BENDEL’S BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS
TWO DESIGNERS WHO GOT THEIR START AT THE STORE’S FAMED “OPEN SEE” SHOW MAKE THEIR MOVE TO THE MARTS AND BEYOND.
Fifteen of Los Angeles’ own were tapped for Henri Bendel when the New York institution held its quarterly “Open See” in the spring at the W Hotel in Westwood.
The ongoing practice of finding the Next Big Thing during the daylong marathon of line reviews is not new to Bendel’s. The idea, which began in the Sixties, was coined by then-legendary president Geraldine Stutz. But the concept, which has resulted in the discoveries of Todd Oldham, Anna Sui, Pamela Dennis and Paige, has since been revamped.
“What we’re looking for when we meet with the designers is a great eye or a great item,” said marketing director Teril Turner. “We can see someone who has one great thing and we’ll work with them. It can be a longer process than saying, ‘We love your stuff; how soon can we get it in the store?”‘
After meeting 300 hopefuls, buyers pare it down to a lucky few. Here, two lines whose Bendel’s connection is vaulting them into the marts and beyond.
“I was thinking lingerie-oriented, or maybe Victorian in feel,” said Michelle Lucas, about the concept for her line of French lace, wing-sleeved camisole tops. But after Lucas met a textile designer who was doing hand-dyed silks, she altered her vision slightly. The result is Butterfly, a line of Stevie Nicks-inspired separates.
This venture is not the first for Lucas, a design and illustration teacher at Otis College of Art and Design since 1996 and a veteran of Los Angeles’ fashion scene. She partnered in a contemporary silk print line called Rouge from 1995 to 1998 and assisted costumer-cum-designer Debra McGuire with the production of her signature collection throughout 1998.
“With the surge in denim bottoms, doing something with tops seemed like the right direction,” said Lucas, talking from the Paul Perla Studio in the New Mart building, where Butterfly hangs with the likes of St. Vincent. Lucas produced the first samples cut from the textile designer’s hand-dyed scarves, and shipped to three of the city’s key doors: Fred Segal on Melrose Avenue, in Santa Monica, and Yellow.
By summer 2001, she was in Hedra Prue in New York and contemporary doors Sybil and Brown-Eyed Girl in San Francisco. The flirty tops, which wholesale from $69 to $89, have since attracted fans such as pop star Alanis Morrisette, who wrangled some for her upcoming tour, and Cameron Diaz, sporting Butterfly at an award show.
The Bendel’s buyer bought a few matte jersey and lace pieces from the holiday 2001 line, some of which are shipping with vintage brooches at the shoulder.
Lucas, who is expecting her first baby in August, said she intends to keep distribution limited. “I want to continue doing what we’re doing — in a small way.”
The vintage-inspired belts got her the Bendel’s order, but designer Kimberly Green has struck on a trend before.
To take advantage of some downtime during the Screen Actors Guild strike last year, Kimberly Green started designing nameplate necklaces for friends and associates under the label Kimberly Faith (Faith is her middle name). She found resources at local swap meets and came up with a line of jewelry sporting urban sayings such as “I Scored,” “Divalicious” and “Trouble.”
“I was initially just designing for my friends, figuring out where to source and how to get things made as I went along,” said Green, the daughter of a rocket scientist and a teacher, who has a bachelor’s degree in English from California State University at Northridge, plus a degree from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
It was during her stints in New York that she learned about design and development at Olga and Calvin Klein. After moving from coast to coast a few times, she settled in Los Angeles and began working on a string of independent feature films and commercials as a wardrobe stylist.
The nameplates led to a mention in Glamour magazine, and a connection at Tracey Ross, a specialty retailer and magnet for celebrities, helped her build a key career booster for an L.A. designer — a Hollywood clientele.
Green segued into silver and gold belts with nameplates, including a few recognizable ones such as those for Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. Retailing for $525 a pop, the Kimberly Faith belts became a coveted item among pop stars and nightlifers.
She scored a big order from Neiman Marcus in April 2001, and was picked up by Bendel’s for September 2001. Other specialty retailers followed, including Bergdorf Goodman. The Parallel Lines showroom in the New Mart is introducing her fall 2001 line. Current styles incorporate vintage stones from the Sixties and Seventies as the centerpiece, overlaid with everything from equestrian and animal motifs to zodiac signs and circus animals.
Green works from her Silverlake home and currently employs two part-time people. But that doesn’t deter her plans for an empire. A T-shirt line is in the works for 2002 and her mind is at work, she said, “figuring out how to grow the business and get as big as possible.”