Say Whaaat?: Norma Kamali for Wal Mart

At first, I thought I was misreading the headline. Then, I got the sensation that I was dreaming. But no, it's true - WWD has reported that Norma Kamali is designing a collection for Wal-Mart.

I know she's not John Galliano or anything, but Norma was kind of a big deal back in the '70s and '80s - I mean, her work is in the Costume Institute. Target would make sense, but Wal-Mart? I know it's where the Olsens got their start, but even so, fashion credentials are definitely not one of its strong points.

In her statement for WWD, she explains that she's looking to bring her vision of 'wellness' to a wider audience. If wellness can be equated with cut-price versions of her super-sexy bikinis, I might just have to rethink my aversion to bargain-basement shopping...


Red Carpet Report: Oscar Night

It's my first Oscar night in LA, and I've come to realize that the ceremony is to this city what the Super Bowl is to...well, everywhere else in the country. People throw parties in their honor, bars and restaurants erect big screens on which to watch the red carpet procession, there were more column inches devoted to 'Who's Going to Win' speculation last week than to the presidential race.

With all that buildup, my expectations were high - so maybe that's why I was disappointed? For one thing, where was everyone? I've never really followed the big awards ceremonies before, so am not sure if this is normal, but was quite surprised to see how few of the big-name celebrities actually turned up. No Brangelina, no Tomkat, no Reese or Kiera or Sienna or ANYONE, really, except for the obvious nominees (and, randomly, Miley Cyrus, Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba).

More than that, though, I was disappointed by the extremely safe (read, boring) dresses on the red carpet. Black and neutral and red and strapless and floor length - I mean, I have a feeling that most of it was out of respect for the writers, which would make more sense if the strike were still on - but it's not! The writers got what they wanted! And yes, I totally understand everyone did suffer for quite a few weeks, but I don't necessarily think a splash of color here and there is massively disrespectful. Or maybe I'm just massively insensitive...
Anyway, I still feel as though it's my duty as an honorary Angeleno and fashion writer to give you my top five looks of the night - although I will preface it by saying that none of them would have made my list if they'd appeared on the red carpet, say, last year:

1. Penelope Cruz in Chanel Couture
I love navy for evening, so was stoked to see so much of it on the red carpet this year. Penelope definitely did it best with this gorge gown by Chanel - I think it's a color that can look slightly dowdy on a dress that's too austere, and the draping and feather details were just enough to infuse it with a bit of glamour.

2. Anne Hathaway in Marchesa
Red is definitely Anne's color - she was absolutely glowing in this draped red Marchesa. She's got my vote for most improved from last year (remember the big black bow debacle?).

3. Renee Zellweger in Carolina Herrera
To me, Renee is the one actress who consistantly looks sophisticated and glamorous at every high-wattage event she attends. I can't remember one occasion where I was unimpressed with her look, and tonight was no different. The silver starburst pattern on her dress shrieks Old Hollywood glamour - it looks like it could be a very well-preserved vintage piece from the 40s.

4. Marion Clotillard in Jean Paul Gaultier Couture
Am pleasantly surprised at how well Gaultier's mermaid motif translated on this made-to-measure gown. Most certainly a best-actress-worthy look.

5. Heidi Klum in John Galliano
Apparently, Heidi's been getting her inspiration from Project Runway's Chris March - the exaggerated neckline of her Galliano gown is more than a little reminiscent of Chris' fine art challenge dress, as well as its inspiration earlier in the season. Not that it makes it any less chic, of course.


One to Watch: Esartia Jewelry

As the cliche goes, one man's trash is another's treasure - a phrase which jewelry designer Khatia Esartia takes literally in her eponymous jewelry line.

After putting together her avant-garde leather graduate collection for the Art Institute of Chicago's fashion school, Esartia was faced with a mound of leftover leather scraps. But rather than relegate them to the Dumpster, she decided to reuse them by creating a series of rings and necklaces adorned with gems, jewels and ribbons. These pieces were such a hit with buyers that they evolved into a full-fledged jewelry line, one which is a little bit glam rock, a little bit romance, and totally eco-friendly.
Recycling has never been so chic.

Esartia available at EM & Co, 7940 W. Third St., www.emandco.com

Talking Shop: Comme Des Garcons Guerrilla Store

It takes a lot to convince me to venture into downtown LA during rush hour, but I figured the Comme des Garcons guerrilla store would be as good an excuse as any. So I made the trek, only to find out when I got there that all the merchandise got tangled up in customs, and the store wasn't able to open Saturday as planned. Apparently, everything will be ready to go tomorrow at 12 - but I'm working at my 'real' job up through next Thursday, so won't be able to go back until at least then.

