COLLINS TRIES FOR MANHATTAN APPEAL
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES — “Cornell who?”
Inquiring is the fledgling designer himself, Cornell Collins, who is genuinely self-effacing when it comes to his inaugural presence in New York.
Although he officially hosts an installation of his fall collection Tuesday evening in penthouse 3, room 1617, at the Royalton, Collins has been previewing his exactly tailored day and evening looks for the last week there to major department and specialty retail buyers.
Collins is among the new wave of Los Angeles designers eager to break away from the area’s longstanding reputation for fast-turn makers of junior, contemporary and surf trends.
“In L.A., it’s very junior,” noted Collins. “It’s really hard to find production people here who can do this skilled level of work. I feel the type of things I’m doing are much more geared to [the New York] market.”
Indeed, as several of his peers are discovering, Collins is questioning whether he can continue to make a go of it in his adopted city, producing and selling a line that wholesales between $450 to $1,100.
The first collection bowed here last April, seven months after Collins opened his doors with business partner Udo Schildbach, a former set and interior designer in his native Germany.
In November, the Los Angeles arm of Gen Art selected Collins as the winner in the eveningwear category. The honor grabbed the attention of key retailers here, but their advice to Collins was always the same: Go to New York.
“I think the perception of dressy in L.A. is much different from what it is on the East Coast,” observed Collins. “Being from North Carolina, I’m used to seeing people dress for church on Sunday. And I mean dress. One of the largest challenges here is getting people to turn off their preconceived notions of what dressing up can be about.”
Jeans and rhinestone belts might be the latest staple on the red carpet and in better restaurants — and the latest way for new designers here to make a fast buck — but Collins isn’t about to trade in his constructed suits and ballgowns.
“I think it’s a matter of taste. This is what I love. This is what I know. I can’t say this is what I grew up around,” he said, smiling, “but it’s what I understand.”
Collins emigrated from North Carolina to Los Angeles two weeks out of high school in 1993 to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. He transferred and graduated from Brooks College in 1996.
The move west didn’t cause any “transition issues whatsoever,” he recalled. “Ever since I was 16, I knew I wanted to study fashion design, so that’s all I thought about.”
And it’s all he’s thinking about now, as he banks on his third season to be his breakout. For fall, he draws from the Bauhaus school, visually and philosophically. Muted colored panels in a graphic pattern inspired by a 1922 painting by Paul Klee make up a wool skirt.
Other standouts include a cashmere and tweed kimono-style wrap and dress and a wool and satin gabardine cocktail dress. A black ballgown is built from the top down from bias-cut, inch-wide strips of organza that have been individually stitched; the style tops the line at a wholesale price of $3,800.
“It’s a sacrifice making something like this even as a sample, but I don’t want to compromise my ideas,” said Collins. “I’m not interested in being the hot thing of the moment.”