Byline: Marcy Medina / Rose Apodaca Jones
It’s a wonder Elie Saab hasn’t made it to Los Angeles before 2002, given that his body-conscious, glamour gowns are the stuff red carpet dreams are made of. The Lebanese-born couturier, who is based in Paris and Milan, only began dressing Hollywood starlets such as Patricia Arquette, Garcelle Beauvais and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos three years ago, but he’s been designing for over two decades.
This year, he went mining for Oscar gold by setting up shop at the Regent Beverly Wilshire with 20 gowns and a few separates from his spring and fall collections.
“I just had a feeling that I needed to be here this year,” he said. “I always go by my instincts.” For fall, Saab was inspired by Greek and Roman goddesses, apparent in the draped chiffon trains and silver and gold beading.
“I always have the inspiration of women on my mind,” he said. “It’s no one in particular, it’s just the idea of a beautiful woman.”
Saab said he chose the quieter Beverly Hills Hotel for his outpost because “we didn’t want to be somewhere with lots of people. I don’t want my clients to run into other stylists in the lobby.”
For New Yorker Benjamin Cho, landing in Los Angeles in the midst of Oscar week was a happy coincidence. “I was coming out to see a friend’s art show, and Liz Goldwyn offered to set up a show for me at Decades,” said the 25-year-old designer, from a quiet corner of the Melrose Avenue boutique. Goldwyn, a fashion consultant and Cho chum, secured sponsorship from Shiseido for the event, which also featured Tara Subkoff and her Imitation of Christ collection.
“I’m really thirsty to figure out what’s going on in this city,” he said. “There seems to be such a broad sensibility; I thought everyone would look the same, when in fact there’s such a diverse aesthetic here.” In fact, Cho’s custom-made pieces, which run from refined chiffon dresses with ruched circles to Converse high tops that lace up to the thigh to soft bondage-inspired ribbon tops, caused a sensation at a trunk show last week. Not bad for someone who’s only been in the business for three years. In fact, Cho was so pleased by the reception that he’s thinking about returning to Los Angeles next month, which will coincide with a friend’s wedding.
“I just think about making the clothes, not about who is going to wear them,” he said. “It’s why my client base is diverse.” Cho’s clients range from Mary J. Blige to Celine Dion to “normal people who love fashion.” There is, evidently, a common thread among them all: “The clothes are expensive, so it’s got to be a woman who has money.”
Hollywood fashion girls such as Marisa Tomei are already well versed in the sharp tailoring and dramatic styling of emerging New York designer Zac Posen, who, despite only founding his namesake business eight months ago and despite being only 21, has already gained the affections of the fashion press — not in the least because of champions such as first daughter Barbara Bush, actress Paz de la Huerta and his stylist Stella Schnabel.
Yet Posen, intent on building an American house, isn’t fooling himself. He knows that even the little help from his famous friends isn’t going to translate into widespread recognition. So he headed west this last week. “This is just my introduction,” he admitted. “I’m not looking to dress anyone for the Oscars.” Instead, fans such as Schnabel and Leelee Sobieski would be walking the red carpet into the week’s parties in Posen’s decidedly retro, silverscreen-siren looks. Not surprisingly, the film fanatic said he would love to work on designing costumes for a movie.
A trunk show last Wednesday at Sunset Plaza retailer Tracey Ross and meetings with other retail buyers here were also on the itinerary. “I was so excited to see the stores in L.A. like Fred Segal and Maxfields. They’re so legendary,” Posen said.
Aside from quick verbal detours about hanging out with friends and a trip to the Getty Museum, the conversation inevitably steered back to the looming awards show.
“You can definitely tell it’s Oscar week. Half the streets are closed,” he observed. “I don’t drive, but I like riding in cars. I love the feeling of the roads in L.A. I would love to have a house here.” In the meantime, he’s on his second hired driver. The first, a “tattooed religious fanatic” proved “too nerve-racking. The one I’ve got now is a sweetheart who knows all the back routes.”