Byline: Kristi Ellis / Teena Hammond / Jessica Kerwin / Louise Farr

LOS ANGELES — With lines called Hot Kiss and Deviations taking to the runway on Sunday, and Tart launching on Monday, there was every reason to expect that the California Mart’s fourth annual California Collections Preview Spring ’98 might be headed for its usual mix of sexy, fleshy, flashy fashion.
There was all of that, but watered down compared with previous years. And missing from the shows were the celebrity guests from the movie and fashion worlds who kept out-of-towners’ eyes popping in past shows.
Along with abandoning the circus atmosphere, the mart scaled back the number of show days from two to one, featured 51 designers instead of last year’s 66, and tried to set a more sophisticated, understated tone.
Mart president Maurice (Corky) Newman, who for the past 3 1/2 years assumed the task of revitalizing the mart, vacated his post at the end of September to become chairman and chief operating officer of Sirena Apparel Group. Susan Scheimann, the mart’s former vice president of marketing and leasing, stepped in as acting president, and the new, lower-key CCPS reflected her influence.
“The mart spent as much money in one day [producing the show] as it did in two days last year,” Scheimann said, explaining that scaling back was not an economy move, but a result of poor attendance on the first day of last year’s event.
While traffic appeared to be down to some onlookers, mart officials insisted it was even with last year. Whatever the numbers, a new, more dignified mart emerged.
“Spring collections put our designers on the map,” noted Scheimann in Sunday’s opening remarks, and designers proved that warm weather — and trends — are the stuff their collections are made of.
They left no skirt unslit, with mini-, knee-length and long skirts sliced thigh-high and occasionally lined with contrast brights. There was enough velvet trim to have stretched across all of California. And girly, lacy looks, ribbon trimmings and intricate velvet burnouts paying homage to Voyage’s homespun and eclectic romanticism were still everywhere.
Many dresses traded in last spring’s floral bunches for spare floral motifs, including single orchids at M. Kalan by Maral Chatoyan.
And Indian and Moroccan embroidered details, like Kellie Delkeskamp’s hallmarks at Josephine Loka, replaced past season’s Asian influences.
Satin for day and evening showed up in a smattering of camisole tops and bias-cut dresses, and crocheted looks — either over contrasting brights or worn daringly alone — were out in force, with Pamala O’Brien and She by Sheri Bodell picking up on the look.
Bad girl chic with shirred and ruched skirts, tops and dresses in gauzy synthetics, like the plum shirred dress at Rouge by Michelle Lucas, gave contemporary lines an edge, while sheers and nettings were also layered in more romantic silhouettes at Penelope and Rampage.
Capri pants and clam-diggers were a hit in every market with Michelle Mason showing a side-zippered version in her impressive second collection.
Some swim designers got ritzy, showing velvet and glittery looks that, paired with sarongs, could have doubled as eveningwear. For others, it was back to basics with sporty little numbers bound in contrasting colors.
Retailers, some of whom were on hand to preview and take notes and others who were ready to buy, gathered in the lobby and planned strategies for the following weeks. Buyers from Mercantile Stores Co., Burdine’s and Jacobsons attended Sunday’s five shows.
And while nobody raises an eyebrow at nipples on the runway anymore, customers’ reaction to sheer was on everyone’s mind. Any dress that couldn’t be worn with a bra was definitely out for Leslie Berns, owner of the Studio City boutique, Leslie. Berns said she planned to buy a putty-colored jersey dress with side slits by Fleure de Peche and a lavender knit dress from Mica because “you can wear a bra with them.”
“I have very few customers who will go without a bra,” she added.
Berns does most of her buying at the mart, although she said she wasn’t planning on making any purchases until the spring market in three weeks.
Volume at her 1,200-square-foot boutique is “about the same as last year,” and she said she’s learning to “buy smarter” in an effort to boost profits: “I order a minimum, and then I fill in later.”
Another retailer, Adrienne Edgerly, owner of two Orange County boutiques named Safari, said her customers prefer to go braless, but in opaque, not sheer, styles.
“My customers have had boob jobs,” she said. “They’ve got automatic support.”
Edgerly, who said she plans to spend $200,000 at the mart in coming weeks on such labels as Fleure de Peche and Estevan Ramos, added that CCPS has become more important for her because the selection of young, new resources has improved.
Maybe it was the proximity of Beverly Hills and its plethora of plastic surgery specialists, but one buyer was distracted by the parade of models with firm and not-so-firm thighs.
“I’m having a hard time concentrating on the clothes. I’m trying to figure who’s had liposuction and who hasn’t,” said Linda Cawthon, fashion director for the Nashville, Tenn., branch of Mercantile Stores Co., as True to Your Heart stretch satin numbers made their way down the runway.
Laurie Lisk Wilson, fashion/ promotion manager of Mercantile Stores, a 106-store chain headquartered in Fairfield, Ohio, found shapes for spring wearable, pretty and feminine, with Starlette and Rusty among the junior standouts. Wilson also liked the glamour of Liz Claiborne’s swimsuit line, but said the suits look different when accessorized by her customers.
