LOS ANGELES — For designers established or far from it, the A-list of women they would most like to dress is as similar as it is short, and invariably, scoring coveted fashion plates such as Madonna and Cate Blanchett is a coup.
Louis Verdad can already check the two megastars off his list. Even with the maddening excitement of his upcoming show one week away — his first outside of Gen Art and under the Mercedes-Benz Shows LA banner, and only his third collection overall — Verdad is concerned with the look Blanchett could wear to the premiere next month of the Oscar-hopeful “The Missing.” The designer and actress met when he created the coatdress and HotPants she wore for the recent premiere of “Veronica Guerin.”
But it was when Madonna appeared in his tailored, Marlene Dietrich-style trousers and jacket that this rising fashion star’s name first shot across red-carpet fashion pages.
“Louis’ meld of the feminine and masculine and classic tailoring caught my eye,” said stylist Arianne Phillips, who discovered Verdad at Gen Art’s Fresh Faces show here last April, and soon after ordered pieces for Madonna. “His attention to detail is a standout in L.A.’s fashion scene.”
Last week in his Silverlake studio, above the landmark Sunset Boulevard nightclub Akbar, Verdad held a private peek at spring, which continues his penchant for Forties- and Fifties-flavored suiting and party dresses.
Standouts include a ribbed undershirt, cut and seamed to suggest a corset; wide-legged, wide-cuffed, stretch linen trousers; tailored jackets with sleeves that begin at the shoulder as a slight pouf and end in a wide bell; sweet, colorful shirt dresses; slim knickers hitting just below the knee, and short pinstripe HotPants shown with a high-cut, skinny bomber jacket.
Here, Verdad continues to see through all the technical aspects of his ready-to- wear and the growing custom work for celebrity fans, despite expanding his staff in recent months.
Not that his is a story of overnight success. His parents — a strict businessman father and a mother “who loved to shop,”and still live in his native Guanajuato, Mexico, where he was raised with his nine siblings — were initially unsupportive of their son pursuing a career they didn’t consider “very macho.” In the late Eighties, art college in Chicago denied his acceptance until he learned to speak English properly. “One lady told me ‘you can go far if you lose that accent,’” he bitterly recalled.A guardian angel of sorts helped him get a scholarship to the Ray Vogue College of Design. A year later, the Chicago-Tribune’s style section featured him on the front page. “For my parents, who didn’t believe I should do this, it was great. They began to think of this differently.”
He never finished school, instead teaming with painters, sculptors, designers and other artists to assist and collaborate on projects. He honed his apparel- making skills further in Atlanta, before a brother, working in denim production here, convinced him to head to Los Angeles in 1991.
Verdad found work with a men’s shirting manufacturer, then downtown jobbers, and in categories from kids to contemporary. With a good salary and part-time hours working product development for a Wal-Mart contractor, Verdad began saving and planning to break out on his own.
“I’ve always been very nosy about the craft. I wanted to make beautiful, well-made clothing. It was a fun challenge to see if I could drape or do the patterns correctly.” That affinity is reflected in his penchant for vintage suiting, although his muses include Catherine Deneuve in 1983’s “The Hunger.”
“I love the seductress who doesn’t have to look like a slut,” he said.
After a few misses, a stylist friend encouraged him to “commit” to his more tailored, focused styles. Louis Verdad now sells at 80 doors domestically, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Traffic in Los Angeles. The collection wholesales from $75 for a poplin blouse to $790 for an embroidered coat. Sales for 2004 are projected at $4 million.
Well aware he’s on the verge, the designer is exploring financial partnerships. “Without support, you collapse. I want to enhance my concept to a higher level. I’m ready for growth. I’m ready to delegate. I’m ready to be really taken seriously.”
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