The bright, eye-popping colors shown for the spring season at L.A. Fashion Week stood in contrast to a somber question: Will this city have a fashion week again?
Last week’s announcement from Smashbox Studios that this Mercedes-Benz L.A. Fashion Week, ending yesterday, would be its last with mega event organizer IMG threw into question when and where an official fashion week in the City of Angels would happen.
The companies have partnered on the event for the last five years, giving local designers a chance to show in one place at Smashbox’s spacious photo studios in Culver City. This season featured 23 collections, including those from Christian Audigier’s popular street-wise line Ed Hardy; "The Hills" star Lauren Conrad; awards show gown master Kevan Hall; and stylish label Whitley Kros, co-designed by rocker Beck’s wife Marissa Ribisi.
"I am very very sad about it," said Smashbox co-founder Davis Factor about the mutual split with IMG. "I’m a very sentimental person, and I care about all the people who design for this event. We could not have done this without IMG working with us."
IMG, which also produces fashion weeks in New York, London, Berlin and other cities worldwide, has not commented other than saying it was concentrating on this current L.A. season. IMG Fashion vice president Fern Mallis, usually in attendance in L.A., was overseeing a fashion week in India, Factor said just before Hall’s show.
Factor, though, had confidence Smashbox would continue to present L.A. designers at another venue. He said the photo studio has lost money every year because of photographers going elsewhere during Fashion Week.
"We are moving forward to try and make Fashion Week happen in Los Angeles for March. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll do it next October," Factor said. "We haven’t chosen a location yet. I think it will be somewhere glamorous and enjoyable. It’s going to be a group decision based on a lot of things: location, price, availability. The mayor supports us, whether it will be in downtown L.A. or Hollywood."
With L.A. a hub of celebrity fashion and denim wear, this season encompassed the spectrum, from Audigier’s bedazzled and embroidered jeans for Ed Hardy, to Conrad’s simple, strapless dresses geared to the casual Hollywood set, and Hall’s red-carpet gowns in taffeta and chiffon inspired by ’30s and ’40s screen icons.
Trends from New York flowed into the West Coast. Even with the downcast economy, designers turned to bold hues. Dresses came in sleek, feminine shapes, with wide, tight-fitting belts creating hourglass figures.
"My collection really harkens back to 1940’s glamor, with a new modern twist. Taking some of those slinky, beautiful silhouettes, but popping them with hot color, which we wouldn’t have seen in the ’40s," said Hall.
The retro gowns ranged from one-shoulder ensembles in stark black and white to flowing azure, pink and lime green, with one stand-out ombre-style number featuring floor-length pleats in baby blue fading to white.
Audigier viewed his tattoo-based Ed Hardy spring collection as an homage to color and ’80s street style. Dragons, skulls, roses and other motifs were shown on green, purple, orange, yellow and denim backdrops.
Casual wear, said the former Von Dutch designer, could see a rise with the flailing economy.
"I believe people are going to go to street wear more than couture wear," Audigier said. "I believe I have the right product, the right price, so I hope maybe a good season is going to come up with me. You can wear this with all the clothes you have."
Conrad said her line hasn’t been affected by shaky economic times, but that she sees the need for caution.
"We have to stay a little more safe because people are looking for classic shapes instead of fun, trendy pieces. People aren’t throwing their money around," Conrad said. Her girly spring collection, only her second at L.A. Fashion Week, featured basic flowered dresses with bubble skirts, ruching and brush stroke prints.
As for L.A. Fashion Week ending in its current form, Hall said he could always show his designs on a smaller, more personal level.
Others have already done so.
Noted longtime designer Sue Wong, an L.A. Fashion Week regular, opted out of showing her collection at Smashbox last season and instead had guests come to a lavish presentation at her own mansion. She is also showing elsewhere this season. Louis Verdad, who has dressed celebrities including Madonna, was once a Fashion Week staple, but deflected last year to an alternate event downtown he had called "a little younger, hipper, more happening."
"It’s important for me to show here," at L.A. Fashion Week, Hall said. "But if it doesn’t happen, we will probably do something intimate. I’m opening up a new atelier, which is going to be in the same spirit of what I love: the 1930s, beautiful sofas and drapes. I could easily do something in that salon."
* Associated Press Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen contributed to this report.