Against the backdrop of war, Los Angeles’ busy fashion season began Friday night with an outstanding and emotional show of eveningwear from Lever Couture, designed by Ukrainian-born, L.A.-based designer Lessja Verlingieri.
The Academy of Motion Pictures annual gala, due to be held Saturday with a star-studded red carpet, was postponed because of the violence in Israel and Gaza. But other events are slated to go on, including L.A. Fashion Week, beginning Wednesday.
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Sergio Hudson, Cult Gaia, Brunello Cucinelli, Ulla Johnson, Prada, Gucci and Balenciaga are among the brands activating in L.A. with dinners, parties and runway shows scheduled through the end of the year.
Verlingieri kicked things off at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica with Milla Jovovich, Geena Davis, Johnny Wujek and Martin Katz among those who came out to see the latest collection from the designer who has dressed Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Tems (for last year’s Oscars in a view-blocking cloudlike gown that unexpectedly went viral).
“Lessja is a close friend of mine, she designed my dress for Cannes last year, and I think it’s important for us Ukrainian girls to support each other and I had to be here tonight to give her a good rock to lean on,” said Jovovich, adding that the designer’s work “is sculptural but also respectful to a woman’s body. She’s a woman designing for women.”
Backstage, Verlingieri, who last showed in Tokyo in 2022, was reflective. “I love L.A. and I want to make a mark here,” she said of her couture-like gowns. “The collection is supposed to [imitate] emotion, reflect our state going from light to wild, strong silver to happy flowers, then white to black. Because we have in our lives a lot of sadness — especially with everything happening now.”
A pillar of light stood at the top of her runway, and the show began with a voiceover of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from “The Great Dictator,” which makes a case for humanity in a time of evil, in his case, Nazi Germany.
On the runway, Verlingieri’s collection was its own form of resistance, and a testament to the beauty human hands can create. There were light-as-air mesh goddess constructions, looks covered in snaking mesh tubes, others messes of ribbon fringe that settled into celebratory gowns swishing metallic streamers, which the models carried gracefully in one hand as they walked. It was a gentle and gorgeous presentation.
Each of the looks deserve a red carpet, which is all the more challenging since the SAG-AFTRA strike has put a damper on that part of the fashion machine. “It’s hard but I cannot stop doing what I love and what I feel, that’s why I keep going,” Verlingieri said.
Surely other designers are feeling similarly as L.A. Fashion Week gears up to start under the vision of Noah Kozlowski, the new vice president, head of designer relations, who joined in July from IMG where he held a similar role for seven years.
L.A. Fashion Week has had a checkered past with competing producers, missions and locations. During cocktail hour at the Lever Couture show, guests waxed nostalgic for the heyday of the five-year partnership between IMG and Smashbox Studios, from 2003 to 2008, when Jeremy Scott, Jenni Kayne and Kevan Hall showed at the centralized venue in Culver City and celebrities came out.
But hopes were high that this second edition of L.A. Fashion Week produced by N4XT Experiences and running through Sunday at NYA Studios in Hollywood, will capture some of that magic.
“Wouldn’t that be great?” said B. Akerlund, who is styling the Imitation of Christ show/performance on Wednesday night.
The lineup for the event — recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America for the first time this season — will also include Sergio Hudson, Gypsy Sport, Simkhai, Claude Kameni, No Sesso, Theophilio, Luis De Javier, Neon Cowboys, BruceGlen, TomBogo, Saintwoods and Advisry. Sami Miro Vintage, AnOnlyChild and Demobaza are among the returning brands.
Not all are showing new collections, some are reprising shows they’ve presented in other markets and others are participating through panels, invite-only dinners or parties. The Los Angeles Times is the media partner.
“Some of the biggest brands in the world, they can afford big productions and then tour them throughout the world to connect with consumers. We thought, why don’t we give the same opportunity to smaller brands,” said Kozlowski, adding that there will be celebrities front row (N4XT Experiences cofounder Ciarra Pardo is well-connected and expected to bring in VIPs, having spent 17 years working with Rihanna, as well as her Savage and Fenty brands), as well as stylists and some media, including international press.
“We want to give designers more space to tell their stories so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of everything else going on, competing with different budgets, and we want to give them more time to create. The fact we intentionally chose to stage [the] event after global fashion month is over gave more room for designers to be creative and create well-made garments.” (LAFW is being held annually in October.)
“While we are creating these industry touch points, we’re also giving access for the public to get involved and discover these brands for themselves,” Kozlowski said.
N4XT has partnered with software giant SAP on an interactive pop-up shop and online shopping experiences, and there will also be a BeautyLab installation onsite in collaboration with Lancôme. The public can go to the LAFW website and RSVP for select events.
The designers’ collections will be posted on the CFDA’s Runway360 platform, though executive director Steven Kolb will not attend.
“Launching another main fashion week hub in another city, especially in a place where a lot of manufacturing takes place, will have a lot of impact not only for L.A., but for fashion as a whole,” said Kozlowski, who did not get any hard nos from designers he approached about showing. “Everyone was interested in knowing the possibilities.”
Launch Gallery: Lever Couture Holds Runway Show in Los Angeles
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