This weekend the California Design Biennial: Action/Reaction opens at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. For the first time in 2010, instead of a juried competition, CDB invited design world notables to curate different categories from Graphic and Product Design to Architecture. We asked journalist Rose Apodaca, Fashion curator for the CDB and owner of Abbot Kinney design store A+R, for her thoughts on the exhibition and California design.
How would you characterize California Design?
Design birthed in California-be it cars or clothes-is really design informed by the world-at-large: Those who choose to live and create here do so because of the rich influences of cultures, ethnicities and, most crucially, ideas that are encouraged to thrive here. This is a place where experimentation is celebrated, rebellion is cherished and independence is a birthright. You see it in the D.I.Y. spirit that lets Californians believe it's perfectly normal to start a computer or music company in their garage, to make a living throwing pots or shaping surfboards, or to be able to touch a star with their own dress design. This has been true of the Golden State long before I arrived here in 1968, and never more so than right now.
What are some of the trends you have seen over the past two years? In fashion and design in general?
Social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges are not new, but they seem all the more heightened in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, which the world is still coping with, and, more recently the catastrophic crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. So many of the trends that have floated to the top inevitably are ones coping with these issues. It's because of this I rallied my fellow curators around the Action/Reaction title for the show. There are some very influential, exciting contributions going on with so many designers and brands based here, billion-dollar companies, included. But I'm shining the spotlight on the wave of individuals who are forcing a shift in the way we think of this very essential part of our lives, clothes. These 11 are emphasizing craftsmanship, artistry, technique and innovation instead of going the route of fast fashion. And by doing so, they are producing locally, even supporting endangered artisanal skills otherwise lost in the mass-manufacturing machine. To wit, being "green" doesn't have to mean buying fashion made from organic materials-especially if that item is too trendy or not made well enough to sustain normal wear and tear. Just as an increasing number of consumers are adjusting their thinking, shopping habits and budgets to source food raised locally and ethically, the approach is extending to other areas-in this case, a kind of "slow fashion" movement that began emerging before the Great Recession. Being "green" can be about quality over quantity. The 11 that I curated for the show are among this fundamental shift in fashion-really, in design in general-that is advancing D.I.Y. alternatives for everyone. After all, you, too can try repurposing or making something from scratch at home. That maverick, can-do ethos is a very California perspective.
How did you select the fashion pieces for this year's Biennial?
It was a collaboration between the designers and myself. Although I was familiar with most of the designers and their work spaces, I visited each one and together we decided on what clothes and accessories and even installations would best convey their skill, vision and end product to visitors. While some of these designers are known in their micro-communities-whether it's an elite group of rock stylists who commission work from them, or fashion insiders who seek them out-they are news to much of the broader audiences. California, L.A., is not just about red carpet dazzle and surf shorts, as incredible as those categories can be. I want this show to be yet another reminder of what is also happening here and how it's powerfully, albeit quietly, impacting the way the world views fashion across the board, and not just from here.
Who are some of your favorite new designers that will be showcased?
That's like asking me what child do I love best! Each of the 11 showcased has his or her own unique vision, and, for me, a unique reason for being included in this four-month show. There is such extravagant artistry in the ornate handbags by Raven Kauffman and the costumes and accessories by Michael Schmidt; and I'm impressed by the fact that George Esquivel and Calleen Cordero manage to keep factories right here in Anaheim and North Hollywood, respectively, where they handmake shoes. Somewhat new on my radar in recent months is Michel Berandi and Tanya Aguiniga from L.A., and gr.dano from San Francisco; but this experience also forced me to dig deeper on designers who I was familiar enough with, but felt I had to investigate further to determine whether they should make the cut, among them Koi Suwannagate, Annie Costello Brown, Gregory Parkinson and Strange Invisible Perfumes. SIP is the first beauty entrant ever in the Biennial, and the Santa Monica botanical perfumery harvests some of its ingredients from creator Alexandra Balhoutis' family farm in Ojai.
What are some of your favorite resources for finding out about contemporary design?
Contemporary fashion design? None of these designers are in that category, which is a very specific label. Regardless of the category, and even beyond fashion-since sourcing product design is what I do daily as half of the modern design retailer A+R-my sourcing approach is manifold and relentless. Neither I or my other half, Andy Griffith, is ever in "off" mode as we hear about new anything-in interiors, art, entertainment, industrial design or fashion. We talk to everyone, read everything and, if it piques our interest, check it out. As a journalist for two-odd decades, I was always among the very first to write about a new discovery in California, or appoint someone on my staff to do so. I took pride in doing so. Sadly, too many fashion or design writers rely on publicists or published material to learn about the Next Big Thing, instead of doing the grunt work themselves. But where's the fun in that?
Cotton Pleated Dress with Sun Bleached Accent by Gregory Parkinson
Ale Noir Pouchette by Raven Kauffman
First Earth Battalion: Concept Sketches for Baccarat Crystal by Michel Berandi
Handmade Boot by George Esquivel for Esquivel Shoes
Rose Apodaca is a pop culture and style journalist and co-owner of A+R, the design retail lab and leading launchpad of modern designers to the North American market. Former west coast bureau chief of fashion-industry bible WWD and W, and co-creator of The Los Angeles Times style section, "Image," she continues to contribute to major fashion titles and regularly covers all aspects of design and lifestyle in her popular blog, La Vie en Rose. She is following up her New York Times bestseller with celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, with a biography on Fred Hayman, co-founder of Giorgio Beverly Hills and marketing architect of Rodeo Drive; and a beauty book with neo-burlesque queen and style icon, Dita Von Teese. Rose is fashion curator of the 2010 California Biennial at the Pasadena Museum of California Art; and is producer on Get Hubbied, a collaboration by multimedia provocateur Bettina Hubby and three dozen artists including Ed Ruscha, Karen Kimmel, Skip Arnold and architect Barbara Bestor.
(Front Page photo: Swarovski-Soldered Aviator Sunglasses for Dita Von Teese by Michael Schmidt)