Tuesday, September 6, 2016

No Holds Barred: The Next Fashion

My Johnny Was "Dealers" Store Manager Kristin Heltne (center) and Sales Associate Brittany Blandford (right).
By Blair Sabol
Photographs by Patrick Halbe


To me, Los Angeles was always the originator of “casual chic” as a lifestyle and a look. Wasn’t California the home of real “sportswear?” Especially the beaches. If St. Tropez discovered the string bikini and Jack Rogers sandals, then Malibu gave us gauzy white tops, surfer gear, and gypsy skirts. What did the Hamptons ever give us? Distressed jeans and baseball caps? Hardly. Even that came from LA’s Compton Hood.

After all, Los Angeles had the free and easy life, and certainly the creativity to produce a Rudi Gernriech and his topless bathing suit and his great swing mini dresses. There was even Elvis’ couturier – Nudie – The glitz Hollywood Rodeo designer who did all of Elvis’ studded high collared jumpsuits. It was all about Burbank’s Western Costume Company meets Bullocks Wilshire.
Rudi Gernreich's monokini, conceived in 1964.
In the Seventies, it was the era of the Daisy discotheque and great Beverly Hills boutiques like Jax (the originator of the real slim zippered slacks that Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O. wore). There was the infamous Giorgio where Gale and Fred Hayman served you Dom Perignon from 10 AM to 10 PM while you cruised the racks with Sammy Davis and Joey Bishop. Dick Dorso and his wife Betty ruled Camden Drive and Jack Nicholson got his suede jackets there while Warren Beatty strutted his Gene Shacove (“Shampoo”) Seventies look of open chested, tight jean shirts. And everywhere groupies wore crocheted vests and bell-bottom hip huggers. Then there was Carroll and Company who held down the Reagan Conservative approach to casual California “suiting.”
Clockwise from above, left: Marilyn Monroe in head-to-toe Jax; Thea Porter (right) with Gale and Fred Hayman; Warren Beatty open-chested in "Shampoo."
Now where has all that Sunset style gone? Most of it has diminished like everything else. “Sportswear” has become “Athleisure” wear, which has disintegrated into slob appeal of leggings, tank tops, and greasy ponytails and man buns. And every fat double-decker body is squeezed into Spanx and Spandex!

The yoga explosion has done terrible things to the fashion of every city but especially Los Angeles. I preferred the era when Angie Dickinson would show up at Johnny Carson’s tennis court in a classy white skirt. Now we have Serena Williams getting criticized for a badly fitted “squished uni-boob” tennis dress — which she designed! And I don’t hear about chic “looking” LA tennis parties anymore á la Johnny Carson!
Angie holding "court" on Johnny.
Nowadays you can walk down one block in Beverly Hills and find 3 yoga stores. Not just Lululemon, but Yogasmoga and now ALO — a city block yoga “complex.” Their line is high end typical $120 for “elevator tights” and $60 sports “enhancing” bras (do plastic boobs need enhancing?) Their tops feature the popular “spider back” straps that no one can really wear.
Lululemon in Beverly Hills.
Yogasmoga Beverly Hills store window.
Alo storefront, a yoga complex in Beverly Hills.
Behind the Alo showroom is a big bar/restaurant featuring Kombucha (fermented mushrooms) “mocktails” (that drink makes the whole store stink of moldy socks). Of course there is a yoga studio on the second floor. The day I was there (Saturday afternoon) no one was shopping or sipping or stretching. But this place seems to be the perfect metaphor for the current California lifestyle. Expensive and delusional.
Spider back yoga top at Alo. "Elevator wrap" leggings at Alo.
Alo's Kombucha bar.
This look of everyone walking around in bras and tights has become an ugly epidemic. The truth is, NOT everyone is “spinning” or doing a “flow class” or “boot camp.” As far as “looking sexy” goes, not everyone has the body for spandex — even Madonna looks ravaged and dehydrated and her “abs” are considered “cut.”

