By Tim Parks
When you think about fashion, it’s natural for a few key words to spring immediately to mind: models, runways, clothing and fashion shows. And, when you pause even further to dwell on the subject matter at hand; there are a number of cities that are widely affiliated with being couture capitals: Paris, Milan, London, New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Yes, you read that last part correctly; it is not a typo, as high fashion can happen among the flip flops, shorts and tank tops, which we consider to be event appropriate apparel.
Our own fair hamlet has its own share of fashionable denizens, prominent designers, a plethora of boutiques and even the ability to stage its own New York City-style type of fashion shows, for both women and men. San Diego Uptown News turned to two San Diego-based fashion companies, G.O. Fashion and Rufskin, to get the lowdown on what exactly is entailed in putting together a “Project Runway”- type of show.
In a fashion sense, there are very similar practices in perfecting the art of the catwalk. Naturally, there are a few marked differences, as well, between prepping the two sexes for their strut time.
Since we are a well-mannered publication, we took a ladies first approach and asked new kids on the block, G.O. Fashion, about how their first female-based fashion event came about. Glenn Osbourne, Michelle Garcia and Casey Blatt (the team behind G.O.), all share a mutual love for being in vogue, which dates back to their younger years. 23-year-old Garcia explained that her fashion obsession emanated from when she “used to play with Barbies, and line them up and take their pictures when I was nine,” which she later parlayed into a job with Betsey Johnson’s Las Vegas-based boutique, while Blatt can trace her style roots back to the adage of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“Since middle school, my mother has been a powerful force in the San Diego fashion industry, starting one of the first major high-end clothing boutiques in North County San Diego,” she recanted. “I have always had a part in the family’s business and have used my passion for fashion to contribute to the Tobi Blatt empire’s visual merchandising, buying, and styling since a very young age.”
For 23-year-old Osbourne, his younger years weren’t really all that long ago, as far as his start in the industry and age are concerned. “In college, I tried to put on a fashion show for the Greek System,” he recalled. “And a week before the big festival for the Greek System in the spring, the school closed my fraternity house. And I was told that we couldn’t have any events outside of the campus, which is where my show was, so I had to cancel everything. Two years went by before another opportunity presented itself.”
The opportunity, of which Osbourne refers to, is when the trio (along with Gretchen Productions) got their proverbial feet wet (although it wasn’t 23-year-old Blatt’s first time of being on the production end of things) at “Runway At The Park” in March of this year. However, first G.O. Fashions had to come up with what that they wanted to convey wordlessly through the fabrics, which would adorn the models and inform the entire show itself, which ended up being a ten month-long labor of love.
“It’s everything from getting your concept and creating your story, to executing it, to pulling in your beauty team with hair and make-up and styling; so that everything’s cohesive with the story that you’re wanting to tell,” Garcia explained. “That’s the most important part, is telling your story. Once you have that and you tell it, it all just seems to come together, the music…”
“Yeah, the music, everything, the choreography – it comes alive,” Osbourne interjected. “In a fashion show, you go in there to not only see the clothes, but you’re there for the environment. You’re there for the intimacy of the show and it really draws you in, all of the music outside, the lighting, the furniture, the people, the vibe – it takes you to an enchanting place in fashion, if you will.”
“This was the first show I had done on my own, without my family’s brand behind me, and was the first large scale fashion show I had produced in the public eye,” Blatt added. “Besides the sourcing out of designers, models and hands it took to physically get the runway built, most of the stress came the day of the show, as we were tying together all the loose ends, and paying all of our attention to the details that seem to escape the mind in the months leading up to the event. The good thing is my partners and I thrive off of that chaos.”
The event, held at the Park Manor Suites penthouse area, featured designs by Betsey Johnson, Tracy Jean, and previous “Project Runway” and current San Diego resident Gordana Gehlhausen. Of course, models are needed to people the catwalk, which is a job unto itself, as Osbourne explained.
“They leave it for the team to cast; because they (the designers) kind of give you an idea of what’s going to look great with that particular piece,” Osbourne said. “With G.O. Fashion being both P.R. and production, our vision is what the designer wants,” Garcia added. “So, when they’re coming to us; they’re going to trust us with what exactly what their vision is, and basically taking that and times it by a million; and really bringing their vision and our vision to life together.”
