BERLINER: READY FOR NEW YORK
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES — It’s a matter of supply and demand, Magda Berliner concluded over lunch at a West Side trattoria. The designer, set to preview her second complete collection in New York on Feb. 13, is eating her words.
Only a season ago, Berliner was touting her first complete collection as something of a creative outlet that complemented her day job as a commercial and editorial stylist. She even appeared to approach her dramatic presentation last November in the rose garden of the Sunset Marquis as more art project than business.
In the months following the already growing buzz for her frayed deconstructionist jackets and stencil-cut leather and cotton dresses, interest — and sales — went up a notch. “Sixfold,” she joked, quantifying the profit-making results on the six doors carrying the line. On the West Coast, the line is available at Verve in San Francisco, Aero & Co. and Diavolina here and Fred Segal Flair in Santa Monica.
New York hot shops Stanley and Hedra Prue received their first shipments last week.
“I just saw it and I knew it was awesome. It’s very original, said Hedra Prue partner Anna Kintz. “Magda’s a stylist so she has this great, innate sense of style.” Berliner is among the Los Angeles lines Kintz has been buying more of in recent seasons. “I’ve seen a lot of growth beyond the idea of a ‘California girl.”‘
On the surface, Berliner looks like the anti-Cali girl with her stiff, bleached pixie cut, tiny frame and personal wardrobe — she’s wrapped in a black Margiela jacket, slim jeans and Eighties’ spiked boots on this crisp afternoon.
Listening to her, she clearly connected more to the Pacific Ocean and the trees surrounding the Laurel Canyon home she shares with her husband, celebrity photographer Alex Berliner, and their five-year-old daughter, Lillian.
“I’m really about supporting L.A. We’re trying to build something here. We can’t deny we live here. This is who we are, and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
But, like her peers, she was forced to face that by the time the Los Angeles market rolls around at the end of the fashion buying season, most specialty retailers have tied up their orders.
“It’s crazy [to go to New York] and in some ways unrealistic,” she observed. “But people here who are serious and want to make money go there. For the most part, the buyers I have met are looking for something else in L.A. — mostly inexpensive, fun sportswear. That’s fine. That’s a market you can build a huge business on.”
While Berliner, who is self-financed, isn’t talking about her company in terms of “huge” growth, she is already exploring the option of a Japanese licensee, and has her sights set on securing “one large retailer,” domestic or otherwise. “There’s not a lot of really great stores in the world,” she said.
She readily admitted she wasn’t playing coy last season about the future of her business.
“I’ve never really approached anything with the thought that people might actually want to buy my clothes, which is why I always gave them away. Then, it was, “Wait a second people are going to pay money for my clothes?”‘
The fall collection wholesales from $125 for cashmere wool sweaters to $400 for quilted jackets.
Previewing next week at a Lower East Side location (to be announced in the next few days), the sophomore collection is somewhat of a departure, she said, because it will feature “lots of color.” Her idea of color? Rusts, musty greens and gradations of grays. Expect plenty of brocades, embroidery and prints, she added.
“I’m using all vintage fabric, very little leather, wool crepes, cashmere knits. I live in California so I can’t design anything too heavy,” she said, adding that it’s about layers when the temperature drops.
At the Gotham show, Berliner will also launch her new line of jewelry strung from turquoise, pearls and leather.
“I always like to describe my clothes as ‘happenstance.’ I love that word and that’s kind of the way I dress, the way I feel. You can wear a really great designer piece with a thermal T-shirt, but it works. Clothes should be approachable. I hate that you would look in your closet and you think every time you wear that piece, ‘I can’t even drive in that.”‘
She references the Japanese and European avant-garde as heroes and is quick to point out that deconstruction “only works if you know how to construct.” Berliner learned the rules, she said, at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, and how to break them on the retail floor under the tutelage of renowned buyers such as Shauna Stein and Mara White (of Ron Herman-Fred Segal).
As this designing gig takes off, Berliner stresses the styling won’t stop. At least, that’s her position for now. Her hand recently appeared for a second time in the Los Angeles Times magazine, a layout that was considerably forward for the publication.
“[Styling is] fast and furious and another outlet. I usually never get booked more than a week before. I think that is why I’m always anxious to get my orders out as soon as possible. A stylist runs errands all day, running around. I’ve learned to anticipate last-minute changes and so-called disasters. It’s not unlike producing a line. I don’t care if it sits there for a month, but at least it’s done, so I can move on to the next creative project.”
Through the community of designers and retailers she’s befriended and styled for, Berliner has managed to connect with a local network of skilled patternmakers, embroiderers and sewers to produce her line.
Her “definite ideas about how things need to be done” have brought her to New York before for Fashion Week to help out new designers like As Four. Many of those friends will be there for support for her debut, she enthused. “One volunteered to open the champagne.”