Los Angeles Fashion Week came to a smashing end on April 2 as designer Louis Verdad capped off the week with a runway show that left a hopeful impression of the city's promising designers.

Verdad's show, the finale of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Smashobox Studios, was exactly what one would expect from one of tinsel town's standout designers: a glamorous and entertaining presentation--the stage was designed to resemble an elegant outdoor European sidewalk café set in the 1940's--and a stunning collection to match.

But the week of shows, which ran from March 29 - April 2, wasn't a total hit. In fact, aside from a handful of standout collections, including Verdad's, the week overall wasn't terribly impressive. On a positive note, designers like Petro Zillia, Corey Lynn Calter, Rami Kashou, Lords, Heike Jerick, Tyler and even denim labels Frankie B., Da-Nang and Joe's Jeans proved that Los Angeles is well on its way to becoming an exciting new focal point on the fashion map. But, without naming names, several shows did beg the question: who approved these designers for the runway? And what happened to the rest of the crop of talented designers of past seasons? Magda Berliner, Cornell Collins, David Cardona, Alicia Lawhon, Grey Ant and Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent.

Another question mark surrounded the event's space (or lack of). This year with the merge of brothers Dean and Davis Factor's Smashbox Studios with New York-based 7th on Sixth, one would have thought that the venue would have more to offer, like common area to sit, available food, a decent and more sizable press room and even a sponsored bar. Ironically, in past seasons, when Smashbox hosted shows independently, it was more on par with New York Fashion Week in terms of all of the above.

Even the venue's set-up felt a bit less feng-shui. To start, the one check-in area, at times, forced lines straight out the tents doors. And when it was crowded, the common area became so congested that there was literally no room to move. There was also the awkward walk to the smallest runway venue, the Lightbox, which passed you between tents and through a long hallway where the curtained and exclusive VIP lounge was located. Exiting the Lightbox was no treat either. During some shows, security made guests exit the venue entirely, forcing them onto the sidewalk outside and making them walk all the way around and back to the front door entrance. (This of course didn’t go over well with those wearing 4-inch high-heels.)

The VIP lounge was great. The area was comfortable, spacious and had plenty of seats and sofas to relax and absorb the lounge's retro modern décor. One could get a free massage, have their hair or makeup done (compliments of Smashbox Cosmetics and Redkin), sip free drinks and cocktails and nibble on free food (compliments of Asia de Cuba. Naturally though, the exclusive lounge required a special VIP lanyard and, to much surprise, some esteemed press didn’t even make the cut.

Back to the fashion though, the noteworthy fall/winter '04 collections were as diverse as the city itself, offering a stylish array of clothes to suit all tastes. From the casually cool jeans and t-shirt set to those who prefer something a bit more fabulous. Here's a highlight.

The term "Petrozillian" makes no sense to anyone who isn't familiar with designer Nony Tochterman and her women's contemporary label Petro Zillia. But that will hopefully change soon, as the designer shined this season with a delectable collection that mixed fruity colors with flirty silhouettes. Tochterman, stuck to her signature mix of technocolored prints and patterns. Stripes, plaids and florals on blouses, knit tops, skirts and dresses were paired with playful wool suitings and lady-like A-line skirts that were reminiscent of the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Tochterman polished her looks off with colorful wide wool ties, 1920's-style fedora and bucket hats trimmed with velvet sashes and vintage-esque handbags decorated with broaches. The designer herself was as colorful as her clothes. During her standing ovation she rode out on a pink Electra bike that matched her newly colored bubble gum pink hair and was of course wearing her signature thick framed colored glasses. Now there’s a true "Petrozillian" for you.

Just as fun was Corey Lynn Calter, whose collection also mirrored lady-like looks of past decades. Calter however, fused her clothes with an air of elegance, adding pretty accents like faux fur or pearl collars, embroidered caplettes and ribbon belts throughout. For day, Calter's mix of color and quirk resulted in cutesy prints on silk tops and circle skirts that were worn with cashmere cardigans and wool trousers. A few yellow silk chicken printed wrap tops, a yellow silk dress with an acorn print and an adorable car print on a bright red laminated raincoat were all standouts. As were the designer's olive colored jackets and anoraks and a purple velvet cocktail coat that were all belted with ribbon.

Austin, TX-based men's wear label Tomer took a high-tech approach to the season with a fall/winter show titled "Metropolis." Designer Tomer Gendler didn't steer far from his usual metro-meets-modernist aesthetic. His army of city-sleeker's sported red stripes across their eyes and stormed the runway in cleverly constructed button-up shirts--a blue/gray number had short vertical straps down the center of the shirt that encased a tie--pants and a few sharp looking suits, all in a colorless palette of black, white and gray. Gendler's accessories were noteworthy too. Especially his squared suspenders, high-tech double buckle belts and "double jewel" ties.

Lords, who is probably best known for its men’s retail store on the trendy Melrose Avenue strip, showed several handsome pin-stripe suits as well. Theirs however, were more suitable for the likes of rocker Dave Navarro, who opened the show wearing a red snake skin biker jacket and the most snug black snake skin pants. The rest of the collection—a myriad of pants and jackets in luxe skins like leather, deer, python and alligator--was pure Hollywood rock 'n roll. The collection, designed by Nabeel Jaber, Ron Anthony and Tony Sartino, also included a small, but growing, group of looks for women that included a winter white trench and trouser suit, a full-length gray strapless cashmere dress and several cashmere sweaters available for both her and him.

