THE SAME GAME
RETAILERS SUFFERING TREND FATIGUE SEEK DESIGNERS WHO MARCH TO THEIR OWN BEAT.
Like most retailers, Julie Zamaryonov used to fill in her order sheets at least six months in advance.
Nowadays, the owner of the hip boutique NYSE on Beverly Boulevard confesses to waiting until the last possible minute.
“I’ve been holding out until I see absolutely everything. I only know after viewing everything in the market what to stay away from — where it’s saturated. I really have to rummage through and find the one designer doing the most creative thing,” she said.
Zamaryonov’s view, shared by many local retailers, reflects a mounting frustration that fashion offerings are more homogenous than ever. Stroll through the downtown showrooms and identical trends leap out from every outlet: the low-slung denims, the sparkling T-shirts, the miniscule handkerchief tops. While the forte of the Southern Californian fashion industry is to take the season’s key trends and replicate them at every price point, retailers and style-setters agree there is too much of a good thing.
“Everybody is still embellishing everything,” said Zamaryonov. “Unfortunately, it just won’t go away.” She also sees “a tremendous amount of denim out there, but only some of it is orchestrated really well.” That, combined with the peasant and handkerchief tops, has brought an ubiquitous feel to fashion, disenchanting many buyers.
While forward-fashion retailers decry such sameness, these are looks that obviously sell. At Wal-Mart or Target, trendy rhinestone-studded and screen-printed T-shirts and dark denims can be had for under $20.
An executive connected with the mass-market industry, who asked not to be named, agreed that “everybody now looks the same because everybody is afraid to take a chance.”
“Fashion companies are knocking off other companies more quickly than before,” she said. “But we still look for newness. There are so many looks that we’ve seen enough of.” At the trendy Beige boutique on Beverly Boulevard, co-owner Kelly Peterson went out on a limb by stocking $2,000 rust-colored spiderweb-knit sweaters from former actress-turned-designer Justine Bateman, in addition to $18 T-shirts from French brand Dim. Beyond that, said Peterson, focusing on specialist, one-off pieces gives the boutique a distinctive edge.
“We opened five months ago, and one of our biggest things was trying to find a different look,” she said. “That whole denim thing, for example, is so completely overdone.”
Peterson agreed that boutiques have tumbled into a mainstream rut — justifiable, given that mainstream sells. Plus, “it takes a lot of research to find these new and upcoming designers,” she said.
Among those are Bateman, whose pieces Peterson described as “phenomenal.” Her Los Angeles-based lines include Rima, Ina Celaya, Rhyme and Josh & He Yang. New York designer Mark Kroeker will be added to the fall lineup.
“Now, clients come in here and want that special one-of-a-kind piece,” said Peterson. “We want this place to be a vehicle to promote new designers.”
Indeed, Los Angeles industry stalwarts defend their belief that local designers’ creativity is on the rise.
“The contemporary business has been outstanding. There is a lot of individuality in the denim and T-shirt segments,” said Sandy Richman, owner of downtown-based consulting firm Directives West.
Brands such as James Perse, Velvet, Language and Green, she said, “each have individuality; there isn’t a lot of sameness.”
“A trend is a trend,” she added. “If you look at the major trends for summer – military madness, camouflage – a lot of people are doing them. But everyone has their own way of doing them so they don’t become so homogenized.”
Stylist Tod Hallman often rifles through local racks when seeking out ensembles for celebrities like Toni Braxton, John Cusack and Neve Campbell.
“I think we got in a bad Eighties rut, and it wasn’t that great the first time around,” he said. “It’s sad when you see too many people following a trend.”
Hallman believes that it’s harder for Los Angeles designers than their New York peers. “L.A. is still trying to find its fashion niche,” Hallman said. “In New York, people dress more elegantly. Here, it’s a beautiful, sunny day and you’re not going to be inclined to run around in a great suit and stockings and handbag. This is a film town, not a fashion town, so it makes it harder for designers to pave their own way.”
NYSE’s Zamaryonov noted the key for retailers who want to push the trend envelope lies in “knowing exactly what you’re going for. Be sure that you want to be surprised, that you want to bring in novelty. Start scouring and keep it fresh.”
The store boasts a nearly 100 percent sell-through rate with brands such as Fresh Hype and Miss 60, which Zamaryonov said still do interesting things with denim.
“I have this crazy theory that with this weird change into the millennium, designers don’t know what to do with themselves, so they keep re-inventing the Eighties over and over again, said Zamaryonov. “Ten years ago, season to season, there was much more change.”