some sort of scarring to prove it. As the matriarch of upscale L.A. nightlife, Brent Bolthouse’s business partner and SBE’s president of VIP services is as notorious for her no-bullshit door policy as she is for her thick, jet-black bangs. From the rise of velvet-roped boutique clubs like Hyde to the recent renovation of Foxtail (scheduled to re-open this week as MI6), Rosero has been a formidable fixture on the scene—one with a well-formulated “dislikes” column. “One of my biggest ‘hates’ are those short, short dresses and the fat bitches who wear them,” she says. The list goes on, but even Rosero admits that the fashion quotient has improved: “A lot of starlets have great stylists. And girls are making more of an effort. They’re being influenced by shows like Gossip Girl and 90210. Boys, on the other hand, are a disaster. Just bad.”
As for herself, Rosero is smitten with Louis Vuitton, mixed with a little throwback style. “I was really impacted by the fashion of the 70s. It really thrived in America back then: Halston, Alaïa, a little punk rock, a little boho. I’m from the school of thought that everything should always be black—my idea of color is grey.” —A.J.
Jared Meisler, owner of Bar Lubitsch and the new artisanal libation sanctum Roger Room on La Cienega Boulevard, has the art of refined dressing down to a science—and a single label: Dolce and Gabbana. “As a kid, I always liked suits and ties,” he says. “But I never thought I’d have the opportunity to dress up, especially because L.A. is a very casual town. I think it’s been influenced by the beach… and a lot of good pot.”
Taking cues from vintage Italian mod style, the onetime “aspiring rock star” and former manager of Bar Marmont isn’t always rocking a black two-button jacket: Meisler sports Levis and blue Sperry Topsiders during the day (“Those my girlfriend bought for me—I’ve worn them every day this summer.”). But it’s his dedication to bolstering the city’s nightlife that got him noticed by New York hotelier Sean MacPherson, the impresario behind of-the-moment Manhattan hotspots like the Waverly Inn and the Bowery Hotel (along with L.A.’s Jones and Swingers diner). “The nights I worked when I was managing Bar Marmont, the sales would almost double. That caught Sean’s attention. He told me he wanted to partner with me, which was amazing because he’s the king of everything,” Meisler says. And with two venues already under his belt, Meisler has another, undisclosed project in the works.
Luckily, the young gun recognizes there’s a void in the local market: “Unfortunately, the majority of the city is not as passionate or focused on nightlife in L.A. compared to New York or Paris. I’m trying to change that, one delicious cocktail at a time.” —A.J.
“My style is 30s showgirl mixed with Victorian mourning gowns,” coos Leila Bazzani, the fair-skinned brunette who began burlesque dancing eight years ago at the age of 21. A native of San Francisco, Bazzani toured the U.S. and Europe with the variety vaudeville company Yard Dogs Road Show and first performed burlesque in the French Quarter of New Orleans, training with 75-year-old women who long ago mastered the art form and continue to flaunt it. Now less than a year into her L.A. experience, Bazzani performs twice weekly at the Edison downtown and is crafting a Parisian-inspired show with fiancée and objet-designer Douglas Little. “The Lido in Paris was a fantastic, old dinner theater that’s been around since the late 30s/early 40s,” she says. “We want to make it a little more exotic, a bit more of a show. We’re working on [building] a giant swan for me to dance on.” –A.J.
Perfumer-cum-stage designer and stylish objet purveyor Douglas Little made a name for himself with his noirish Modern Alchemy line of scented candles and custom perfumes sold at Barneys New York and Harry Winston. Ever-polished and regularly seen wearing perfectly tailored suits replete with custom cufflinks of his own design, Little recently released a collection entitled Memento Mori (Latin translation: “Remember you will die”). Think black-and-silver skulls printed on porcelain dinner plates and stationary, or sculpted into cocktail swizzle sticks and place card holders. An upcoming jewelry collection will feature silver lapel pins cast from a spiny clam shell. Little also has decorated windows at Bergdorf Goodman in his Tony Duquette-meets-Edward Gorey aesthetic. Witty, but haunting. —A.J.
Taking cues from rock gods like Pete Townshend, indie guitarist Sarah Negahdari, who has fronted L.A. indie band The Happy Hollows for the past three years, injects an intense physicality into every stage performance. “I feel very masculine when I play, which is totally fine,” she says. “But I love wearing dresses because I love the feeling of being powerfully feminine. I don’t like that women have to take on masculine qualities in order to be seen as powerful.”
