After a year-long hiatus, Los Angeles Fashion Week was back with a bustling scene at the Petersen Automotive Museum. It felt like a celebration — and it was — of a transition, of redressing the grievances of these past two years. But even though the shows at LA Fashion Week did their part in allowing audiences to escape, forget, repair and reset, the pandemic still seeped into every collection sent down the runway.
Almost every designer I interviewed post-show told me of how clocking in so many hours indoors under lockdown and seeing the world grapple with the aftermath of the crisis affected them in ways big and small. Whether it revealed itself through color, fabric or shape, the emotional impact was there. And as an audience, we felt it. I guess if there’s any upside to what’s happened over the past few years, it’s that it has provided a trove of inspiration to creatives who put it to good use.
Of course, the conversations stirred on the runway extended beyond the pandemic. The collections seen at LAFW (and the exchanges I had with the designers) touched on important topics like sustainability, diversity and mental health. They did it all while showcasing some seriously wonderful and cool clothes. So, without further ado, here are the top LAFW designers to keep an eye out for and hit the “follow” button — in my humble opinion.
1. Frisk Me Good
If you spend any time perusing social media, you’ll know that corsets are having a major moment, and Frisk Me Good’s owner and designer Cierra Boyd takes them to the next level. There are no Regency-era frills and pearls here. Instead, this self-taught designer’s creations are made from deconstructing and upcycling old materials — a testament to both her creativity and dedication to sustainable practices. At LAFW, Cierra showed a colorful debut collection that showed both attitude and skin. Think: deconstructed footballs into bodysuits, her signature sneaker-corsets and New Balance trainers reshaped into a sexy, laced-up midi dress. The showstopper, however, was a white dress with cut up shoe soles made to look like feathers. One word: Genius.
2. Bishme Cromartie
Bold animal prints in bright neons were first out the gate at Bishme Cromartie’s show. “I was inspired by just shedding your old ways and growing new skin,” The Baltimore designer told me post-show. Although he’s been dreaming up garments since the precocious age of nine, last year, he’d made a big career move by relocating to Los Angeles, following his stint on Project Runway. (And in more recent news: during the pandemic, Bishme returned to the franchise in Project Runway Redemption, and won.) So, it’s been a journey, to say the least, and his collection reflects that metamorphosis. There was a larger-than-life color palette — acid greens, marigold oranges and touches of reds and blues. There were playful asymmetrical necklines, one-sleeve tops, bold shoulders, extra straps and peekaboo cutouts. It was all pomp, drama and glamor, and even more importantly to Bishme, who supports mental health wellness, an infectious air of positivity.
3. Laura Theiss
Hailing from Lithuania, Laura Theiss has been honing her knitting and crocheting skills ever since she was a tot, later launching her own brand that celebrates this particular craft. “It’s just easier to express myself [through knit],” she told me. “This is like my mother language.” But before babushka-style sweaters spring to mind, I’m here to tell you that Laura’s designs are anything but. The looks she sent down the runway at LAFW were both ultra-feminine and romantic. I particularly enjoyed the wit of Laura’s choices — like, for example, an all-black knitted tunic that revealed just a sliver of silver layering underneath. From those dark hues, the collection brightened into pastels, a transition that symbolized coming out of the pandemic and back into life. The closing number, which Laura created from a tablecloth, cut in half and draped into a striking crochet dress, was a particular favorite. “Sometimes, for show pieces like this, I start the journey, and I don’t know where it’s going to go,” she said.
4. 404 Studio
Built on the idea of domain error: 404 “not found,” this Spain-based brand serves as a commentary on the internet age. At the helm is Anaïs Vauxcelles, whose creation makes good use of crochet, the humble and crafty ’70s-era knit style, and you can count on her to bring something completely out of this world to the catwalk. And LA Fashion Week was no exception. Borrowing from the aesthetics of French cult film La Planète Sauvage, which tells the story of human-like creatures living on a strange planet, controlled by an oppressive alien race, the collection truly felt like a trip to outer space. Models in fuzzy, colorful ushanka-hats made an immediate impact with body-conscious crochet pieces that revealed as much as they concealed. There was a slinky, unusual sexiness in the shimmery paneled pink-and-black maxi dress, a checkerboard knitted set, loosely interlocked cardigans and a headlining laced-up backless white dress, all paired with funky platform shoes and even funkier face jewelry.
5. Gypsy Sport
Ever since designer Rio Uribe established Gypsy Sport back in 2012, the brand’s been striving to expand the gates of the fashion community through diversity and inclusivity — of race, gender, body size. On the LAFW runway, Rio celebrated Chicano culture with his uptempo, fun-loving streetwear lineup, showing pieces like athletic shorts and jerseys, hooded robes, genderless blazers and lowrider denim that revealed major bum cleavage. We saw a wide swath of fabrics and colors — flowy satin, polka dots and hot-pink lace, sequins in shades of red and electric-blue, and black, body-hugging latex. From the clothes to the cheering crowds and the models, who vogued down the runway, it truly felt like a celebration. Rio just came back to his stomping grounds here in LA after launching his brand in New York — and what homecoming it was!
6. Erica Rybolt
It’s worth lingering for a moment over the fact that Erica hasn’t launched her brand officially yet, but based on the collection she sent down the catwalk, you’d be tricked into thinking she’s been in the biz for years. Sophisticated and modern, Erica’s designs blended form and function, featuring body-cinching unitards (she was a competitive figure skater), bodysuits and coordinating sets joined with suspender clips, all rendered in the 2021 Pantone colors: grey and yellow. The detailing — well-placed cutouts, mesh fabrics, paneled, spiral designs — particularly commanded attention. “I think a lot of [my inspiration] had to do with Covid, and a lot of it had to do with just focusing on the little details in life and really running with it,” Erica told me, later adding, “It’s just a combination of being edgy and contemporary but still being like a powerful female.”