I know it is has been 90 degrees everywhere and one fashionista called the bare athleisure look a visual way to say “touch me or f**k me.” Bare midriffs, tattooed shoulders and asscracks, triple D bra tops are now the norm. But it’s not sexy or even “cheeky.” It’s just “sweaty” and definitely disgusting. I doubt Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren would have sashayed down Rodeo Drive (in their day) in low rise pink camouflage leggings and a spider back bra.
"Do you have to have a reason for loving?"
"Mistakes are a part of the dues one pays for a full life."
So what is the antidote to such visual grossness? I think it is the return of Boho Couture. Another original LA trend. It is now a perennial look. It is more than just Stevie Nicks and the multi patterned layers of the Olson Twins. The vibrant colors and flowing silhouettes have allowed women of all shapes and ages to feel glamorous and most of all comfortable without looking like slobs.
Stevie Nicks — "More exciting then high fashion? High passion!"
It may have started in the '70s with Cher and Goldie Hawn and the rock and roll groupies – but now it has exploded into “Coachella Couture” and “Burning Man” global appeal.

In New York it was Donna Karan and her attempt at Zen merchandising and even the Calypso stores that kept the bohemian beat going. But nowadays, we have more “Indie” stores and designers and even Flea Market vendors that are holding the tribal flag high for real artisanal creativity.
Shelly Litvak is a 39-year-old native Angelino jewelry and bag designer who has been popular in selling her look of leather pendants (skulls, Bengal tigers, Lalique crystals etc.) and bags for the last ten years at LA’s Fred Segal and Maxfield Bleu. She is now re-inventing her line (marsandlove.com) and her fringed “leathers” are now biodegradable polyurethane — recycled metallic “good fake leathers.”
LA Jeweler Shelly Litvak wearing her lalique pendant.
Meanwhile, her mother Dalia Litvak is a notorious Bundy Drive flea market seller of the greatest pearls and cubic zirconia necklaces with antique pendants. Her work is on display at dalialitvak.com. This is a mother/daughter bohemian accessory act that is tough to beat, and very “today LA.”
Dalia and daughter Shelly Litvak working on their Boho line.
Dalia Litvak's cubic zirconia necklaces.
Dalia Litvak modeling her mens leather bracelets.
Shelly Litvak pearls and pendant necklace.
Shelly Litvak — pearls, leather and pendants.
Meanwhile, at Pippa Small Jewelry at 225 26th St. in Santa Monica, I saw some SERIOUS and popular Boho natural gem anklets but most incredible were her cascading chunky gem necklaces. She has one necklace for $18,000 of an actual opening gold and ruby flower. It is “mechanical” in that it actually opens and closes (blooms) as you wear it! Pippa Small Jewelry is huge in Notting Hill in London and a big Hampton Trunk show store and is about to open September 8th with a space at ABC Carpet (by the way, to me, ABC Carpet, World Market and Costco are the best Boho tribal outlets in all of America).
Pippa Small storefront in Santa Monica.
Marcia Firesten, US Director of Retail for Pippa Small at the Santa Monica location.
Pippa Small's gem necklaces.
Pippa's rings inspired by ancient Greek, traditional Tibetan and Indian designs.
Ruby/gold blossom pendant that "blooms as you wear it!
Pippa Small.
In Los Angeles, it seems like every boutique along Robertson Boulevard and Montana Avenue in Los Angeles sells Tibetan beaded prayer necklaces and pull string message bracelets.
Expensive "pull string" gold bracelets are everywhere in Beverly Hills.
But Larissa Love Cosmetics (1129 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica) was the only one that actually features all that and makes her own face and body creams — she calls her Santal candle her “earthy Boho” scent. I didn’t know there was a Boho smell, but Larissa has it in perfume and candles and creams. It is simply Musk, Leather, and Lemongrass. We have come a long way from Patchouli and Vanilla. There is no alcohol in the perfume and no fake ingredients in the creams. The $85 candle burns clean in a soy base, which keeps its unusual aroma, and is nowhere near as complicated as Tom Ford’s version for $100.
Larissa Love in her Santa Monica store of Boho creams and scents
But for me — the Boho store exploding at the moment is Johnny Was. Israeli-born Eli Levite started the line in 1987. The name came from a Bob Marley tune with the line “Johnny was a good man.” As Levite says, “Just like the universal and timeless appeal of a great song, the Johnny Was line is about clothes that cross cultures and defy trends. With a bohemian spirit and a true sense of authenticity that is timeless — we are all about embroidery, luxurious fabrics and the juxtaposition between modern and vintage. The silhouettes are all effortless.”
Johnny Was storefront in Santa Monica.
Maritza Arrua, Director of Store Operations at Johnny Was Santa Monica.
Decorative scarves hanging like banners at Johnny Was.
A typical table of Johnny Was Boho merchandise.
Embroidered Johnny Was tote.
Bag tassels and bracelets at Johnny Was.
Johnny Was new Boho line of shoes.
I discovered the retail store in my Scottsdale hometown, but now they are in Austin, Palm Beach, Boca Raton and soon in Boston (johnnywas.com). The stores are all different, but attention to a “souk setting” is crucial. They sell everything from tunic tops to blouses to one-of-a-kind Kimonos, to patchwork denim, and their infamous silk scarves hang like banners from the ceilings. All the fabric has influences of Ukraine, Asia, South America and Scandinavia. They are selling a luxurious gypsy lifestyle and they have become hugely successful.

