Byline: Louise Farr
It has to be said,” says Lynne Franks, a former English fashion publicist turned spiritual pilgrim and author, as she stirs a cup of chamomile tea. “I mean, the whole ‘Ab Fab’ thing doesn’t help in some ways.”
Franks, who in the Eighties spearheaded the growth of London’s fashion week, and who was wickedly parodied as the dippy, New Age Edina in television’s “Absolutely Fabulous,” is in the middle of setting up shop in Los Angeles. Her company, Lynne Franks LA, has just opened. And now, sitting on a Santa Monica terrace while waves crash and the sun sets, she’s remembering a recent business meeting with a high-powered San Francisco woman, an accomplished Harvard M.A. who nonetheless made a bit of a gaffe.
“She said, ‘I got all the videos out this week, and there was that one program where you were eating such and such.’ I said, ‘It wasn’t me. It was not me.”‘
Of course, Franks always knew the sweetly laughable Edina was based on her, however often “Ab Fab” creator Jennifer Saunders denied it. Saunders had been a client of Lynne Franks P.R. in London. And anyway, how many Buddhist fashion publicists with two teenage children were in town?
“They ripped me off totally,” says Franks. “Jennifer has to deny it was me; otherwise I could sue her.” She pauses, then says sweetly, “Not that I would.”
Anyway, at this stage, Franks, 50, has other things on her mind besides lawsuits. Her book, “Absolutely Now,” praised in London, has just hit U.S. bookstores. She’s in L.A. to stay. And to hear Franks talk, she’s about to give the city a fashion makeover.
“Why not make L.A., which is the media capital of the world and a very wide-open, wonderful place with lots of glamorous people living here, the place to launch a global fashion fusion?” she asks, detailing her plan for a city-wide festival of contemporary, denim, vintage and street style.
“This fabulous event with the stores and maybe music involved,” Franks says, getting caught up in her long-term vision of tents on Santa Monica pier, high-profile events at the Getty and selling exhibits downtown. Franks is speaking to the mayor, to the California Mart and to various potential sponsors.
“She’s certainly an icon in the industry,” comments California Mart president Susan Scheimann, who’s continuing to meet with Franks in hopes of getting the mart into a partnership with her “farther down the road.”
It was the Eighties when Franks found space for a tent on Kensington High Street and roped in client Mohan B. Murjani, founder of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, as a sponsor for London’s Fashion Week.
“I don’t want to say it’s L.A. Fashion week, because that’ll seem like competition,” she says about the venture she expects to launch next spring. Franks, who sold her London company in the early Nineties, is equally coy about her Los Angeles office. She doesn’t want to say she’s handling public relations, either, adding that she prefers the term “authentic communication.”
Of course, authentic communication was not what Franks was always about, and she’s the first to admit it. But when her friend Kezia Keeble, the stylist/publicist who introduced her to the Nochiren Shoshu branch of Buddhism, died of cancer, Franks decided to change her life.
In “Absolutely Now,” which takes her to an hallucinogenic tea party in Umbria, a Native American soul retrieval session [incongruously, in Wales] and woodsy self-realization meetings in northern California, she chronicles her spiritual quest.
En route, she becomes increasingly disenchanted with the values she has perpetuated in her work. “We live in a culture where Princess Diana or Madonna influence the way people think more than statesmen and politicians,” she writes. “A culture that I am, in part, responsible for creating.”
The more socially conscious Franks who emerged from the pilgrimage lectures on feminist and futurist issues and works with UNESCO to promote fashion in developing countries. A whirlwind of energy, Franks shows no signs of letting up now that she’s in L.A.
“I end up having just as mad a day as I’d have in London,” she says, chronicling one in which she visited the Rose Bowl swap meet, continued to a Rain Forest event with Tom Hayden, then rushed to the launch of a mind/body/spirit Web site.
“They probably think I’m well off here with all the other weirdos,” she says about the London press, who have been known to take potshots at their high-profile fashion maven. “They adore me. It’s just the British style,” she adds, brushing off the sniping.
Yet Los Angeles is considered the capital of shallow hype. How does that square with Franks’s new values?
“I can get reborn here,” she says. “It gets a bit exhausting in London. Even if I got really famous, I’d still be nobody compared to people in this town. That suits me fine.”