Notwithstanding the influx of fashion world glitterati for the Tom Ford runway show staged in L.A. on Oscars weekend, noone will claim that Los Angeles Fashion Week is on a par with those of the world’s fashion capitals.
But for young local designers like Rose La Grua, the disparate series of runway shows, presentations and parties of Fashion/Week/LA offer the chance to showcase work in a less competitive environment that’s “a little bit more raw, a little more pure.”
Raised in Pasadena, and an alum of RISD and then Jeremy Scott, La Grua takes a Southern Californian’s delight in self-revelation, expressing what is going on in her life through her designs. This season she showcased an all-beige collection paired with rhinestone jewelry at a runway show entitled “Whatever You Say,” partially inspired by her recent obsession with health food and rhinestones.
This is the fourth season that La Grua has participated in L.A.’s Fashion Week, and she told DnA more about what the experience is like for a young designer hoping to make it in the fashion business, how the “golden rule” of what’s acceptable to wear around her grandmother influences her designs and what’s worth checking out between now and the end of Fashion Week on March 22.
DnA: Tell us about the “Whatever you say” collection you showed yesterday?
RLG:It’s all beige, it’s the cream dream collection. It’s all silk, wool, polymesh, natural fibers, linen, trying to keep it in the realm of luxury sportswear. It’s a little feminine, definitely a little glamour, but wearable, I hope, with an inspiration from vintage lingerie which I collect. So this collection was about bringing the elements of the things that I’m interested in into the collection in a new way. Last year I did all white thermal linen with pockets for flowers.
DnA: What inspired you to go from white to beige this year?
RLG: Three years ago I was all plaid all the time, denim on denim, lots of orange, which is actually my favorite color, and I realized that a lot of the silhouettes I was playing around with were getting lost in all the confusion of the plaid and it was marginalizing the clothing in a way that I was no longer happy with. So it’s been a challenge for me to pare it down to these really simple color stories.
The collection always reflects how I feel about myself or in my life at any given time. That always comes into the collection. This past winter I was wearing rhinestones all the time, and I got really into it in a sort of gaudy awful way. But I think I worked it. Big rhinestone earrings, big rhinestone headband and beige.
I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, so I think that has a huge impact on the way that I approach designing clothing, because they were never focused on trends. It was never about a what’s trending now, it was always about figuring out how you feel, what is inspiring you right now and then bringing that into the work.
And recently I’ve been feeling a little bit like a health nut.
DnA: So highlighting the structure of the clothes has become a focus for you, then?
RLG: Definitely. I’m a patternmaker, so I do all the patterns myself and silhouette is really important to me. Both the slight design elements that get lost in the confusion of print are really important to me, especially right now as I’m trying to establish myself.
A more established designer has those elements that become canonic, innovative moments that you can look for that you know will be there. But right now I don’t want those elements to get lost in the fray of over decoration or opulence. It’s about clean clothing, well-made, well-constructed, well-considered.
DnA: What was it like to participate in L.A. fashion week? Is it catching its stride compared to other fashion weeks?
RLG: There is so much energy; there’s a lot of people who want to do the next best thing or who want to do these sort of underground iterations of fashion shows that we see happening in New York, but it’s always different it’s always a little bit more raw, a little more pure I think.
We’re not really trying to compete with anybody else, we’re just trying to do our own thing. So you get a lot of just raw talent coming in, and a lot of these sort of go-getter initiators putting it all together.
DnA: What are the best events for fashion enthusiasts in L.A. during Los Angeles Fashion Week?
RLG: There are so many, I know Art Hearts Fashion just came back to L.A., and they’re doing a bunch of really cool shows. Sue Wong presented on Monday. Obviously I would tell anybody to go to the LAFC shows, because that’s where I show so I’m sort of biased there. Another good show is the Dripped fashion soiree event. It’s from Marianne Cotan and, she does these really cool underground L.A. a fashion shows, they’re a little gritty, but they’re really cool.
Los Angeles Fashion Week doesn’t have the same structure as other as other fashion weeks, so there’s no centralized website, they’re not all working in collaboration with each other. And that’s part of what Kelsi (Kelsi Smith, head of Los Angeles Fashion Council) is trying to establish, she’s actually working closely with a lot of these other groups like Project Ethos, Art Heart Fashion, etc. to get everybody on a set calendar that shows this is L.A. fashion week, these are the designers who are showing, get it up online, have everybody collaborate together to make it a fashion week that we know it can be–but it requires communication.
DnA: What was it like to work with Jeremy Scott?
RLG: It was fashion boot camp! It was a really intense patternmaking and sample making internship.
It was a wake up call, it was one of those moments where you see how fashion is at once this sort of shining glamorous illusion, but the reality of it is that a lot of work. But the entire time I was there I was honing my craft, and it allowed me afterwards to go on to do patternmaking for other designers, and to this day I consider myself a strong patternmaker in part because of the work that I did there.
DnA: You were born and raised in Pasadena. How did that influence your work?
RLG: Oh I’m a Pasadena girl through and through, which is really embarrassing.
I’m like one part dirty punk rock art kid and then on the other I am this is sort of classy Pasadena girl which I think always comes into play.
It’s that golden rule of what would my grandmother think? Could I wear this to tea with my grandmother at the club and if the answer is no, then you probably need to re-evaluate that design.
DnA: Who are your influences?
RLG: Gosh, that changes all the time. I watch a lot of movies, and so I’m always being inspired by the media that I’m filling my head with, but I think in the past a big inspiration in my life was my grandmother who taught me how to sew. Classic designers like Lucile Paray and Madeleine Vionnet are big influences.
DnA: What’s the last movie you’ve seen that inspired a garment you’ve made?
RLG: The craziest one was in college, I saw Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which is like the most amazing movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
In the film, Bette Davis dressed up in a little girl’s outfit and that inspired me to design a really crazy lingerie collection for older women that I was really excited about. That was probably the most like direct translation that I did.
DnA: Who are your customers?
RLG: That’s a tough one, because I think I’m in the process of transitioning. In the past it’s been people my age in the fashion scene or in the art scene in L.A. And recently, I started selling at a store called Satine, which is a boutique on Abbot Kinney. Being in there has really changed a lot of things for me, because their customers are successful women ages 30-50 and they tend to be these powerhouse women who love yoga. I am loving this woman.
And it’s a higher price point, so I can play around with more natural fibers; I can play around with real silk which is something that’s really great. So it’s allowed me to explore a new customer.
DnA: And has it satisfied your inner-classy Pasadena girl?
RLG: Yes, the classy Pasadena girl, but who likes to have fun. She likes to drink mimosas at brunch and talk a lot of trash. And she’ll be at the Echoplex later.
See a video of Rose La Grua’s runway show finale below.
This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.