THE NOT-SO-WILD ONES
A REBEL CATEGORY OPTS FOR THE RESTRAINED APPROACH BY TEASING, NOT TAUNTING, COVENTION.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
Being on the edge isn’t what it used to be. With envelope-pushing retailers such as Hot Topic now a mall staple, and bubble-gum pop stars coloring their hair pink, so-called alternative fashion brands face a greater challenge in shocking a status-quo market that snaps up trends at lightning speed.
For many such “alterna-brands,” the wider customer base has boosted bottom lines. Others have opted to stay true to their roots, giving preferential treatment to the independent store owners (and a few chains such as Hot Topic) who have supported them from the start and, most importantly, remain in step with their anything-but-mainstream philosophy.
In the way of trends for the second half of 2001, the vendors in this category are frequently taking a subtler approach, subversively featuring a provocative logo on an otherwise conventional sweater or a deconstructed waistband on a pair of pants. Sometimes the difference lies in the print and color palette: The pattern of a standard camouflage or plaid is slightly tweaked, a more aggressive red or fuchsia applied. Here, some examples:
Many spot a clear edge in plastic. At Porn Star, a blinding red foil is cut into a tube top or dress that’s held up by clear plastic straps. “The foiled fabric is indented with clear plastic pieces, a detail called ‘welding,”‘ noted designer Jamie Ready, giving it a distinct finish. A texturing process over stretch camouflage gives sexy backless tops and muscle T-shirts an effect of clear paillettes. “It glams it up,” explained Ready, who also designs Porn Star Undercovers, FOS and Starlette for L&H Apparel in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Customers come to us for that type of clothes: sexy, flashy, glam.”
Glam is still a buzzword, in fact, among companies in this category. Porn Star’s Ready points to foil prints on its athletic wear, which is “tighter, smaller and sexier.” With Starlette, she said, heat-transferred rhinestone nail heads in turquoise and red are spelling out campy quotes such as “I’m the boss” and “Ring my bell.”
“Anything Americana, from guitars to Corvettes, are also fare for sparkling “iron-on” transfers. “I’m sure it will come to a halt one of these days, but for now, teen girls can’t get enough of glitter, foil and rhinestones,” said Ready.
New Wave and Eighties kitsch pops up throughout this category. It’s a matter of irony among the edgier brands, say those interviewed. Nagelesque imagery in the spirit of early Duran Duran album covers is key to Fine’s debuting better line, called Michael Economy for Blue Ribbon.
The denim-intensive inaugural collection also champions Popeye through a licensee. Why the spinach-chomping strongman? Partner Guy Brand and Stacy Kitchin of the Los Angeles brand had discovered after some research that Popeye was a favorite icon of Blondie’s Deborah Harry.
While camouflage has invaded middle and high fashion, street and club wear, brands believe it’s become, in the words of Tripp NYC co-owner Ray Goodman, “a classic.” But twisting a classic is what street style is about, and Tripp NYC and other lines have found other ways of presenting the army staple.
For immediate spring and summer deliveries, the New York-based company is overdying it with red or black (two key colors for many of the lines interviewed), as well as acid pink, and cutting it into novelty bodies. One style of low-riding, five-pocket pants has frayed edges; another is patched with a Union Jack. “Camouflage is an urban look,” noted Goodman. “And it works well with zipper treatments and lacing, which gives it a harder edge.”
A military aesthetic is also emerging with army greens, stars, stripes and other related motifs — but delivered with a punk edge. A skull sits in the Chevron stripes on the cardigans from E.C. Star, based in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“It’s an evolution of our punky schoolgirl vibe that we’ve been doing from the start, but she’s turned more militant,” said partner Jennifer Johnson. “Now she can go into the Bluebirds and sell cookies — and [then join] the Black Panthers.” Suggested uniforms: E.C. Star’s little black (or olive, or navy) dresses, thigh-skimming minis and fitted camp shirts embellished with military details.
Taking an innocuous wardrobe staple such as a cardigan and altering it slightly with a deranged detail has always been a favorite ploy of punks. Accessories are prime material for such treatment. Ed Hardy’s old-school tattoos continue to distinguish his namesake line, Sailor Jerry, but the Philadelphia-based brand is moving on from anchors and Geisha girls to animal motifs such as tigers for its new emphasis on bags. Among the expected hits: Vinyl airplane travel cases, shoulder bags, coin purses and wallets, as well as leather clutches.
The precariously low-riding jeans that emerged last summer show no sign of rising. In its Melrose Avenue shop, Serious can’t stock enough of its pants with the 4 1/2-inch rise. “In our market, people jumped on it quick. So many girls were
starved for it,” said designer Karen Caid. Serious offers the sexy style in red-and-black vinyl patchwork, burnt orange and red stretch corduroy and denim. Actually, the glam rock brand also offers a 6 1/2-inch version in all its available fabrics to shops that can’t quite countenance the shorter rise. “In all honesty, you have to have a good figure to wear it,” said Caid, who noted that the potential for significant posterior exposure is high.
Not all denim involves a physical trainer and an NC-17 rating. The future-minded Montreal brand Kitchen Orange is jean-splicing: piecing denim with a fleece-backed ribbed wool. Dark denim pants cut off below the knee and continue in a detachable ribbed legwarmer, said designing partner Zoe Theophilos, and a denim tunic features a detachable ribbed collar and sleeves. “We try to make buying denim more exciting than [just] buying another pair of jeans,” she says.
Denim blue marks the cooler end of the fire-and-ice palette streetwear brands are raving about for the second half of the year. “We’re introducing knitted sweaters — the ones that swallow you up — in deep rust, orange, red and leathers in icy shades of blue and gray,” said Danny Cook of edgy contemporary brand Private Circle. “They remind our designer, Q, of her native Sweden.” The color scheme extends to patchwork leather jackets inspired by the Seventies classics, but updated.