For anyone who's planning on going over the weekend, take note - it's not easy to find. The door is actually behind a black metal gate and down a small alley just to the right of Blends on 4th Street. Unfortunate dumpster smell aside, it's actually a great location in a surprisingly cool part of downtown, so I guess I don't mind too much that I'll have to make the trip again next week...

Photo from LATimes.com


Why Not Try...A Caped Crusade?

I don't know about you, but the last few days of spring-like weather have inspired me to relegate my winter wool jacket and collection of heavy velvet blazers to the back of my closet until next November. Nevermind the fact that I'm always the chump shivering and complaining about it once the sun goes down - I'd rather have that than the unpleasant melting feeling I get when standing in direct sunlight in a heavy coat during the day. Am currently on the lookout for a cape to bridge the gap, and I have a feeling that soon enough, I won't be alone. They've been popping up all over the Milan runways (see Alberta Ferretti and Missoni, left), and they're sure to have a big showing in the upcoming Superhero show at the Costume Institute in New York.

Cozy enough to wrap up in if necessary, yet airy enough to let the fresh air in when it's warmer, the cape is basically a grown-up version of the Pashminas I was addicted to in my college days. Am still not quite sure if I want to go the minimalist route, like the one below by Cassette, or try to find something bolder, like the gorge yellow tartan or white brocade ones by Alexis Mabille. Either way, the cape will fit in perfectly with the whole 'gothic seductress' vibe that's emerging for fall - am envisioning it with a sheer blouse and leather-esque leggings.


Runway Report: Topshop Unique

I've learned to live without my rainy-day walks along the Thames, and have even managed to perfect my own version of Brick Lane's famous curry - but the one thing I can't seem to shake about my London homesickness is my weekly visit to Topshop. I wouldn't be surprised if they've seen a serious drop in profits since I left the country in August, but if that's the case, their fall Unique collection should help to make up the difference.

It's definitely one of the best they've shown yet - full of broody, dark, near-gothic minimalism in the form of leather separates, cozy grey flannel coats, and ethnically-patterned chiffon shirt dresses. If I didn't know better, I would have pinned this collection to an established designer, like Alexander Wang or Richard Nicoll - but, lucky for most of us, the edgy looks on offer don't come with a matching designer price tag. With prices maxing out at $300, you really can't afford NOT to buy several pieces from the collection - and, if the brand's plans to open stores in the US pan out, I'll hopefully be able to do just that come autumn.

Photos courtesy of vogue.co.uk


Runway Report: LA Takes NYC, Part 3

The last set of shows this week seemed to reference a more subdued form of glamour than the earlier ones - not as much sparkle, more practical fabrics, yet still referencing the Old Hollywood silhouettes of the '40s that seem to have been the main focus for most designers. From Jenni Kayne's little black dresses to Rami's little jade ones, the ladylike look is apparently here to stay for fall...

1. Tadeshi Shoji
If you read Us Weekly at all, Shoji's name probably sounds familiar - he's best known for his sexy, slinky red carpet wear. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me that there was hardly an evening gown in sight in his fall collection. Shirtdresses in shades of chocolate brown and grey were mixed in with canary-yellow chiffon blouses and emerald silk sheaths, items that would look more at home at a board meeting than at the Kodak. Not to say I didn't like it, however - his tailoring is always spot on, and I loved the way he played with splashes of color, like these yellow leather gloves against the grey wool dress.

2. Jenni Kayne
It's not that I have anything against Jenni Kayne - she definitely has a way with the basics, proving season after season that she can make a solid pair of pants, shift dress and fitted jacket. But for me, there's nothing that particularly stands out about her work - I mean, you can walk into any Banana Republic or Nordstrom and find equally solid pants, shift dresses and fitted jackets any day of the week. I'm probably not alone when I say that I'll choose to save a bit of money on the basics to put towards one of her contemporaries who are doing something a little more spectacular, like..

3. Rami Kashou
If Rami doesn't end up winning for this collection, I'll be more than a little shocked. I've been a huge fan of his since before he appeared on Project Runway, and this collection embodies the reason why. Every little pleat and drape of every piece appears to have been scrutinized, with a result more polished and flattering than quite a few of the New York veterans we've seen this week.

4. Sweet P
Even though there were a few promising pieces in Sweet P's collection, I was a little perplexed by the fact that there was no continuity whatsoever between all of its different elements. Jumping from a punky flannel cocktail dress to a minimalistic sheath jacket to a richly embellished silk frock was confusing, at best - had she stuck to just one of these themes, her collection would have made a much stronger statement.


