Leather and Lace

Left: Designer Diane von Furstenberg. Right: Designer Kate Mulleavy, Elijah Wood, and designer Laura Mulleavy. (All photos: Billy Farrell)

THE EVENING PREVIEW OF THE RODARTE SHOW BEGAN early Wednesday at LA MoCA’s bunker outpost in the Pacific Design Center’s plaza where all attendees had to navigate their way past the monolithic tent city that was being erected to host Elton John’s Oscar party mere days (now hours) away. It might have just been the cranes and forklifts plugging away outside around the clock, but you could feel the subterranean rumbling of the industry––half of the crowd beginning to rev up for the weekend’s bigger, flashier parties to come. Oscar buzz was beyond palpable, not only because Hollywood’s spring of self-love was about to reach its fever-pitch, but because many of the finely wrought, hand-crafted Rodarte specimens on view had been designed for and featured in the awards-show frontrunner, Black Swan.

Entering through the cryptlike ground floor, previewers of the show first encountered a clustered display of gorgeous, ghoulish black dresses (Rodarte Spring 2010) and Black Swan tutus suspended from the ceiling: each a whirlwind of feathers, stamped and crimped leather, distressed cheesecloth, gauzy tulle, and crystal embroidery. We made our way up the stairs into the main gallery that had a grand hall feel, humming with fashionistas murmuring in French and overheated by the bright pop of flash bulbs. At one end of the gallery a levitating group of pristine white gowns (Fall 2010) dripped with pearls and lace calling to mind a rising ghost lit from beneath as if by the glory of God, while similar dresses (Fall 2008) on the other end were bloodied with red stains and cherry marbling that conjured a violent Carrie effect. The fluorescent tube lighting of the show (designed by longtime Rodarte collaborator Alexandre de Betak) pulsed on and off, dimming from bright white glare to black-light ambience. Faint crimson bulbs slowly glowed on periodically like HAL awaking from a dream. It played like Dan Flavin with Tourette’s, or the sinister swinging bar scene in any movie from Mean Streets to Black Swan, or a haunted fair attraction tempting teens to clutch each other tightly in some youthful “purple drank” infused haze. All the while, Jeffrey Deitch fluttered about the room like a bespectacled moth, looking softly into peoples’ souls for a flicker of flame, a pleasant quarter-smile fixed on his face.

Left: Lisa Love with dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Nadja Swarovski.

Local art-world aristocracy played dress up and mixed with the high-minded fringe of the fashion world as smoothly as a crawdad dissolving into Wolfgang Puck’s paella (on the Governor’s Ball menu this year). Mostly, the demographic was cut from the cloth of LA’s patron class, the upper crust of collectors, trustees, and museum directors with all three major contemporary art institutions represented—Michael Govan of LACMA, Annie Philbin of the Hammer, and, of course, MoCA’s Deitch. MoCA trustees John Baldessari and Catherine Opie anchored celebrity to art-stardom and Shaun Caley Regen’s perennial elegance offered the surest bridge between the art, fashion, and movie worlds. But, really, no matter how understated, underdressed, and endearingly unassuming they are, the night’s spotlight was shining entirely for the talented, autodidact Mulleavy sisters, Kate and Laura, whose much-lauded Rodarte creations are being exhibited here for the first time on the West Coast.

Both received the attention gracefully, though Kate, for one, showed her heart lies elsewhere with her characteristically casual dress, sporting a Doors T-shirt and bedazzled black zip-up sweatshirt as though she just came from a Guitar Hero II all-nighter.

Stepping out for air, it was a downright chilly SoCal night, the temperature hovering near a teeth-chattering 60 degrees which meant plenty of young, skinny girls dressed in tiny skirts and goosebumps accompanied by dark-suited gentlemen with tailored black pea coats and scarves swished with dramatic flair. The best people-watching was by far the array of fancy motherhens plumed with couture Rodarte dresses in faux wood-grain print, arm cuffs, pressed leather, dyed chiffon, and avant-garde ragamuffin sweater dresses woven in the Mulleavy’s signature cobweb wool. Diane Von Furstenberg glided through the eye candy, lifted by the airy waves of her coiffed frizz and donning conspicuously large sunglasses, at once perfectly fitting into the crowd and popping out like a calico cat in a room full of albinos.

Left: Colleen Bell, artist Catherine Opie, and Katherine Ross. Right: Artist John Baldessari with collector Irving Blum.

Time for dinner and off to Mr. Chow’s deep in the loins of Beverly Hills, where more than 150 guests took over the restaurant. The sexual tension in the room was so palpable you could wrap it in lettuce, dunk it in soy sauce, and take a big, crunchy bite out of it along with the other appetizers (Note: the waiters were quite diligent about keeping everyone’s wine glasses full—very full and there is a good chance we could be mistaking sexual tension for Mr. Chow’s spicy chicken, but either way the room vibed woozily electric.) Looking quite debonair in a turquoise velvet blazer, Elijah Wood waxed poetic with tablemate Kate (Mulleavy) about the politicking on American Idol while our dinner table reminisced fondly about Brian Dunkleman—What ever happened to him and when was the last time his name was uttered anywhere near Hollywood, other than at the DMV renewal desk? Keeping it real into the night, Team Mulleavy was well represented across the board by stylist Shirley Kurata, artist Elliott Hundley, Ooga Booga’s dashing impresario Wendy Yao, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice of band Jenny and Johnny, and No Age’s Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, among others.

As dessert was served and guests began to depart, the obscure coordinates of some hush-hush afterparty circulated among the twenty- and thirty-somethings. Down a nefarious alley and behind a dumpster, we arrived at a backdoor where the starry-eyed, don’t-stop-believing contingent ended up. A snooty, pony-tailed bouncer gravely clutched a list and barred entrance to this secret, unmarked club as a few daytime models/nighttime bar-stragglers loitered and checked nothing at all on their smartphones. Lacking the energy for a check-the-list-again standoff, we left without delay. All of its back-alley mystique couldn’t overcome the mundane fact that this intersection is the exact center of the Hollywood farmer’s market and, come Sundays, this is where homeless Rastafarians play bongos and we buy organic baba ghanoush from a sullen man named Tito who smells like sauerkraut.

Left: Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and China Chow. Right: Collector Dasha Zhukova.