Frocks That Rock

 Tracee Ellis Ross just don't believe the hype about her status as a style maven. "People are like, 'Oh, you're so graceful,' which I laugh at," she told Fly Life.

Last month, WWD placed the actress-comedienne on its Top 10 list of the most stylish women on TV. But the star of Girlfriends—UPN's popular comedy about a quartet of idiosyncratic black L.A. women that starts its new season on Monday—actually places more importance on her ability to be a goofball, or what she calls her "quirky, casual side."

Ross's gangly, gosling gestures and goofy faces bring Girlfriends' bourgie crackpot Joan Clayton to life, but in reality her style's about big-statement glamour mixed with that quirky edge. She pairs her wads of curls with jumbo-sized jewelry and clashes designer pieces with vintage finds for an effortlessly opulent brand of funky casual.

Say Grace: style maven Tracee Ellis Ross.
photo: Matthew Jordan Smith/UPN
Say Grace: style maven Tracee Ellis Ross.

"That's one of the reasons it was fun to move out to L.A.," says Ross. "I got away from that 'bag of the season' culture that everyone follows in New York."


We might all live for the high-concept DIY looks rocked by Karen O (yes. This is her fifth mention in the column. Sorry, dudes! She's fierce!), but Christiane Hultquist, the woman behind the Yeah Yeah Yeah vocalist's tattersall frocks, wouldn't be caught dead in them. "I'd feel like a queerball!" she says.

Her line, Christian Joy, is currently a couture-level business (Ms. O is her prime client), but Hultquist is branching out. Two weeks ago at Spa, she showed a collection of 10 looks under the name "Brat Style"—with pieces that were considerably more finished than some of the brilliantly haggard ensembles she's literally whipped up for the neo-punk diva out of newspaper and masking tape. Hultquist's relationship with O started two years ago, when she worked at Daryl K's 6th Street store. "She was like, 'If I ever become a famous rock star, will you make my clothes?' " The rest, of course, is recent history.

Originally a photographer, Hultquist, 28, got into designing after being challenged by a friend to make a T-shirt. Her arch-punk fashion jokes often go way over the top. A bodice worn by O was hand-painted with slogans like "Baptist Joy," and even "Methodist Joy." Hultquist's mother, the born-again Christian editor of the Happy Housewifery newsletter back in her hometown of Marion, Iowa, doesn't get the punchline. "I get in big trouble," says Hultquist.

The Spa show was full of smart, cheeky looks for everyday rock stars. Brat Style includes everything from black-and-white striped "mod-o-kini" shorts and halter (inspired by an old photo of Siouxsie Sioux) to a suit with a "Brat" signature print ("Eat Shit" is discreetly scribed into the pattern). How is Brat different from the '90s-era riot grrrl? "Brats do not give a shit at all!"

Hultquist admits it'll be a while before Brats everywhere can get a hold of Christian Joy. Even though her boyfriend designed the CJ suit Gideon Yago wore to the VMAs, and other rockers like Lovelife's Katrina Ford have worn her clothes, none of the current pieces are going to stores. The goal for her next show—based on suicide—is to produce a collection that's ready for retail.


Another purveyor of Brat Style, Patricia Field, is closing up shop, at least in the West Village. The designer is shutting the doors of her 8th Street flagship at the end of the month. The building's owners, land-piggish New York University, have chosen not to renew the Sex and the City costumer's lease. Last May, her alma mater booted her from her second-floor apartment in the same building to make way for graduate-student dorms.

"In a way, I feel bad that I'm leaving," says Field, who will move everything to her Hotel Venus space in Soho. "But I'm just relieved. It hasn't been joyful for the last seven years." Beyond the rising rents and increasingly impersonal tone of her landlords, Field says that nightly police barricading has turned the once buzzing freakzone into one of downtown's quaintest stretches of pavement. "To me, the Village has turned into this transient college area. It's not a neighborhood anymore."

While Field certainly isn't destitute (peep the palace on the Bowery where she now parks her Pacer), it sucks to see a fashion institution lost to the throes of the New York real estate market. Calls to the university's public relations office went unreturned at press time. For Field, it's definitely a case of que sera, sera. "Along comes the pimple, and you have to pop it." Er, yes.


jgermosen@villagevoice.com

 
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