David Cardona showed during Los Angeles Fashion Week last fall.

LOS ANGELES — It’s supposed to be the grandest fashion week here yet, complete with professionally staged shows, an unprecedented schedule and buyers and press from the East Coast and abroad. <br><br>But will war — or the threat of...

LOS ANGELES — It’s supposed to be the grandest fashion week here yet, complete with professionally staged shows, an unprecedented schedule and buyers and press from the East Coast and abroad.

This story first appeared in the March 12, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

But will war — or the threat of it — cause it to fizzle?

It’s a concern weighing heavily on designers, publicists and organizers here as they push forward in planning runway shows that are beyond anything this fledgling new wave has achieved in the recent past.

“I am thinking about it, no doubt about that,” said Michelle Mason, who will be showing her signature designer and Mason contemporary lines April 3 at the The Standard Downtown.

“When I heard about the turnout at Coterie in New York, I wondered how many people will commit to flying out to L.A. It’s really rough right now with the way the economy is. For small companies like ours, we could be really hard hit,” she added.

“It’s certainly a preoccupation,” admitted Megan Griffiths, local director of Gen Art, which is departing from its biannual rising star showcase at its April 4 Shrine Auditorium event by featuring alumna Jared Gold and Alicia Lawhon (and a third yet-to-be-announced designer) to mark the nonprofit group’s 10th anniversary. “You can’t make any decisions without thinking what will be happening in a couple of weeks. It’s tough to have a lovely good fashion time when there are troops moving into position for war.”

That said, cheap airline tickets — as low as $250 round trip from New York to Los Angeles — have prompted some editors and retail buyers to book seats recently. Still, coverage could be aborted if world politics interrupt: potential coverage on CNN would be immediately scrapped, speculated Kim Bondy, vice president of special programming in Atlanta for the 24-hour news network.

Even without the threat of military action, the fashion community here has been feeling the pressure. “A lot of eyes are on L.A. right now, our fashion scene and everything happening here,” believes Petro Zillia designer Nony Tochterman, who, like many, are receiving notice from market editors and East Coast buyers of their westward travel plans. “Whether we have a war to deal with or not, it’s got to be a great success.”

Although the buzz on the city’s fashion community has been evolving for some seasons now, it wasn’t until 7th on Sixth’s decision to stage a program here that industry impetus went up a notch.

The new-and-improved Los Angeles Fashion Week opens April 1 with David Cardona, Peter Cohen and others at The Downtown Standard, 7th on Sixth’s venue for “Mercedes-Benz Shows L.A.,” and closes April 4 with Petro Zillia and Richard Tyler. At three on-site locations, including a tent on the parking lot, the program features 26 designers and brands, including Trina Turk, Kate O’Connor and Heatherette.

In January, Smashbox Studios, the Culver City, Calif.,-based campus popular among celebrity photographers and owned by Max Factor grandsons Dean and Davis Factor, announced its own program, “Smashbox Fashion Week Los Angeles.” Two to three shows daily begin April 2, culminating in four April 5. Among the designers on board there are Ashley Paige, Eduardo Lucero and Rami Kashou.

Independent shows are joining the calendar almost daily. Promising new clothes from those shown in New York, Imitation of Christ will show at The Downtown Standard (not as part of “Mercedes-Benz Presents L.A.”), and Jeremy Scott will stage a rock ’n’ art romp at the landmark Palace in Hollywood.

Momentum has also motivated the historic competitors into surprising friendships.

The California Market Center (formerly the California Mart), the New Mart, the Gerry Building, the Cooper Building and the Designers & Agents show have joined forces to create “Intersection,” a marketing effort marked by their addresses along the four corners of Los Angeles and Ninth Streets in downtown which, said D&A’s Ed Mandelbaum, “historically has been the center of the L.A. fashion community.

“People need to stop thinking about their personal agendas and start thinking about what’s good for the group,” he noted Tuesday by phone from New York. “People want to come here. Of course, if there’s this gigantic war, who knows what will happen. But I don’t think people see L.A. and New York the same way.”

Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth, acknowledges the concern of a possible war, but stresses that business must continue. “We got through New York with the Orange alert and we closed the shows with Mrs. Bush in the tents. We all have to proceed. This industry is so visible and public. We want the world to see us put our best foot forward.”

To that end, Mallis noted sponsors including JetBlue and Sprite have recently come on board, and that the interest among buyers, media and designers has been enthusiastic.

“I’ve never seen so much lobbying in my life for fashion show slots,” said Mallis. “More than 60 people sent us deposits. Underwritten spaces were also awarded to Michelle Mason, Magda Berliner, Gray Ant and Cornell Collins.

And many designers are pulling out all the stops. Favors are being called in to celebrity friends to attend. Sue Wong and Tree have hired Mitie Tucker, who produces runway for Anna Sui, Giorgio Armani and the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards, for their events.

And Ghost’s Tanya Sarne has enlisted Marie-Amelie Sauve, known for her work with Balenciaga and at French Vogue, to reenergize her collection presentation.

Said Smashbox’s Dean Factor: “At the end of the day, the buyers need to be here, the editors need to be here. All we can do is provide the best experience we can to make them feel welcome and comfortable. As we say here, ‘the show must go on.’”

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