By Mariam Makatsaria

No matter how you slice it, you know—when you sit in one of the rows sandwiching a runway—that you’re not only there to ogle the flow of whimsical fabrics or zero in on the trendiest silhouettes of the season. You’re there to witness someone’s milestone. It becomes the most obvious at the very end, when a show draws to a close, the audience erupts in applause, and the designer saunters down the runway, beaming ear-to-ear. (You’d be hard-pressed to resist grinning along). There’s no denying that, that moment is the culmination of months of hard work—week after tiring week of planning, fitting, tweaking and styling.

Los Angeles Fashion Week‘s AW19 season, which took place at The Petersen Automotive Museum, showcased both established labels and lesser-known emerging designers, aka the folks who went with their gut, took a leap and made it happen. Industry heavy-hitters like Walter Mendez, for example, kick-started the three-day affair with a collection of sparkly, evening-geared finery (multi-layered ball gown galore!) But the conclusion that came into sharp focus over the past weekend is this: the increased power of fresh faces—ones that rose about the din and celebrated a big milestone in their careers this month—bodes quite well for the future.

Photography by Manny Llanura | @mstrartist

Romy Collection

Romy Hourani likes the 80’s. If the bevy of accentuated waistlines she sent down the runway wasn’t a dead giveaway, then the onslaught of shoulder pads would’ve given you a clue. “I looked at, like, Dynasty, and all those shows,” she says. “I was really young back then, but that was something that my sister watched, my mom watched.” Romy’s take on the 80’s is romantic, with a hint of quiet glamour. It’s clever, and still, somehow, fresh. That’s an accomplishment within itself, given that designers have already had a decade to toy with its stylings, plus a few more years, if we consider just how much the 80’s aesthetic is now in vogue.

“I love using [animal print],” she says. “Every season, I do it differently. This season I did with the white tiger print, and I brought in the zebra print.” Those prints made an appearance within the first few seconds of the show, followed by a black mini dress with awesomely big, white ruffled sleeves. Slowly, the collection moved into a proportion-distorting, superpower suit, and then hit a very elegant note with an emerald-green velvet grown that boasted a deep-cut neck and an enormous bow across the waist. There were other killer, va-va-voom moments, too. Take the black velvet dress with balloon sleeves and a slit that snaked all the way up to the model’s pelvic bone. (She wore a pearl-studded pair of tights underneath, which elevated the look in more ways than one).

In its entirety, though, what made the collection a stand-out was Romy’s knack for blending the old with the new. The fact that, even though it celebrated the flair of a bygone era and borrowed bits and pieces from the past, it was very much a line for the modern woman. “I’m all about making women feel beautiful and sexy,” she says. “That’s really what I want.”  

Aya by DK

In theory, it shouldn’t have worked—this layering of fabric on vastly different fabric, texture on texture, color on clashing color. But in the deft hands of Dina Kabdolla, somehow it did. After all, the Kazakhstan-born designer has been refining her aesthetic since the precocious age of five. By then, she says, she already knew how to draw and sew. After studying fashion at Cambridge as a teenager, Dina schlepped across the world to Los Angeles, where she wrapped up her education at FIDM. Following a few stints here and there—including one that took her all the way to New York City and then another that pulled her back to Los Angeles—she decided to test her mettle and kick-start her own brand, which she named partially after her daughter, Aya.

In the collection she dreamed up for LAFW—her first fall/winter line—she decided to embrace her roots. “I was inspired by my hometown,” she says, “and my culture.” Models shimmied down the runway in the line’s signature palette: bold metallics. Woven as accents into camouflage prints, floral jacquards and letters spelling out the word “Royals,” the golds and silvers lent an air of more is more is more. “As you know, in the Middle East, we love mixing everything with silver and gold,” she explains. And building off of the concept of royalty, Dina put the color purple to good use. There were bursts of violets, which manifested in an ankle-grazing frock with a white fur collar, and a silky set finished off with a statement, fur vest. (The styles varied, too, as Dina paired more night-out-appropriate pieces with casual staples like hoodies and sweatpants.)