Even with the release of the band’s first full-length album, Spells (due out on October 6), Negahdari is incubating several additional creative endeavors, including an upcoming folk-music project and “bedroom opera,” as she calls it. (“That’s my one-woman musical.”) As the band’s lead songwriter, Negahdari keeps a tape recorder with her at all times, even while sleeping. “Sometimes I wake up from a dream with a song in my head and I will record it in my recorder,” she says. “It’s such a strange experience—a song will come anytime, anywhere, and if I don’t find a private place to record it, it will be lost forever.”
The avid vintage shopper, who often dons rainbow body paint while playing, says she enlists the help of her mother with re-casting her thrift-store finds: “I’m like the indie rock Beyoncé. Doesn’t her mom make all of her clothes?” —A.J.
Visitation is no sunny record. Division Day’s follow-up to the acclaimed Beartrap Island of 2007 is a grave departure, consistent with the tone of the L.A. band’s namesake (a tragic Elliott Smith B-side with the first verse, “There was a grown man dying from fright”).
But then things have gotten rather serious for the rockers recently. After ditching their old label and contemplating a break-up, the band (with Sebastian Bailey on bass, Kevin Lenhart on drums and Ryan Wilson on guitar) signed with Dangerbird Records, which is fast becoming one of L.A.’s most influential indie labels, boasting alt superstars Silversun Pickups, The Dears and Sea Wolf. For Division Day, the world is suddenly a slightly bigger stage.
As for the new album, “Somber is the common denominator, but there’s also a greater density to this album,” says lead singer and keyboardist Rohner Segnitz, whose recent death metal obsession was tragically nixed when he realized that the “indie hip-gensia” had embraced the genre as ironic fad du jour. “There’s a commonality in the tone and texture of the songs. Beartrap was much more of a piecemeal approach.”
Currently on tour, Segnitz has whittled down his instrument from a full-range keyboard to a 25-key facsimile. He’s also added guitar to his resume and has overcome the pain that accompanies the novice’s first attempt at a bar chord. “It’s an instrument millions of 16-year-olds know how to play, and the motivation is quite simple: It’s the archetypal phallic extension that makes you feel cool.” —A.H.
Short-skirted and often bespangled in sequins, designer Melissa Coker is currently hard at work on the fall 2010 collection for her two-year-old collection, Wren. There are the research trips to Japan and Paris, the casting for her latest lookbook (holiday 2009 featured MTV’s Alexa Chung and The Like’s Tennessee Thomas), the appearance this week at the Vogue Alumni House for Fashion’s Night Out and the pending collaboration with filmmaker Alia Raza, who earlier this year directed indie queen Chloë Sevigny. Glancing at Coker’s schedule, it’s a relief to know that not all niche labels have ground to a halt in recessionary times (she may have Keira Knightley and other superstar fans to thank for that).
“I tend to be quite myopic in what I like,” Coker says. “If I could, I would wear the same thing every day, just rotating the color.” For fall, the Silver Lake denizen says her must-haves include “my Wren tarnished-sequin skirt, colorful cardigans for adding a pop to every outfit, Swiss-dot sheer tights and anything from the new Philip Lim shoe collection.”
An avid shopper of all-things-vintage (“My favorite is the Long Beach Flea Market—it’s so much better than the Rose Bowl”), Coker also commends Ivanhoe Books for “an amazing selection of art and fashion books, old and new,” as well as Echo Park’s Flounce “for gorgeous Victorian and ‘20s vintage dresses.” True to her girly-yet-rumpled aesthetic, Coker admits, “If I could be covered in shine every day, I certainly would.” —A.J.
As half of the design team behind Lova, the throwback 60s men’s line that references sun-soaked holidays on the Amalfi Coast, á la The Talented Mr. Ripley, Giuseppe Valentini doesn’t do schlub. And the timing appears right for a kempt sentiment, with local guys suiting up more than ever for hip L.A. institutions like Teddy’s, Bardot, Roger Room and The Varnish. Along with partner Daniel Murphy, the oft-slim-cut-suited Australian whose style knowledge and marketing background has helped to catapult the line both locally and abroad, Valentini is working to define L.A.’s de rigueur after-dark uniform. Grab your bowtie: An October launch party for Lova’s Fall 2009 is currently in the works. —A.J.
WeSC, the Swedish-based street fashion line, has a knack for ingratiating itself with some of L.A.’s best homegrown artists. Native Los Feliz painter Vanessa Prager, who lives with sister Alex (best known for her highly saturated photographs of vintage-vibe chicks), is prepping for her October 1 installation with friend and assemblage artist Lizzy Waronker in WeSC’s Robertson Boulevard boutique. The one-night-only, enchanted forest-themed exhibit has Prager working countless hours to build the massive set. No matter: “I knew I never wanted a day job. Ever,” she says.