Denim labels held their weight during the week. Frankie B. and Joe’s Jeans secured coveted nighttime slots and both showed in the Main Tent, the largest of the 3 runway venues. Frankie B. designer Danielle Clarke hit the nail right on the head with her collection that epitomized that LA look. Clarke, who basically designs clothes that she wants to wear, featured a mixed cocktail that blended 1960’s and 70’s vintage rock—flattering denim pants, skirts and jackets and rich velvet blazers; beach bohemian babe—gauzy paisley dresses and paisley printed shirts; and shots of the Hollywood Hills high life—sexy silk charmeuse blouses and stunning diamond jewelry. The result was a genuinely solid and wearable collection with no funny additives to stir things up.

Da-Nang's "Surplus Indo-Chine" show stayed close to its origin as well. The label tried nothing more than showing the stylish safari surplus looks it's become popular for, resulting again in a tight collection of relaxed pinstripe suits, cargo trousers, cotton tops, distressed leather jackets and a few ruffled mini skirts.

Designer Joe Dahan won kudos for his Joe’s Jeans show. However, it wasn’t necessarily for the clothes. Granted, there was nothing wrong with them. But for a denim label known more for their great wearable jeans and trendy non-denim separates, Dahan was smart for staging something more theatrical that emphasized more than just his contemporary fashions. The choreographed show started with a small obscure, Shoalin Monk-like Asian man who, wearing a nothing but a loin cloth, contorted his body into a ball and slowly came to life on stage as the audience settled. The runway segment proceeded with models making their way down the stage in a dance-like zigzagging formation.

On the same night, denim label Rock & Republic staged an off-site runway show in the heart of Hollywood at a venue called Avalon (located inside the famous Palace Theater). The rock-'n- roll show packed the house, especially with the anticipated Master of Ceremonies, Tommy Lee. Unfortunately, Lee's appearance was just a short bow at the end of the show with designer Michael Ball. The clothes and models' attitudes were entertaining enough though. Nicky Hilton strutted her stuff on the runway. The hotel heiress showed some serious ass (if not too much) in a barely there mini skirt, one of many in this seasons collection. Versions came in leather, denim and pony skin. Ball incorporated a lot of leather into this collection and aside from a few men's motorcycle jackets and itty-bitty mini skirts, he also offered super sexy leather evening dresses that only a select few (like Tommy Lee's ex-wife, now girlfriend again, Pamela Anderson) could pull off wearing.

Speaking of off-site events, Gen Art featured a refreshingly different fashion installment by 3 cutting edge designers--Society For Rational Dress, Madley and Cosa Nostra--called "The New Garde." The event featured 3 separate freestanding art/runway installments where each designer showed their collections. The first set, Society For Rational Dress, was a maze of ladders and stairs where entranced models walked slowly up and down ensembles made of linen or silk and detailed with leather buckles and straps. Highlights included a fitted white linen jacket with pleats down the back, a small bustle of corsaged fabric at the tail and a thick leather belt that fastened around the waist. A similar asymmetrical pleated top with one leather strap at the shoulder was also impressive.

Madley's all white set with giant coral-like formations sprinkled with glitter resembled an underwater forest fantasy. The knitwear collection, known for its juxtaposition of materials, featured unique sweaters and capes with knitted patches of mixed media--sequins, vintage sweater scraps, tulle, lace, leather. The artistic yet wearable pieces were matched with simpler knit skirts, dresses and leggings.

Cosa Nostra's eerie post-apocalyptic-meets-punk-rock presentation was perhaps the most innovative though. The creepy set design evoked thoughts of Armageddon with a cold abandoned world scene filled with dead branches and metal barrels. Models looked almost non-human with painted white faces and tweaked circus makeup. Big ratted hair and head bandages made of black cloth, safety pins and metal, added more to their obscurity. But it was the metal braces and casts that models wore on limbs like cripples--a prop that either completely offended or inspired onlookers--that really made the impact. The clothes were good too. Men's and women's punkish denim and leather pants; tops and skirts embellished with safety pins and studs; and some really cool jackets. Deconstructed army styles with laces up the back; a hooded distressed leather with zipper edges; a denim jacket with patches and studs; and a plaid wool coat, distressed of course.

On the other end of spectrum there was designer Louis Verdad, who closed Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Smashbox Studios with another memorable show. His however, was filled with pure glamour and simply gorgeous clothes. The backdrop was set sometime between the 1930's and 40's at a charming European outdoor café. The show started off with two gangster-looking hunks playing the role of machismo men on the prowl. And the two definitely looked the part, wearing pleated trousers, a white wife-beater, corsets that resembled a wide cummerbund and plaid newsboy caps. While the two talked amongst themselves, sitting at a table off to the side, Verdad's femme fatales hit the runway flirting and teasing the ogling men. Verdad, who was practically catapulted onto fashion's radar after Madonna and Cate Blanchette were photographed wearing his tailored tweed ensembles, created familiar retro infused looks he's become so known for. Slim wool gabardine suitings in black, chocolate, olive and taupe; high-waisted skirts—a jade green number was paired with a navy and white polka-dot cape back blouse; and flattering wide-leg trousers. His eveningwear was also a feast for the eyes. And whether it was his black and white tuxedo looks or all black gowns accessorized with Neil Lane diamonds, all and all, it’s safe to say that his flawless show couldn’t have been a better ending to the week.

--Joselle Yokogawa