Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones

LOS ANGELES — “How do you call it — the American dream?” asked Frank Ford, who, along with fellow German expat, Stefan Loy, has claimed a place in the fledgling designer community here with their edgy two-year-old LoyandFord line.
The brand has gained fans among specialty retailers across the country and the likes of Britney Spears and Courtney Love.
“We decided that to stay in the United States, we had two choices,” continued Ford, a slender, tall figure covered from eyebrow to toe in graphic tattoos. “We can either pretend we’re normal people and work for someone else. Or we have to do what we want.”
The two have done just that with their self-financed company, and expect to reach $500 million in sales in 2002. With the Findings showrooms in New York and in Los Angeles on board, the brand is also widening its reach with each market beyond the new designer areas in Henri Bendel and Barneys New York. The retail roster counts 40 doors in North America and another three in Tokyo.
The pair were among the first to open a space, back in September 2000, along Chung King Road, the pedestrian alley in downtown Chinatown that is the city’s latest hot zone for art galleries and studios. Yet as media interest in the Chinatown revival grew, Ford and Loy quickly responded by refusing to cooperate with any stores on the street. Ford’s often-caustic flare-ups at retail buyers, editors and stylists, in fact, have become widely known. But, as more than one observer has noted, he’s a straight shooter with a lot of passion.
And while they share the off-kilter aesthetic of their peers here, they’ve kept their distance by associating with the galleries instead and attracting a steady clientele of moneyed art collectors in the process.
“So many times, it’s been the older women who look so much cooler in these clothes. They are more open-minded about their personal style,” noted Ford. “Younger people still relate only to what is trendy and what is the big name.”
In the first month, they threw open the doors to their 1,200-square-foot studio, the entire stock of 600 pieces — most one-of-a-kind — sold out, recalled Ford. “Every day it got more bizarre. We couldn’t get away from the sewing machine.”
The quieter Loy continues to grind away daily at the Singer, assembling the one-of-a-kind pieces that are still very much a part of the overall collection. Those orders not going out to Spears or Cher for their tour wardrobes are sent to a handful of loyal retailers who merchandise ready-to-wear with the more forward pieces.
Traffic is one of the retailers that continue to offer their best customers access to LoyandFord’s custom items. The brand has had great success at Traffic stores in Beverly Center and Sunset Plaza in Los Angeles and at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“They’re off in their own world, but the clothes are very wearable,” said women’s buyer Carl Dias, noting he’s reordered each season. “They have good production, great fabrics. Their ready-to-wear we sell across the board to every customer. There’s the vision and the ability to execute it so it actually works. A woman will put it on and she’ll buy it.”
Henri Bendel in New York is finding similar success in its first season with the brand, said the retailer’s fashion director, Anna Garner.
“It has, for me anyway, an L.A. sensibility [with its] body-conscious appeal. It’s sexy,” said Garner, noting that a black lace minidress sold as a tunic over pants has done especially well. “The attraction is the layering of pieces. There’s a lot of stretch fabrics, simple pieces with a twist. It’s bohemian with an edge.”
That kind of sums up the designers themselves.
Ford, 35, and Loy, 36, met in 1986 in Berlin, during the thriving electronica scene. Ford was just out of art school; Loy was buying vintage — another stint in a relatively long fashion career that began with modeling in Milan. Soon after, in 1991, they launched 3000, a line of fantasy club-kid wear that showed up in clubs in New York and Tokyo and has since made its place in books documenting the era and streetwear. By the mid-Nineties, the scene and their company had lived fast and began to crumble.
Loy took a “more conservative” route and started a knitwear line called Rosenbaum, which attracted a decent following among Northern European retailers. Ford turned up in Japan, launched a label called Yoko Ono Adam and burned through $250,000 in investor support in one year.
Eventually, and separately, the two moved to New York, then Los Angeles. It was in the artsy neighborhood of Silverlake that the two bumped into each other one day in 2000.
They decided to team up again professionally. “We started like two old people in our house, never going out and making the weirdest dresses at home. Then finally, we met with a stylist who borrowed stuff.”
The line’s strength lies in their mutual vision and Loy’s background in apparel construction. In the Eighties, he apprenticed for a Munich theater and TV costume maker. “In the three years working there, I experienced the strictest and most disciplined work ethos ever. There was an enormous dedication to the craft itself, so it was a fascinating environment to work in,” recalled Loy.
While the two are resolved in their vision, they’ve learned to listen. When retail buyers requested a little more color for fall, they willingly offered their version: red, aubergine and two shades of brown — latte and chocolate.
A leaf motif sprinkles the line of solid silk jersey, pinstriped wool and soft cashmeres (including a 10-foot scarf). A laser-cut leaf at a shoulder reveals skin; the hem of a pant leg dips into the shape of a leaf tip.
“Leaves are a heartwarming image,” noted Ford. “The collection is so industrial, masculine, that the leaf gives it a feminine touch.”
The fall collection can be accessed at loyandford.com when the site launches on April 12.
Even with the growth, the guys insist they are taking a strategic approach. They recently connected with a local production company which is coordinating the manufacturing of the rtw line in Los Angeles and China. They’re also not afraid to turn down sales if there’s even a slight possibility of not being able to follow through.
“We’re here for the long haul,” said Ford, who recently moved into a downtown skyscraper, which has an ocean view — on a clear day. “We totally love it here.”