KEVAN’S HALL’S SECOND ACT
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES — Clearly, a sense of homecoming marked Kevan Hall’s spring runway show Monday night at the Performing Arts Center downtown.
As the featured guest of the Absolut Africa event, a seven-city national fashion tour ending here with Hall’s presentation, the designer shared highlights of his second signature collection since leaving his post as creative director for Halston in late 1999.
Hall had become a bicoastal commuter during his three-year stint with the New York house, maintaining his family residence just outside of Los Angeles. He left soon after Neema Clothing Ltd. acquired Halston Newco LLC.
Freelance work followed. But Hall decided by February 2001 to return home full-time and hang his shingle once again here. Although a Detroit native, a fashion scholarship more than two decades ago lead him to California, where he eventually launched his first namesake ready-to-wear line in 1982.
“This is the home of [James] Galanos,” Hall said of one of his heroes. “This is where the film industry is, and fashion has become so closely linked to Hollywood. I thought I should have that closeness, literally, with the industry and my retail and wholesale business.”
Even though an international army of designers stakes out a presence here with flagships or award season visits, the locals are the ones who maintain somewhat of an advantage. From Galanos to Richard Tyler, designers with production facilities within miles of a studio or actor’s home can turn around custom orders faster than someone based a continent away.
In less than a year since opening his atelier on Beverly Boulevard, Hall has already begun making inroads with the Hollywood crowd.
Anjelica Huston, Angelina Jolie, Dana Delaney and Christine Lahti have visited Hall there. “I love visiting his shop. It’s so beautiful,” enthused Angela Basset Monday night at the Absolut event. She goes for Hall’s personal service, but it’s the clothes — like the fox-trimmed cardigan, paillette knee-length skirt and Hall’s signature twist blouse, all in wine — that keep her returning. “His clothes are incredibly sensual, fun and comfortable.”
Hall expects to end 2001 with $1 million in sales.
His spring collection, like that of his inaugural fall line, embraces Hollywood’s Golden era — wide-legged pants, bias cocktail dresses, blouses with a twist front. He summoned the spirit of Josephine Baker and Twenties Paris for many looks, yet the lightweight wool and satin tuxedos blatantly recall Marlene Deitrich.
However, the clothes aren’t pushing the boundaries. But that’s why his growing customer base buys, according to retailers.
“Women are loving Kevan. The clothes fit so well,” said Matthew Amendolaro, couture manager at Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills, who brought the line into the store for fall. “We have special orders coming in for clients for spring. We’re also considering another trunk show for the spring collection.”
The in-store boutique is selling through fur-trimmed cashmere cardigans and cocktail dresses. “It’s a very sexy line, but there are also items for more mature women — sleeves and other cuts that flatter.”
Trunk shows, with and without Hall, dot the calendar at many of the 100 specialty stores in North America that carry the line.
Among them is Joanie’s in Memphis. A customer of Hall’s since 1985, owner Joanie Franks boasts she continued to buy his designs during his Halston days. “I had a woman here Saturday with two of Kevan’s pieces from the Eighties. And they looked just as good now as they did then. Chic and sexy clothes, that’s what Kevan does. We’ve always had great sell-through with his suits, his pants, his twist blouses. I’m always reordering.”
At the atelier, a wide staircase — those that always seem to appear in vintage Norma Shearer films — curves up to the 2,000-square-foot space. It shares the boulevard with other custom and rtw designers who are Hollywood favorites, including Tyler, Eduardo Lucero and Richard Bowman.
Coffee, lavender and cream color the light, sparsely decorated rooms. The receiving area is walled off from a design and storage area (a second storage space is off-site, as are the production facilities, which are based downtown).
“I walked into this space and I just knew it had incredible potential,” recalled Hall. Knoll and Jean-Michel Frank chairs are covered in a woven tweed; a Frank desk, lavishly covered in his signature shagreen — or sanded sharkskin — punctuates the main room.
Hall’s affection for Frank, an early 20th-century furniture and interior designer, is reflected in the pattern he integrates into designs to suggest the shagreen in cable knits and beading. “I took the concept and just blew it up.”
He said he has yet to face any production challenges here (the cashmere is produced in China). “A designer just has to search out and find the right factories, continue to give them the work, and work closely with them to get the kind of quality required.”
The spring collection includes denim pieces, although they retain Hall’s signature restrained elegance.
“I love clothes that are simple and that make a statement,” Hall said. “That’s really something that I actually live by, that is the essence of how I design.”
Branding the Kevan Hall name is now a priority. “We’re looking into licensing offers to develop collections, such as dresses and some separates that might retail from $500 to $1,000. We’re looking to do shoes, handbags, a full-blown fur line — a lot of things that would really enhance the overall image of the label,” he said. Blouses are already on tap for fall.
The collection wholesales from $200 to $1,800; custom orders run higher. Dresses, the mainstay, are kept under $2,000 retail.
Hall characterizes his growth plan as strategic, but says the pace doesn’t necessarily have to be slow — just thoughtful.
“I don’t have any backers,” he said. “I’m doing this very carefully. I learned a thing or two over the years working for others.”