TAKING A CUE FROM THE MOVIES, KOMAROV DELIVERS HER LINES
Byline: Alison Maxwell
WASHINGTON — The worlds of movies and fashion have a special affinity to each other, a relationship that Emmy award-winning costume designer Shelley Komarov knows firsthand.
After spending 23 years in the film industry designing costumes for the likes of Nicole Kidman, Jamie Lee Curtis and Halle Barry, Komarov wanted to make a fashion statement.
“I started thinking of going into the fashion business in 1977,” Komarov said, “and somehow I ended up in the film industry doing more than 30 films. But through it all, I was always playing with fashion. I’ve always wanted to do something completely unique.”
So after finishing HBO’s Golden Globe-winning movie “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” she designed two all-pleated contemporary sportswear lines: Kisca, body-hugging printed and solid separates, and Komarov, an upscale signature collection of dresses, tops and skirts.
The lines are aimed at the women on the go, aged 16-55, Komarov said. The designer uses traditional pleating, combining it with her own “futurra pleating,” which she describes as imitation shearing, to make the lines wrinkle-resistant and good for traveling.
Fabrics include stretch poplin, double-layered chiffon and parachute cloth. All styles are designed to be hand-washed. “In my costume design work, I’ve always been looking for a way to create this combination fabric,” she said. “It creates clothes that are very easy to take care of and wear.”
“Pleating takes the form of any body,” said Dimitri Komarov, Shelley’s son and business partner. “People are sometimes scared of the word pleat, but we’ve sort of revolutionized the word.”
Komarov started her design career in her native Russia at the Kirov Ballet and at the Leningrad Academy of Fine Arts. When her husband accepted a job at Stanford University, the family moved to California. Komarov said a friend was looking for a designer for “Peter the Great,” so she accepted the challenge. She won her first Emmy on her first major production.
Komarov received an Emmy for Outstanding Costume Design for a Miniseries for “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” in 1990. She also won Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries in 1993 for “Sinatra.” In 1992, she was nominated for Outstanding Costume Design for “A Woman Named Jackie.”
She started Komarov Fashions in Los Angeles in 1997 with her son and his childhood friend, Dimitry Lieberman, with just $150,000.
“I had developed my own secrets and techniques before that and mostly used them just for the Hollywood celebrities,” she said. But getting off the ground wasn’t easy. “We had a lot of problems in the first year. It was tough surviving,” Komarov admitted. “I was working for two years without any money at all. I was in the film industry, so I could afford that luxury. But now it’s finally starting. All the hard work is paying off.”
The company, which sells primarily to specialty stores and some chains like Cache and Bebe, generated $2 million in sales in 1999. It expects to double that figure this year by pursuing overseas sales and through a new Internet site, Komarovinc.com, where stores can preview the collections and get information on placing orders.
“I’ve never had a response like this,” said Calli Saitowitz, who carries Komarov’s collections in her two-unit Houston store called BB1 Classic. “I think they have a fresh new look and they’ve taken the whole crushed look forward. It’s young, but it’s across the board and appealing.”
Despite the success, Komarov said it’s not easy going from film to fashion and back. She’s currently designing the costumes for a Masterpiece Theater production of Eudora Welty’s “The Ponder Heart,” which is being filmed in Mississippi.
“It’s very difficult to juggle both,” she said of her fashion and costume careers. “The projects I’m working on now are basically two separate worlds — “Ponder Heart” is set in the rural South in 1939, and my completely contemporary line is done in L.A.”