Designer has feelings for fabric


March 19, 2000|By Michael Quintanilla | Michael Quintanilla,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Sewing machines hum around David Cardona as he reaches for one of his creations-in-progress, a gown of shiny metallic-looking fabric he has nicknamed "oil slick."

He holds up another.

"I call it my ice cream cone dress," says the Los Angeles designer about the garment that flares like upside-down ice cream cones in seven places around the gown's hem. "This is one of those dresses that uses up a lot of fabric. But I think it's cool. It's different -- and that's what I'm trying to be, different."

Cardona is hoping his flavorful creation -- and his flair for fabric and tailoring -- will catch the eye of buyers and the international fashion media. But for the moment, he cannot leave Los Angeles to court them. He must keep a high profile to get celebrities to wear his looks at such award shows as the Oscars.

Not that Cardona hasn't had a dab of recognition here and there. Natalie Cole, Janet Jackson, Carlos Santana, the Backstreet Boys and Cher have discovered Cardona's flair for fitting the body beautiful with sinfully soft leathers and exquisite French and Swiss fabrics.

Cardona, who at one time designed top-secret aircraft for McDonnell Douglas Corp., now part of Boeing, has had photo spreads in InStyle and Los Angeles magazines.

It's been a little more than two years since Cardona, 36, left his job as designer Richard Tyler's assistant to go out on his own.

With savings, determination and a business partner, he opened his first Santa Monica factory in 1998, a year after he and John Bowman -- founder of Chrome Hearts, a leather and jewelry firm he sold in 1995 -- created Bowman Cardona. The two met through a mutual friend, singer Seal, for whom Cardona had designed clothing while working with Tyler.

His line retails for between $500 and $5,000 at specialty shops like Les Habitues in Los Angeles, and in several other stores, including Entre Nous in New York, Neiman Marcus in Chicago and Tootsies in Dallas and Houston.

A stickler for detail, Cardona hand-sews buttonholes with silk thread. Buttons are made of buffalo horn. Every seam is hand-finished. And nearly everything Cardona creates is lined in silk -- a trick of the trade he picked up from Tyler. He worked for the L.A. designer for six years.

Like Tyler, Cardona is not one to buy into the latest trends. Instead, he says, he gets his inspiration from fabric.

"Feel this," he says, reaching for a bolt of oil slick. "Grab it, bunch it up. Go ahead. It never wrinkles. And look how it shines. It's beautiful."

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