Mark Your Calendar: Kristinit Charity Sample Sale

With the Barney's Warehouse Sale on now, it's probably going to be tough for any other sample sales to get noticed - especially those more than a 5 minute drive from Santa Monica Airport. But I'd very much recommend you add the Kristinit sale at Kate to your weekend agenda. I don't just say this because you'll be able to snag designer Kristina Lenss' super-sweet and romantic blouses and jackets for 70% off, and not even because you'll have the chance to pre-order from her spring collection - no, the best part of the event for me is the fact that a percentage from each sale will be going to charity (Kitten Rescue Los Angeles and Pachama Rainforest Allience, to be exact).

If you're so cold-hearted that even saving kittens doesn't tempt you, perhaps the following pictures will - after all, nothing says Valentines Day lovin' like a ruffle and a bow, no?

Kristinit Charity Sample Sale, Kate, 515 S. Fairfax Avenue, Saturday Feb. 9th from 2-8 pm, RSVP to kristina@kristinit.com

Neighborhood Watch: Chinatown

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I've been looking for an excuse to make a shopping guide to Chinatown, and the fact that this weekend is Chinese New Year seems like a good one. The parade is tomorrow at 2, and if it's anything like the other Chinese New Year celebrations I've been to, I'd very much recommend it. There's more reason to go besides the day-glo costumes and big paper dragons, however - like I've mentioned before, there's a lot of great shopping to in the area:

1. New High (M)art: I know I go on and on about this place, but with good reason - it's definitely one of the most inspiring shops in LA that I've found so far. It's a good place to start a tour of Chinatown, especially because there's a huge $3 parking lot across the street that's usually empty. Their current exhibition is probably their best yet - it's devoted to jewelry designers Alex & Chloe, and has been decorated to look like a sort of enchanted forest to tell their story.
New High (M)art, 741 New High Street, www.newhighmart.com

2. From here, I normally like to walk up Broadway to BJ Market. Not gonna lie, you probably won't find anything spectacular here, but it's a great place to visit for atmosphere if nothing else. Lots of stalls with dollar-store kitchenware, satin kimonos and bent sunglasses are lightened up with the sounds of Chinese soft-rock tunes from the late '80s - if you ignore all of the Texan tourists milling about, you sort of feel like you might actually be on another continent.
BJ Market, 711 N. Broadway

3. Continue walking up Broadway until you reach Ooga Booga. This hybrid boutique / gallery is a popular spot for underground magazine launches and gigs, and has recently been making the art fair rounds from Santa Monica to Miami. Along with their roster of exhibitions (currently showing is sculptor Sarah Clendening), the shop also sells a huge selection of art books & zines, original work from emerging artists, CDs & mix tapes, and clothing from Bless and Opening Ceremony, among others.
Ooga Booga, 943 N. Broadway #203, www.oogaboogastore.com

4. In the same building is a new shop that I haven't actually been to yet, but sounds like is worth checking out. It's called Flock, and according to the Chinatown website, it carries "Unique and handcrafted gifts, housewares, clothes and jewlery from artisans around the US and the world." Anyone who stops by, please do post a comment & tell us about it!
Flock Shop, 943 N. Broadway #103, www.flockshopla.com

5. Just across the road in a little alley called Jung Jing is yet another bastion of the art school set, Welcome Hunters. This is yet another of my favorite shops in the city, as it stocks lots of my favorite Euro labels like London's Kokon to Zai and Sweden's Jenny Hellstrom. Again, you'll find a monthly exhibition complete with launch party, along with DJ nights at Mountain Bar in collaboration with Lion's Den (see below).
Welcome Hunters, 454b Jung Jing Road, www.welcomehuntersla.com

6. Walk around the plaza to Gin Lin Way, where you'll find Realm - a housewares store with a distinctly modern Asian twist. This is the place to come if you're looking for a great teapot, as they have hundreds, along with those cool square plates and a few slightly incongruous candleholders that look as though they're made from wood.
Realm, 425 Gin Ling Way, www.realmhome.com

7. Next door to Realm is Munky King - basically the first 'adult toy' shop in California. No, we're not talking about THAT kind of toy, but of collectible figurines, some of which are designed by quite famous artists and most of which are limited edition. There will be a DJ spinning throughout the day tomorrow, so is worth stopping by for that even if you're not into the toy thing.
Munky King, 441 Gin Ling Way, www.munkyking.com

8. Over and up North Hill street is Super Home Mart, a must-visit for anyone who likes herbal tea or Pier One. For the tea drinkers, there are economy-sized boxes of every version of green tea imaginable, including my beloved jasmine-infused variety; for Pier One shoppers, the same ethnic-inspired furnishings at about a quarter of the price. A warning: it's easy to lose a few hours browsing around this massive space, so plan accordingly.
Super Home Mart, 988 N. Hill Street

9. The biggest concentration of galleries in the neighborhood is on Chung King Road, a little side street off of North Hill. You'll find everything from the big players, like Peres Projects and Mary Goldman, to more experimental upstarts like Telic Exchange and Fringe Exhibitions. Definitely worth a little browse, as this street is a great cross-section of the LA art scene.