A self-taught artist, Prager appropriated her grandmother’s old photographs and turned them into modern, surrealist settings for a recent series. “People instantly turn away from something if it’s ugly,” she says. “Everyone loves beauty. I try to make things that are pretty but that have a deeper message. If people actually look at the work, it’s a lot more thought-provoking and creepy. —A.J.
As far as Hollywood breaks go, Texas native Joe McKay probably has yours beat. After quitting school and moving to L.A. to sell merch for the West Coast leg of a friend’s punk band tour, McKay worked as a security guard in the back lot of Dublin’s Irish Whiskey Pub in West Hollywood. Lucrative? No. Lame? Yes. But at Dublin’s, he was eventually scouted by a modeling agent and booked for a season of European men’s runway shows.
Years later, the jeans-and-a-T-shirt-wearing model found himself making collage art. “I’ve always been into magazines and comic books,” McKay says. “A lot of what I do is cutting out images from magazines and re-piecing them into collages. I remember being in first grade, and my teacher called my mom to tell her I was really good with scissors.”
Heavily influenced by Philly-based collage artist Agnes Montgomery’s work for Panda Bear Records, McKay has lately been scouring eBay for vintage issues of National Geographic from the 60s and 70s. Several shows are planned for the fall, including a December 3 joint exhibit with Melinda Dahl at POV Evolving Gallery in Chinatown. —A.J.
The DJs/Sonic Aesthetes
Though known to Westsiders for spinning at The Standard in Hollywood, C.C. Sheffield is also an emerging songwriter with the lyrical nihilism that leads you to believe she’s not afraid of being punched in the face. For the track Escape Me, the former lead singer of Le Rev’s self-directed video starred Sheffield in an all-out brawl at Echo Park dive bar Little Joy with Little Loca, now a YouTube sensation. Cue balls cracked into skulls, draft beer poured over weaves—rest assured the night doesn’t end on a pretty note. “I’ve worked on the music scene since I was, like, 14 in Arizona, and I was definitely a target of some of the vata chicks. So I had to incorporate Little Loca for this,” she says.
Blunt and unpretentious, Sheffield has gone solo and was recently asked by DJ Tiësto to contribute a track for his upcoming album, which drops in October and also includes Nelly Furtado and Tegan and Sara. A recent song she worked on with Grammy-nominated producer Max Martin nearly made it onto the latest Kelly Clarkson album—perhaps to butch up the American Idol star’s street cred, Sheffield says. “The song’s all about drunk dialing and hooking up. Kelly didn’t want it, but she’s retarded. So whatever.”
Another bar fight is probably out of the question, however; Sheffield’s moved on. “Everyone in L.A. goes through a lot of different phases. For me, first it was “What the fuck am I doing?’, then it became an Echo Park drunky-punk phase. Now I’m feeling more Marina-del-Rey-sailboat.” —A.H.
Taking a literal setlist approach to reflect L.A.’s current mood is the mark of any hack DJ. The Station Fire’s devastating flames are particularly rife for turntable melodrama to further fray our collective nerves (blech), which is why we’re happy that KCRW’s Mathieu Schreyer is on the late-Friday-night shift with sets both raucous and sensitive. “I think about it; everything’s on fire,” he says. “But it doesn’t influence what I’m doing. Something crazy is always happening. I just feel for the people affected.”
Schreyer joined the 89.9 FM line-up by way of colleague and Chocolate City host Garth Trinidad. A native of a France, his tastes, unsurprisingly, reflect a broad worldview, spanning Latin and reggae, hip-hop and electronica. But the underlying thread of his three-hour show is less a trite, Up With People vibe, and more a coronation for the ideal weekend—even if it devolves into a sloppy hangover and Carl’s Jr. wrappers inexplicably tossed on the kitchen floor by Sunday morning.
That “Mr. French” is Rosario Dawson’s beau you probably already know. That he is a chief collector of Nom de Guerre, you may not: Schreyer has been friends with the fashion label’s Isa Saalabi since its first season. “Like my music, I like well-made clothes that can express emotions,” he says. Despite Nom de Guerre’s brilliant, wayward-wanderer-meets-military-might fall/winter 2009 collection, “burn baby, burn” is not one of them. —A.H.
Photographed by Joseph Llanes at 650 Moulton Studios, 650Moulton.com. Produced by Alexis Johnson. Grooming, hair and makeup by Paul Castro @ AIM Artists. Fashion Assistant: Inara Naranjo.