A BIG HIT: DESIGNERS & AGENTS

Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones

LOS ANGELES — It was as much a pep rally for the home-grown industry as the trade exhibition often cited with transforming its identity from a fast-turn junior market to a city filled with contemporary designer boutiques and resources.
Kicking off Los Angeles Market Week on Friday, an array of speakers included “Friends” costume designer Debra McGuire, California Fashion Association executive director Ilse Metchek, Fred Segal Flair, Purple Skirt.com owner Jeannine Braden and American Rag Cie owner Margot Wert.
Among the speakers, and the 60 gathered on the third floor to hear the gospel over banana muffins and black coffee, stood Ed Mandelbaum and Barbara Kramer. The grinning pair appeared like proud parents — not in the least due to the kudos lavished on them and their offspring, Designers & Agents, the curated floor of contemporary designers that’s become a market attraction.
“Time is our precious commodity,” said Carl Diaf, buyer of the designer-heavy Traffic store in the Beverly Center. “D&A is a tight, complete package. The atmosphere is friendly and creative.”
It’s certainly not business as usual. Tea and cookies mark the afternoons, except for Sunday when guacamole and Coronas liven up the scene. Custom CDs pressed by deejays provide a soundtrack, and fresh flowers arrive daily.
But it’s the scent of white sage, still lingering in the air from Kramer’s ritual to burn the herb in a gesture to “clean out the space,” that really seems to set the stage. The combination of the vibe and the vendors have kept retailers returning the last three years from as far as South Africa, Japan and the U.K.
This week’s installation features 120 labels, up 20 percent from last season, in a show that now occupies 20,000 square feet. Exhibitors include Jean-Michel Cazabat, The Metropolitan Design Group, Selima, Ted Baker Women, Dannenberg Castro and Plum by Cristina Ramirez.
The Annex, a smaller show, runs in June and January and tends to cater to local retailers.
A small screening committee handpicks applicants by referral. Acceptance one year doesn’t guarantee an invitation the next.
“It’s really our job to keep it edited,” noted Kramer. “It’s not interesting for retailers to keep coming back and see the same things. If a company is about a trend and that trend is no longer in, it doesn’t serve us anymore. We’re like a retailer in a way.”
Kramer and Mandelbaum have been widely respected agents in New York and Los Angeles for decades.
Second generation in better fashion, Mandelbaum, and his then Melrose Place home of Aubry Co., launched Burberry, Fiorruci, Joan Vaas and other lines stateside in the Seventies. He relocated to New York in 1986 to a West 40th Street office over looking Bryant Park. His accounts include Lluis Genero, Jungal, Alex Goes and New Scotland.
“But I still needed a West Coast presence,” he recalled. He rented a room at the New Mart and invited a few agent friends in to offset the costs. “There’s strength in numbers,” he noted.
Within a year, Kramer was on board as a partner for the nascent forum. She recently relocated to Hollywood, thereby becoming part of the new wave of bi-coastal professionals. The move was prompted by the success of D&A and other ventures under development.
The partners entered a 10-year agreement with the New Mart in January to keep D&A in the building.
Kramer pointed to their commitment to the local industry with the donated exhibit space to fledgling designers sponsored by the nonprofit Fashion Business Incubator, also a New Mart tenant. They recently hired locally-based publicists SPR and graphic designers PhD to create a logo.
“There’s just such an opportunity for the industry worldwide in Los Angeles,” she observed.

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