story by Lisa-Maria Radano
photos by Charles Beckwith
In a chilly, hazy hangar of a space, against a backdrop of gauzy white curtains, Stevie Nicks, and Joni Mitchell, a collection materialized wherein classic singer/songwriter leitmotifs like denim, plaid and devore were sent through Ms. Kao’s cutting tunnel. What came out the other side, once ingeniously stitched back together, was redolent of the past but defiantly new. “This season is about versatility. The clothes ask a girl – beg a girl to want to put it together for herself.” So said Los Angeles-based designer Jen Kao of her billowy, skin baring, hippie/jet setter Spring 2014 collection.
Denim jacket was crossed with denim shirt resulting in here a tunic or there a blouson to top a tiny frayed mini. There was also a surprisingly wearable denim bloomer, rolled up above the knee and worn with a woven raffia t-shirt, atop an essential platform mule. The archetypal plaid flannel shirt still adored by hipsters, appeared here in turmeric and was treated like a lady, draped and ruffled for a sundress, or swathed in panels of sheer silk and Dahlia print devore.
The show titled “Hound and Hare” had me expecting at least a few riding jackets and perhaps a jodhpur, but no. The hound – apparently a last minute guest – was a well behaved afghan who accompanied the blond that shared its hairdo and drifted by in effortlessly flowing bias cut columns of turmeric chiffon, black silk and heavy white silk charmeuse. There were also several black silk cotton and devore combinations, one a clever wrap dress split down the middle and straddling the two fabrics. Another so-called “Tether Dress” had a gauzy black panel hanging over the devore, as if from a necklace. You did have to hunt for the hare. It turned up quickly and only twice as ornate Bunnicula embroidery on a mini skirt and minidress, popping in and out as fast as a rabbit.
“It’s hard to pick a favorite piece or group from the show because all the pieces are so interchangeable and versatile, and very personal.”
Ms. Kao’s statement was born out by the quantity of separates styled per her preference but certainly welcoming of the wearer’s interpretation. Creatively cut, seamed and draped tunics, jackets, blouses, trousers and skirts in washed crepe, distressed cotton, and sheer silk cotton, in mostly generous silhouettes were miraculously practical. I asked the designer if she used to drive her mother crazy cutting up her clothes as a kid. She laughed and rolled her eyes, “Oh yes, cutting them up, wearing them inside out, turning them around always thinking, what can I do to this?”
Jen Kao wants you to ask the same question of her clothes with the assurance that you’ll look great in the process.