10. On your way back down North Hill, stop into Flux, a gallery devoted to contemporary ceramics and pottery. Is a good place to pick up a vase for the flowers you'll find at the Farmer's Market, further down the road.
Flux, 943 N. Hill Street, www.fluxgalleryla.com
Farmer's Market, 727 N. Hill Street

11. Finally, cut across Ord street and back up New High until you reach Lion's Den. Fulfilling every trendy neighborhood's need for a streetwear shop, this one is full of colorblocked New Balances, Penfield flannels and Foreign Family tees.
Lion's Den, 711 New High Street, www.lionsden.la

LA Takes NYC: Part 2

The second installment of my roundup of LA designers showing in New York this week, starting with:

1. Jovovich-Hawk
I normally view fashion lines designed by models with extreme skepticism - after all, we all know that Kate Moss has probably not picked up a pencil and sketchbook since starting her Topshop line. But for some reason, I feel like Jovovich-Hawk has a bit more credibility, probably because it doesn't have the backing of a big brand behind it - ergo, it probably isn't a publicity stunt so much as something borne out of true passion. It looks like Carmen and Milla were doing their research for this collection at an Echo Park dive bar, which, again, would normally annoy me - but, again, it doesn't for some reason. Black and white jailhouse stripes, neon pink silk and prom dress sleeves aside, the collection really brings out the edgier side of LA that most people miss. Not to mention that they've created a few of the winter maxidresses that have been popping up on runways, another trend which I love.

2. Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent
This is one of my favorite every-day labels - I always know I'll find a piece from Twelfth Street that's a little bit different, yet totally classic and easy to wear. For Fall 08, Vincent gave her presentation a circus theme and filled her collection with the season's standout trends - feathers, bold patterns, and sparkle. A fun and whimsical interpretation of fall's emerging mood of excess.

3. Halston
I've been looking forward to this collection more than any other this year - so maybe I was setting myself up for disappointment. Because disappointed I definitely was, with this overly literal translation of the label's past. Rather than updating and modernising the label's signature pantsuits and trapeze dresses, it looked like designer Marco Zanini simply took a few pieces out of the archives, took a steamer to them and sent them out on the runway. The fabrics looked like cheap polyester, the colors were straight out of a Brady Bunch rerun, and the silhouettes seemed more frumpy than fabulous. I've always associated Halston with glamour and excess, and this dull homage to the most embarassing aspects of 70s fashion was the complete opposite. I mean, just look at this picture - an unfortunate periwinkle jumpsuit more suitable for RuPaul than Nicole Ritchie

4. Rodarte
I mentioned in a recent post that I think of Valentino as being outside the realms of fashion, and I sort of think of Rodarte in the same way. Their gowns are probably not going to spark any Forever 21 knockoffs or 'Who Wore it Better' articles in Us Weekly, but that's the best thing about them - it's more about art than fashion. This collection just reaffirmed the label's status as one of my all-time favorites, rendering me awestruck at the way they've managed to make humble fabric look like something altogether otherworldly. The one word that kept coming to my mind is 'gossamer,' a word that I don't really know the exact definition of, but which I associate with fairy tales and imaginary princesses. This transcendent, dreamlike collection was definitely the stuff of fairy tales, so fragile that it looked like it could go up any second in a puff of smoke-colored chiffon.

5. Koi Suwannagate
This show marked Koi's debut in New York, her first since winning the CFDA / Vogue fashion fund last year. She's a knitwear designer before anything else, creating art out of cashmere, and this collection didn't disappoint. Loved the voluminous capes, which looked like upside-down tulips and looked just as chic with a little black dress as with a pair of slouchy trousers.

6. Monique Lhuillier
She's best known for her bridal gowns, but this collection proved that Lhuillier is capable of so much more. It perfectly encapsulated the season's mood of unbridled decadence, with slinky gold cocktail dresses, rich fur trimmings on film noir skirtsuits, and jewel-encrusted boleros. My favorite? This gold sequined column draped in light white fabric, the collection's closest approximation of a wedding gown - but again, one that's the epitome of luxe.