“I wanted to show the luxury of different fabrics, and the main goal was to mix something that was not mixable,” she says. “It was hard to make those pieces, honestly. We launched the production piece back in my hometown, and my team made it work. But it was really tough to put lace with jacquard, vinyl with neoprene.”

The showstopper was quite literally the piece that brought the show to an end—a dazzling white wedding gown, just sheer enough, with embroidered
dimensional feathers and a train that struck a dramatic chord. But perhaps the most surprising part was the bubblegum pink pinafore the model had slipped on top. “The whole theme about Aya is being comfortable,” she says. “It’s luxury streetwear. My goal is to be comfortable, but also to be out there.”

Casanova

“We’ve known each other our entire lives,” says Salvatore Graci, one of the three designers—along with Salvatore’s brother Luca Graci and longtime friend Angelo Acquista—behind Casanova. You don’t even have to ask—they’ll tell with enormous verve, how they all hail, not just from the same city in Italy, but from the same map-dot commune of Castrofilippo in Sicily. They’ll tell you the story of how they all decided to switch gears and abandon careers in political science, economics, accounting and philosophy in lieu of a shot in the fashion industry. Of how this was decided on a phone call in 2017. Of how they spent the following two years researching the market and finding the perfect niche. On the evening of March 23rd, the first thump of music sprung those stories into motion.

If there’s anything you need to know about this newly minted label, it’s this: Casanova’s quest for quality and fit is the beating heart of the brand. It was noticeable in the very articulate construction of cropped trousers and distressed jeans that spoke to the designers’ mantra of how menswear is only as good as its tailoring. Then there was the humble-but-cool bomber jacket, which became somewhat of a fixture throughout the show, appearing in various shades and materials.

But aside from dreaming up high-quality staples that are actually worth the investment, the trio made good use of color. A crimson red flitted throughout the lineup, making several appearances across the backs of denim jackets and breast pockets. There was also the can’t-miss red silk bomber jacket, of course, on the back of a model who glided down the runway carrying an expertly groomed and dressed pomeranian—a social media style star by the name of Bentley—in his arms. (Suffice to say, it was a moment that elicited a barrage of “ahhs” and “ohhs” from audience members.)

Not to mention, the trio didn’t shy away from imbuing a dose of bling in recurring star emblems and shimmering bands cascading down sleeves. The brand’s name was also emblazoned on hoodies, woven into knits and ringed around the collar of a white mock-neck sweater. “We’re trying to appear like we’re coming from the moon, in a sense, but making almost essentials for everyday life,” says Salvatore backstage after the show. And it’s that an extra ounce of playfulness that can take a look from casual streetwear to well, something that’s a tinge more.

Stories From Arabia: Hessa Alhemel

“My inspiration is the moment of the sun setting in Arabic houses,” says Hessa Alhemel, and at that moment, it all comes together. It all makes sense. A layered cape coat and straight-cut pants in orange satin, the color of a calm fire. A translucent duster, embroidered with glittery threads that sparkled like shimmering sand particles. The pearly blush pinks, the golds and the pastel blues, the cloudy ivory. It was all there—hues plucked from that time of day when the sun slinks away into the night.  There were the shapes, too. The curves and silhouettes that mimicked the ornate, arched doors and architecture of her stomping grounds of Kuwait.

Suffice to say, the color palette and the shapes, within themselves, told a part of the story. The other part, you could’ve found, if you looked closely enough, within the recurring word embroidered on tulle tops and skirts, and running across the back of a floor-length pink satin silk cape that punctuated the show. The word, written in Arabic, was “love.” Behind every door, she muses, there’s love. “Where there’s [love], there’s life,” she says after the show. She later notes that the embroidery process was a painstakingly long one. Tulle, after all, is a delicate thing to work with and the collection features a lot of it. (It’s easy to think of Hessa’s work as a lesson in just how many ways you can interpret the same fabric).

“This is my second show,” she says, noting that this collection—which she named “The Yard,” marks her first foray into design. “The first [show] was in London.” It’s a curious thing to hear, because no one would have guessed it, not even in a million years, the fact that there was something else before fashion. “I’m just trying to bring my culture in the USA,” she says, and as evidenced by her thoughtfully cut label, she did just that.

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