Fashion’s New Muse: The Budget-Conscious Woman

What exactly does it mean to be a muse to a designer and where does one sign up Yves Saint Laurent with Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaisefor this elusive honorary title that often seems more storied than substantial?

At it’s simplest, a muse serves as inspiration; at most, the muse can be a designer’s collaborator and the personality that represents the very essence of the brand itself. For this, one easily conjures Yves Saint Laurent, whose well-known muses such as Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise brought the soul of the clothes to life, became iconic representations of the brand and helped to define the fashion and zeitgeist of that era.

I believe that the fashion world said goodbye to that kind of muse some time ago, and de la Falaise’s passing this past November was the last vestige of a golden age of fashion muses in a way.

It often seems that in today’s celeb-obsessed, reality-show driven culture that the romantic notion of a muse has been reduced to nothing more than a glorified designer BFF (perhaps that’s all it has ever been, albeit once packaged more glamorously).  Nonetheless, I was intrigued to explore this concept at the recent “Meet The Designer & Muse” event held at the Ace Gallery during that equally elusive event of sorts called “L.A. Fashion Week.”

Vanessa Williams and Kevan Hall

Vanessa Williams and Kevan Hall. PHOTO: Daryl Gilmore / Evolve Pictures

The event drew a bevy of L.A. designers, fashion forces and celebs, from Kevan Hall, Vanessa Williams, Jennie Han, Nony Tochterman, Cameron Silver and Sue Wong to “Hunger Games” actress Tara Macken and faces from new fashion reality show, “Fashion Star” and others.

While most designers arrived with a muse in tow — some of whom

Nicholas Bowes of Fashion Star

Nicholas Bowes of Fashion Star. PHOTOS: Daryl Gilmore / Evolve Pictures

were longtime associations, others more recently acquired — it became clear during conversations throughout the evening that the real muse in the house that evening was something far less tangible, but very real in the mind of designers: the economy itself. And many designers I spoke with at the event were eager to highlight their new lower-priced lines and concepts.

While designer Nony Tocherterman, creator of Petro Zillia, a whimsical L.A.-based clothing line with fans from Paris Hilton to Fergie and Nicki Minaj, brought very pregnant model and longtime friend SharMichelle Bothe along as her muse for the evening, her real muse may now be the woman who wants to look great but not pay a fortune. Tochterman closed her Third Street boutique last year and is now only designing select one-offs  while she focuses on her latest concept: Styleblender, a membership-only communal closet in West Hollywood where for $30 a month you can swap out your clothes for ones of equal value.

“A muse lays the mood,” said Tocherterman. “I think every designer always dresses someone in their mind.”

And let’s face it, that someone has now become a value conscious woman.

Designer Dalia Macphee, whose cocktail dresses and evening gowns sell for under $350 at Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus, is making a name for herself not on the runways of Paris, but with price-conscious department store customers who love the combo of style and affordability in her line. Her dresses are seen everywhere from the red carpet to editorial in magazines such as Marie Claire, Allure, People, Seventeen and many more.

“We do a full size run from 0-24,” said Macphee. “To find gowns in all of these sizes and all around $300 is pretty amazing.”


Nina Dobrev in spring 2012 Dalia Macphee

And this fall, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reality star and footwear designer Adrienne Maloof

Shaun Robinson & Adrienne Maloof

Shaun Robinson & Adrienne Maloof. PHOTO: Daryl Gilmore / Evolve Pictures

said she will be introducing her lower-priced line at Southern department store chain Belk.

Her Adrienne Maloof by Charles Jourdan capsule footwear line is currently sold in 400 retail doors, including Belk, Nordstrom and Macy’s, and retails between $220-$300. The collection’s bestseller, the Shaun pump, is a towering, bedazzled 5.5-inch pump that Maloof said stores can barely keep in stock.

Yet, still there is demand for even lower-priced pieces. The new line, which will offer about 20 styles, including boots, will be priced between $100-$125.

“It’s what a lot of my customers want,” said Maloof.

While more and more designers, including Maloof’, are choosing as their muse the woman who has the taste of champagne but only the budget for a Sofia mini sparkling wine 4-pack, others such as Kevan Hall still look to Hollywood for inspiration.

Tara Macken in Kevan Hall at the Hunger Games Premiere

Tara Macken in Kevan Hall at the Hunger Games Premiere

Hall, who palled around with Vanessa Williams for the evening, dressed Hunger Games actress Tara Macken at the event and for the Hunger Games Premiere the following evening.

“Marchesa and Ellie Saab have been some of my go-tos in the past for premieres, but I’m wearing Kevan for the L.A. premiere” said a bubbly Macken. “I’m excited for all of it, but overwhelmed!”

Judging from the form-fitting black, silk crepe, bias-cut gown with Chantilly lace cutouts that she wore to the premiere, she may not only be wearing Kevan again, but finding herself the new muse for a host of other designers as well.

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Author:Michelle Dalton Tyree

Fashion Trends Daily is the brainchild of Michelle Dalton Tyree. She is the former West Coast Retail Editor for Women’s Wear Daily, Fashion Editor for The Japan Times, and founder of former L.A. luxury boutique Iconology. Michelle is frequently quoted about fashion retail trends in major media outlets such as NPR, KPCC, The Inside Source and the New York Times. She has developed content for many luxury brands and retailers and has written for Allure, Worth Global Style Network, Footwear News and other media outlets.