Understandably so, the threesome (even seasoned pro Blatt) was wracked with nervousness about what could potentially go wrong with their endeavor. “There’s a lot of pulling out your hair,” Garcia said with a laugh.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Gretchen Bergman of Gretchen Productions,” Osbourne admitted. “She came through and she just picked up the reigns. But, I was crazy; I was doing everything. We had problems with models and I had to go take care of that. I had problems getting people from Bloomingdale’s in the front door; all of it was coming down at one time. I wanted to make sure people were sitting in the right places, and I wanted to make sure that the guests were happy; because at a fashion show it needs to be perfect.”
“I think the basic fear before a show is for all your worst nightmares to come true,” Blatt stressed. “My only real fear as the lights went on was that others wouldn’t understand our perspective. Glenn and my love for fashion and production are unique in the sense that we see things differently, but have mastered the art of blending our views together into something that is completely fresh, inspiring, and multifaceted.”
Since San Diego’s fashion landscape is a wee bit malnourished and requires a much-needed shot in the arm, the G.O. Fashion squad could be the ones to administer it to the community-at-large, with their bedside manners of intuitiveness, attention and hard-work.
“San Diego needs a fashion scene, a real fashion week,” Osbourne said. “There’s fashion shows that are around and fashion presentations, but, to say the least, they don’t really represent the fashion industry here in San Diego very well.”
“Thankfully, the 250+ guests at our debut show can affirm, that what we have come up with is something that we have always known San Diego has been craving,” Blatt agreed.
“People have this pre-conceived notion that San Diego is casual, and we do love our jeans and flip flops, and that’s great,” Garcia concurred. “But what I’ve heard from people, and my personal opinion, is that if it were here and people brought that sense of high energy fashion to San Diego; they want it, but it’s not available. “And that’s what we want; we want to make it available to that crowd of people, who are just yearning for that fashion. We don’t want to have to drive to L.A., we don’t want to fly to New York –we want that same style here, and have the two styles (jeans/flip flops and haute couture) coincide with one another.”
Rufskin’s Jason Wimberly is in charge of more than just slapping on a pair of the 8-year-old North Park company’s trademark denim, underwear, and swimwear on a male model, prior to sending them on their merry little way down the runway. They don’t just name anyone to be their Global Sales Director – still he does have his hands in the runway game.
The 27-year-old was gracious enough to tell us about how he found his way into a tailor-made career, “by winging it as a young kid,” when he was 19 and owned a boutique on Fifth Avenue. However, he jumped onto a bigger ship when Neiman Marcus enlisted his aid as a “modernist specialist,” and gave him the challenge of raising Gucci sales by 20% in one year’s time. The ever-industrious Wimberly rose to the occasion and bested those figures to 300% sales increase in just six months!
The self-described “animated personality” also informed us about the charming back story of how Rufskin came to be, prior to his 2 ½ year stint with the company and working for its creators Douglas Coats and Hubert Pouches, after he met them at a pool party three years ago.
“They both have huge backgrounds in the fashion business,” he explained. “They have designed from everyone to a Parisian fashion house to Victoria’s Secrets, lots of things over the years. Doug was actually a model in Italy 20 years ago when they met, and Hubert was his agent, and hence a love affair that’s lasted 20 years.
“Rufskin was born, almost ten years ago now, from a need for sexy low-rise denim, and they started making it for their friends. They were literally making it out of their garage and backyard, and stitching it all by hand, and it just kept growing.”
This pop and pop production eventually went retail and now includes a flagship boutique, located at 3944 30th Street in North Park, and a Pop-Up Store based in New York City (it was assembled in four days time), while 16 other retail outlets carry the brand across the U.S. and in 17 worldwide boutiques (not including Mexico or Canada). Naturally, with a product that proves to be so popular, the Rufskin family (they are a tight knit bunch, which also includes Coats’ identical twin brother on the payroll) went about bringing their wares to the masses via models, music and runways – oh my! The putting together portion of the show is still a somewhat taxing occurrence, but there is a new streamlining process being utilized, according to Wimberly.
