Smashbox or Bust: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles

A sampling of what’s in store-and who’s on board-for the fall 2008 collections at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles.

By Mariel Rittenhouse


Los Angeles is coping with a wardrobe malfunction. Despite encompassing the brightest constellation of celebrities and a wellspring of gifted designers, the City of Angels has historically occupied the fringe of the inner fashion sanctum. We look west to ogle what the stars are wearing on the red carpet, yet much of the homegrown talent flocks east to Manhattan to apprentice in an atelier of a major label or present at Bryant Park. New York has fashion; Los Angeles has film.

Part of the problem is that the mid-March timing of Los Angeles’ fashion week at Smashbox Studios puts it a full month after New York’s and at the tail end of the European shows-at that point, the A-list is just plain tired. But Los Angeles is slowly eking her way into the good graces of fashion’s elite, partly because California style is a bird of an entirely different feather, and in fashion, different is good.

Designer Sue Wong, who consistently presents at Smashbox, says, “L.A. offers more of a maverick energy; it’s a newer energy so you’re likely to have more experimentation. There are no rules.”

So although Los Angeles still sees its fair share of designers come and go, rest assured, the city is rife with staunch supporters who’ve planted their heels firmly in place. For Kevan Hall, Whitley Kros, and Monarchy, it’s Smashbox or bust.

Kevan Hall

Arguably one of the most represented Los Angeles designers on the red carpet, Kevan Hall has dressed everyone from Felicity Huffman and Debra Messing to Halle Berry and Renée Zellweger. The Detroit-born former creative director of Halston has garnered international acclaim for his signature Kevan Hall Collection, but he’s found his niche on the West Coast.

According to Hall, what differentiates Los Angeles sartorially is “its lifestyle-L.A. has a great relaxed sort of lifestyle. People do dress up, but it’s in a different way, it’s a mixed way of putting a day look and evening look together. It’s a little more eclectic.”

Hall also attributes his success to the everlasting awards season: “There’s no bigger runway than the red carpet. It’s been an important part of how we’ve branded our collection; we’ve built awareness by working with celebrities.” It’s no easy feat, but with the surplus of tabloids trumpeting fashion dos and don’ts, it’s one of the fastest ways to get noticed.

Ever loyal to Los Angeles, Hall’s gearing up to showcase his fall (FW08) collection at Smashbox this month. While his spring (SS08) collection found its muse in African tribes like the Dinka and Maasai, for FW08, Hall is revisiting Théâtre de la Mode wherein Parisian couturiers banded together after WWII to revive the fashion industry by creating an exhibition of couture in miniature.

Hall’s full-size interpretations “will look back at couture from the 1940s with full detailing and very elaborate flourishes.” The collection will undoubtedly find a home on the heavenly bodies of Hollywood’s elite.

Whitley Kros

While Hall has 26 years of experience under his belt, Sophia Coloma and Marissa Ribisi-the designers behind Whitley Kros-are fresh from presenting their very first collection at Smashbox Studios this past October.
Ribisi, wife of music man Beck and twin sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi, and Coloma, a born-and-bred Aussie, met through friends five years ago and immediately gravitated towards one another’s style-so much so that they partnered up and launched a clothing company.

Whitley Kros-a hybrid of street names in Los Angeles and Sydney-isn’t just a label, she’s a character: a woman the duo conjured up to embody their vision. Coloma elaborates, “Whitley’s a mixture of rock ‘n’ roll, sophistication and poetry, she’s this timeless gypsy. She travels around the world and her wardrobe is always inspired by where she is.”

Their SS08 collection exploded on the scene with a punchy mix of rainbow brights inspired by the Fiji Rock Festival in Japan. And despite “making every mistake you could possibly make,” says Ribisi, Whitley Kros will be back for another round on the runway this month. Coloma adds, “We really believe that over the next 10 years L.A. Fashion Week will build up and be really big. We just supporting L.A., it’s totally who we are.”
Their FW08 collection is inspired by Whitley’s trips to Berlin and Paris. Ribisi says, “The concept is Nirvana meets Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. There’s a knit jumpsuit for the airplane, a suit for a business meeting in Paris, cool t-shirts and grungy clothes for a rock concert.” And like their debut, this collection will also be peacocked against the backdrop of Beck’s musical stylings.

“Where before it was a little edgier, at this point it’s a little more sophisticated. It’s just the evolution of it.”


In a town ruled by denim and tees, Monarchy is king. The label, established by Eric Kim, is beloved by boldfaces like Ashton Kutcher, Kelly Osbourne, Tommy Lee, and Laura Prepon for its edgy, diverse aesthetic-an aesthetic that has been aped by wannabes.

Kim opines, “At this point I can’t go into any store without seeing something that looks similar to a Monarchy tee, it’s so bastardized. Everyone from Target on to the surf guys has pretty much ripped off what we once did.”
But Monarchy is no one-trick pony. While conjuring up his SS08 collection, Kim says, “I got tired of denim. I just felt the market was full of overcooked looks so I tried to tone that down.” What resulted from his exasperation was a clean-cut collection of American classics-like slacks, cardigans, vests, and Bermuda shorts-with attitude, of course.

Straying even further from his roots, Monarchy’s FW08 collection is inspired by Scandinavia. Kim explains, “There’s a lot of layering, a lot of wools and cashmeres. Where before it was a little edgier, at this point it’s a little more sophisticated. It’s just the evolution of it.”

But for his hardcore handmade denim fanatics, Kim reassures that he won’t be leaving them stranded. “It’s not like we’re going to abandon what we’re known for, our core look, which is heavily layered prints and embellishments. We’ll continue to do that too.” A revolution doesn’t happen overnight.