Corey Lynn Calter

‘Those Damned Stripes!’: Frocks for Mrs. Prufrock

by Alexandra Jacobs

In a city where grown women walk around in broad daylight with pink hearts and jaunty little mottoes stenciled across the backseat of their sweat pants, the designer Corey Lynn Calter is a beacon of hope and tailoring. Los Angeles Fashion Week continues to be something of an oxymoron, with labels like "2 B Free" and "Single" romping nonsensically through Culver City, but Ms. Calter’s April 1 show fairly glowed with ingenuity, sense, professionalism: snappy wool checkered trousers, corduroy pencil skirts, double-breasted jackets—clothes one could actually feel O.K. about plunking down money for, eagerly surveyed by an audience that included the fetish model Dita Von Teese.

The day before her T.S. Eliot–, Pablo Neruda– and Federico Garcia-Lorca–inspired presentation, entitled "Only You and I Hear It," Ms. Calter, 35, calmly nursed a large iced decaf near her downtown showroom, wearing gold Capezio-type jazz oxfords, black pinstriped trousers, a black cardigan and an incongruous-seeming black skull around her neck. It turned out there was darkness behind the skirts of the flowery flocks she’s been churning out for the past four years: a "way-too-punk-rock, way-too-screwed-up" Philadelphia childhood and a best friend who died of a heroin overdose when they were living in New York City in the early 1990’s. Ms. Calter said her own drug use was limited to a little youthful pot and speed.

"I’m not a needle kind of girl, a junkie girl," she said. "I’m happy. I’m really happy. I’m not tragically screwed up."

Her father owned an insurance company; her mother was an interior decorator and used to pull her out of school for furniture-shopping expeditions in Manhattan. Enkindled by her maternal grandfather, an Italian clothier who worked on military uniforms, Corey matriculated at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "It was like, ‘Where’s the football team? Where are the cheerleaders?’" she said. "But that wasn’t really gonna be me anyway, with my pink dreadlocks." (Her hair is now straight and brown, and she has a charming little mole over her lip.) She tended bar at the Spiral, was guest-list girl at the Ritz, sold fabrics at a store on 39th Street ("All we did was play poker, all day long," she said) and toiled for two rag-trade grande dames of Gotham, Norma Kamali and Betsey Johnson, who were not quite the role models she’d hoped for.

"Betsey Johnson was a very unpleasant experience for me," she said. "There were horribly nasty, catty girls that worked there." (An assistant for Ms. Johnson said the older designer "wasn’t familiar" with Ms. Calter.) read more...

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