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Going Grey: backstage with Grey Ant--L.A. designer Grant Krajecki--at his first New York Fashion Week show.

Grant Krajecki began designing in high school, in the gloriously overwrought days of the mid '80s, when women's shoulders were padded like linebackers'. Later, a move to Los Angeles from Chicago offered the opportunity to design costumes for soft-core porn films, a gig that put his imagination into high gear and demolished any barriers of conformity.

By 1998, Krajecki had started his own line, Grey Ant, a play on his name and a moniker that has since become a siren call for Los Angeles's fashion-savvy hipsters. Such celebs as Beck and director Miranda July have become devotees of Krajecki's perfectly tailored designs, clothes that somehow strike a chord of individuality without wearing the wearer.

"When people ask what my inspiration is, it's difficult to answer," Krajecki says. "I've run out of lies for that question. Suffice it to say, I always just ask myself, Would Siouxsie Sioux or Kate Bush wear this? If the answer is yes, I move ahead from there."

Grey Ant has enjoyed being the one to watch, in all the right stores and on all the right backs, with raves in the press and several successful runway shows--in Los Angeles. The one thing missing has been the affirmation of a New York Fashion Week debut.

You won't see these clothes till spring, but The Advocate has a first look at the Grey Ant line and all that goes into a successful runway show.

September 14, noon: Six hours to show-time, and it's drizzling, humid, and gray--an East Coast Indian summer. Inside the echoing, high-ceilinged Altman Building in Chelsea, it's weirdly quiet. Boxes of clothes are carried downstairs to the dressing area, hairdressers plug in curling irons, and Krajecki stands, giving directions in a soft voice. Upstairs, choreographer Ryan Heffington and the Los Angeles--based Hysterica Dance Company rehearse. Krajecki has made the unorthodox decision to use not just models but also dancers for his New York show. "I've worked with Hysterica many times," says Krajecki. "I love watching dancers in movement, and I wanted to share that."

2 P.M.: The models have begun to arrive. They are impossibly tall, impossibly thin--just the right shape for Krajecki's astounding new line of denim--long, straight-legged jeans with braided waist-bands, dyed deep blue and tailored with precision. The rest of the racks are filled with soft cotton tops, dresses, and knickers, some frayed delicately at the edges.

Krajecki straddles both ends of the spectrum in addition to the loose, bohemian shapes, there are some truly audacious pieces. The highlight is the bathing suits, cut high in the leg and rear, with suspender-like straps that lead to (get this!) mid-cut sleeves buoyed by massive shoulder pads. It is the perfect balance of the over-the-top and the subtly defiant.

4 P.M.: The room is hot. The mood, however, is cool and calm. A model offers Krajecki a Xanax, but he politely declines. There is none of the chaos one might expect at a first-time New York show. Hair-stylists manipulate locks into crimped and curled Afros--Barbra Streisand Star Is Born style. Heffington is sitting on the floor, quietly gluing white fringe to the masks the dancers will wear for their opening number. Makeup has just begun--pink cheeks appear under neatly defined eyebrows. Hangers-on dive into the buffet and the complimentary Budweiser. Cameras flash. Krajecki fits a male dancer in a pink cotton dress with a whimsical print--a pattern of kitty cats and among them a recurring line drawing of Grace Jones with a rat in her mouth.

6 P.M.: Things are running late and no one seems to care. The models are nearly dressed. The dancers have rehearsed a few times. Outside on the sidewalk is a line around the block. The buzz on the show has been deafening, and it will be standing room only. Tastemakers are there in force--the fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth; editors from Vogue and The New York Times; a few front seats are saved for Shirley Manson of Garbage. Umbrellas hover above stylishly dressed bodies, the line for the fashion show a fashion show in itself.

7 P.M.: The room is packed. The lights go dim, and all is silent. Then the droning, thrusting beats of Work ring out. Suddenly the lights go up and Hysterica's dancers, dressed in Grey Ant, explode into a high-energy, ambisexual dance. Even New Yorkers are surprised--mouths gape, eyes widen.

The dance ends, the sounds of Aphex Twin takes over, and the models begin to walk in slow and graceful pairs down the runway. There are approving glances from the rows of onlookers. Pencils scribble on pads. The models stop, vamp, turn, walk. The lights go low again, and Hysterica's members are back, some now clad in the gravity-defying spandex, shoulder-padded bathing suits, some (the men) in pretty, flouncy dresses. They dive into the final routine, involving high jumps and bodies writhing against bodies--all of it sexy, wonderful, and elating to watch. This is a hot taste of desert heat, dusty palms, Tinseltown glee, and pure Angeleno exuberance glowing like a Malibu sunset in the New York gloom.

The dance ends, and the crowd roars, a little dazed but nonetheless impressed. After a moment, Krajecki comes out and makes the small, neat, confident bow of a conqueror. Ducking backstage quickly, he breathes an enormous sigh of relief. "I'm glad it's over, but it went as planned, and I'm pleased," he says quietly. "This is the fashion capital of America, and it would be weak not to aim for a show here."

Suddenly, he grins. "But I don't plan on stopping here in New York," he says slyly. "The world is a very big place."

Hundley is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles and a contributor for the Los Angeles Times, Premiere magazine, and Spin.
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Title Annotation:FASHION
Author:Hundley, Jessica
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 7, 2006
Words:967
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