Johnny Was is far from Free People (your daughter’s peasant blouse and leather chokers) or Anthropology (a vintage hodge-podge) or Chan Luu (how many wrap, bead ‘n leather and cashmere wraps can we stand?)
Free People, your daughter's Boho store.
Samples of Free People's younger Boho fashion.
Chan Luu typical jewelry.
Chan Luu scarf rack.
I found out about Johnny Was through iconic Boho style mega-star Ali MacGraw. A year ago I asked her where to find a great white embroidered shirt. She said, “Johnny Was is it — because their embroidery goes all around the shirt and not just the front.” I arrived at my Scottsdale store and was horrified at the price ($218). I ended up buying 3 different shirts in 25 minutes. I couldn’t help myself. I became addicted. How could you not? The sales girls Kristin and Brittany have become my “dealers.” At least they keep me buying a different style each time, and now I have 10 of them! Plus scarves, totes, and on and on ...
Johnny Was in Scottsdale.
Although Was is a family owned business (Eli and his children and wife are the leaders), the Levites designers Biya Ramar, Christie Whitley and Teresa McAllen work together and individually to give the line its eclectic direction. They produce over 100 new pieces a month. By the way, even Ramar’s hair is braided like her embroidery.
Biya Rumar in her "embroidered hair" braids.
It dawned on me the reason Boho is back as the alternative to Athleisure wear is that it is loose, all purpose, romantic, and a throwback to a luxurious feeling. Plus the fabrics are silk and not rayon or spandex or polyester.
The latest in colorful embroidered totes. Signature Biya embroidered white shirt.
Yokito Top in Kimona Silk, $245; Eli Braided and Tasseled necklace, $65. Velvet embroidered shirt, $275.
Silk Scarves as banners.
Velvet Pillows.
And though some may feel the whole haute Boho trend is merely glorified pajamas, I say it is as classic as jeans and a motorcycle jacket. Johnny Was covers a lot of cultures from Turkish Gypsy to English Victorian – from tie-dye to florals and prints, from silks to velvets. As one woman in the next tented dressing room to mine blurted out, “I thought these were just overpriced schmattas – my God, I love this!”
Kristin Heltne in head-to-toe Johnny Was. Auva Embroidered Wrap Coat, $776.
And as for the Boho fad becoming overdone — even the Kardashians couldn’t destroy it with their own global gypsy rendition of bosom-to-butt exploding goddess floor length chiffon dress. As one blogger observed, “The Kardashians are not Boho chic — that’s Hobo whore — and even Caitlyn Jenner wouldn’t do that.”
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