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Compared with dazzling new boutiques opened recently by designers such as Alexander McQueen and Phillip Lim in Los Angeles, Smockshop is a study in austerity.

This story first appeared in the July 24, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

There’s no fan to flush out the summer heat in the 800-square-foot shop at 936 Mei Ling Way, facing a local favorite dive bar in a Chinatown alley. Interior design is loosely interpreted as one sewing machine, colorful spools of thread, pincushions, a large mirror leaning against a wall and about 70 smocks on display.

With the Web site smockshop.org, however, Smockshop markets more than fashion. It sells a creative concept:
Twenty-three artists use the same pattern to create one-of-a-kind smocks, to be worn or to decorate homes.

The melding of fashion and art is a recurring theme in the work of Smockshop’s creator, Andrea Zittel, who last year exhibited handcrafted dresses that she made and wore over a period of 15 years. They ranged from a striped knit tank dress and a black shift to a crisp white button-up shirt worn with suspenders and a full black skirt, and were on display at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art. Dividing her time between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, Calif., she created the pattern for the smock two years ago. Since Zittel and the other artists started making smocks two years ago, they have sold 200 smocks, mostly to other artists and art collectors, largely through galleries and art events.

Some of the first pieces she and fellow artists made were displayed in September at Manhattan’s Susan Inglett Gallery during New York Fashion Week. What was new to Zittel was attempting a commercial venture.

“Retail is really a mystery to artists,” said Zittel, who culled advice from retail-savvy volunteers and how-to books such as “Small Business for Dummies” to launch the pop-up shop last month. “I’m interested in creating a different market to see if artists can support their art without going through the traditional route of a gallery.”

At Smockshop, which is open through Sept. 21, there’s a dress for every occasion. A woman could get married in Tiprin Follett’s $540 floor-length gown crafted out of ivory silk doupioni pinned with a raw-edged brown bow, and then boogie on the dance floor at her reception in Jason Villegas’ $440 flapper-inspired frock with a sheer pleated skirt and sequined collar.

Or she could garden in Tony Koerner’s $340 baby blue apron dress cut out of industrial Styrofoam housewrap.

Michelle Brunnick stitched a $340 black cotton mesh smock paired with matching leggings, accentuated with a red heart patch on the knee.

Mixed media artist Ashira Siegel learned how to use a sewing machine to whip up an A-line dress in red plaid with fluorescent orange trim — think schoolgirl-meets-construction worker. Still, she said the task was fun.

“I love the idea of having a structure and having people work within that structure and see how different and beautiful everyone’s stuff is,” Siegel said.

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