“You put them in their bare feet and Popeye towels around their waist and it sure doesn’t look the same,” she said.
Swimwear lured Shanitra Brooks, associate buyer for swim and casual for Spiegel, to both CCPS and the Directives West fashion show on Monday. “I definitely liked the Anne Cole and the Liz [Claiborne]. That’s my customer,” Brooks said. As for actually spending money, she said, “Hopefully, I’ll buy while I’m here.”
Samantha Salazan, buyer and assistant designer for the Savanna Fashion Gallery boutique in San Diego, said she came to CCPS to find new labels. The boutique currently carries its own line, Goddess, but Salazan is interested in expanding into other designers to increase sales.
“I just want to see what’s out here. I know some of the designer prices are sky high,” she said, pointing out that her goal was to find moderate pieces wholesaling for $20 to $50 to fit into her mart/CCPS budget of $100,000 to $200,000.
Joni Bertrand, sportswear, denim and swim buyer for Jacobsons Midwest division, which has 13 stores in the Midwest and another 11 units in Florida, said she uses CCPS to pick up on trends and colors and not necessarily place orders.
“I like the 20- and 21-inch skirts with double side slits,” Bertrand said. This look just arrived at Jacobsons and, after watching the shows at CCPS, she said she expects it to continue into spring.
But the weekend wasn’t all work. On Saturday night, Maurice Marciano, chairman and chief executive officer of Guess Inc., received the Fashion Industries Guild’s Man of the Year award during a boisterous gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.
“I would put my year at a 7 1/2 on a scale of one to 10,” Marciano said, as his brothers, Paul and Armand, stood by to show their support.
Marciano said he plans to improve the wholesale domestic business by improving sourcing and expanding the shop-in-shop concepts. Next year, the company plans to remodel and possibly open 300 to 400 in-store shops.
“I told him that the only thing he had to do was forget his accent and relax,” said actress Dyan Cannon, about the award ceremony.
Sidney Poitier made the presentation and praised Marciano as a friend.
After a performance by the Guess-dressed girl group Wild Orchid, Hollywood wives took to the dance floor — alone.
“Our husbands don’t dance, so we have to dance with each other,” said Joanna Poitier, boogying with Barbara Davis and Barbara Lazaroff.
The event, which raised a record $1.6 million, was boosted by Marciano’s $200,000 contribution. The donation created the Guess Chair for Community Child Health and benefited Cedar’s-Sinai Medical Center.
On Sunday night at the California Designer Awards show, sponsored by MGM Worldwide Television Group and held at the Beverly Hilton, nominees for the California Designer of the Year and Rising Star categories presented their wares.
Contenders for the Rising Star award were A. Crispen, Eduardo Lucero, Josephine Loka, Lola and Trina Turk, with Lucero the winner. In the California Designer of the Year category, Poleci won out over BCBG, Mark Wong Nark, Roxy and William B. Poleci is co-owned and co-designed by Janice Levin-Krok and Tom Nguyen.
BCBG’s Max Azria won the Fashion Performance Award.
During the show, Eduardo Lucero presented a sexy collection of slinky little numbers, including a leather slipdress, while Poleci kept it simple by layering sheers with less revealing fabrics in white.
William B. also showed a cool, clean collection in white, and Kellie Delkeskamp sent out embroidered and mirror-encrusted sari fabrics in a variety of simple shapes for her Josephine Loka line. Trina Turk showed a chic array of chinos and sexy black tops, while designers Holly Fiene and Jamie Kamezawa gave Lola’s spring collection some Forties swing.
A. Crispen showed a gauzy spring collection, including dresses of hand-printed silk, while Mark Wong Nark presented his sexy siren gowns.
Roxy’s bright surfer girls came to life with designers Lissa Zwahlen and Julie Aversa’s snappy prints, sassy halter tops and board shorts. And BCBG by Max Azria took an edgy turn for spring, presenting a sharp collection of rocker basics, including looks in black washed denim and fiery red.
Lucero was relieved after winning the Rising Star Award. “I’m so glad it’s all over. Just to get up here, I was afraid I’d start to cry,” he said.
At the last minute, Melissa Rivers substituted as award presenter for Eleanor Mondale.
“They asked me if I had anything by a California designer and I said, ‘Define California,”‘ said Rivers, who ended up in black satin Richard Tyler sent over by the mart.
Winning the California Designer of the Year award left designer Levin shaken — literally. Her hands were trembling and her eyes filled with tears as she clutched the pyramid-shaped award to her chest in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.Levin was numb, partly because she’d returned the night before from Paris, where she’d spent two days fabric hunting.
“I didn’t expect this,” Levin said. “Receiving the award will help on a national level to get us into doors.” Poleci is carried in such stores as Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.
A little later, Levin moved upstairs for a private celebration with champagne and strawberries in one of the hotel’s suites.
“I’m calm now,” she said, then grabbed the phone to call her mother in South Africa. As she relayed the news, Levin stopped for a second. “She’s crying,” she announced to the roomful of family members and staff.
(For more on CCPS, see page 34.)

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