“Recently this year, we had our biggest annual show that happens here in San Diego,” he said. “I would say that they don’t get stressful until the last two days. No matter if they are big or small, some of them we can do in our sleep, if it’s a smaller venue, and some do become old hat.
“One of the keys to it going smoother was having less hands involved. In the past we’ve had shows with 30+ models, 60+ looks and a crazy, huge production, which are wonderful, of course, but it’s also more stressful. So this year we slimmed it down and did twelve really solid professional models that were amazing and did really strong looks and stories.”
While you would think it should be all smooth sailing for the venerable fashion house come runway time, Wimberly said that even though they have much expertise in producing shows under their, well, waistbands, that the behind-the-scenes drama is omnipresent at every show.
“It’s always the same thing backstage,” he stated. “People running around naked –‘Where’s this? Where’s that?’ But, it’s those last two days before the show that there’s something not fitting or something’s not scheduled on time,” Wimberly explained. “And it definitely gets very stressful, but this last show was easy.”
Finding the right venue can prove to be just as important as who will sport their fashions, as Wimberly detailed. “At Rufskin, we really try to do a lot of unique and different things. Obviously, you can do a runway show anytime, anywhere. The shows at nightclubs go very much with our vibe; we’re fun and upbeat and not so super serious. So, we tend to show it at evening events, because it’s more lively for us.”
There is something else that keeps them on their toes, when its go time, in the guise of the infrequent model mishap. “During one of Rufskin’s first shows, maybe the second or third show, they had one of their best friends backstage,” he recanted laughingly through a story relayed to him by Coats. “Of course, one of the big things backstage is oiling up the models. And the guy pulled what he thought was a bottle of oil from behind stage at the nightclub, which ended being a bottle of Clorox and water used to clean the bar! “He proceeded to mist down numerous models and rubbed it in, and couldn’t figure out why it (the spray) wasn’t shiny enough,” he said. “And then realized there was a weird smell to it, and by that point it was too late and the models had to be on and be itchy with Clorox bleach sprayed all over them!”
Speaking of models, the company receives hundreds of applicants monthly to be featured in ads and on the runway. There is a distinctive look that Rufskin goes for with their male eye candy, and believe it or not, there is a science (albeit, not an exact one, but a science none-the-less) involved with who can sell what when it comes to doing their little turn on the catwalk and in cyberspace.
“It’s amazing to see what different types of models sell different merchandise,” Wimberly explained. “With stuff that’s on e-commerce, you can have the same stuff on two totally different models; and sales will be totally different. “So that’s a whole other scientific part of it, but we definitely go with that sexy ’70s rough-and-tough kind of look.”
Looking ahead to projects in Rufskin’s pipeline, Wimberly outlined what they are working on for future endeavors, which includes using a model wrestling match in NYC to highlight Rufskin designs, which, by the by, are also adored by women. Plus, the fashionistas will be branching outside of the San Diego bubble for the good of all America, and are always thinking of ways to re-invent the runway wheel.
“The store in New York is a Pop-Up model that we plan to take across the country,” he detailed. “So we want to travel across the country with the Pop-Up, to cities that maybe haven’t been exposed to Rufskin, yet. “Even right now, we’re in the throes of planning an event for our New York store,” he stated. “And, we try to think of ways to showcase the direction and showcase the brand without doing a plain ole runway show, which anyone can do.” But, what both venues have proved is what they can do, with a certain flair and a whole lot of attention to detail, in structuring their unique visions of bringing fashion to the people of San Diego.
And while on the surface, putting together a sleekly designed show may not seem as important, as say, fighting in a war. However, these tireless individuals all spend a great deal of time in their respective trenches and are struggling in an uphill battle in trying to bring the flavor of New York City to San Diego; a battle they will most assuredly win and emerge victorious from.
To keep apprised of what is going on in their respective fashion worlds, you can e-mail G.O. Fashion @ GoFashion1@yahoo.com . To see where Rufskin may pop-up next and what apparel they have to offer, log on www.rufskin.com
This article was first published in May 2008.