Back in the days when Adrian, Edith Head and James Galanos were designing, Los Angeles had fashion workrooms to rival the couture ateliers in Paris.
L.A. stylist and society maven Mary Alice Haney wants to bring that dressmaking tradition back with Haney, a new collection of luxury evening wear made in downtown Los Angeles using fine French crepe, Italian lace and Swarovski crystals.
Haney is a line of customizable gowns, or "prêt-à-couture," as she calls it. Styles are inspired by and named after her star clients, such as Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba, and stylish pals, such as Minnie Mortimer and Alexis Swanson Traina.
"What Tory Burch did for the Park Avenue woman, I'm trying to do for the L.A. woman," Haney says, alluding to creating a brand in the high-society mold of Burch's, but focused only on the West Coast.
Going out in L.A. "used to just be about film premieres," she says. "But I've seen it change in the 20 years I've lived here. In November, I co-hosted the Philanthropic Society Los Angeles Autumn Party with a Stella McCartney fashion show, and I recently attended the Baby2Baby Gala honoring Drew Barrymore. I do think about that client a lot, people who have events all the time."
Her first collection, which launched at ShopHaney.com, includes the "Reese," a strapless minidress with a sweetheart neckline and a choice of three trims, because "nobody can rock that neckline like Reese," Haney says. The "Alex" is a crepe sheath available in three colors and two lengths, with or without draped ropes of Swarovski pearls. The "Minnie" is a long black column gown available with a narrow or wide skirt, high or low neckline, and bell sleeves with or without crystal mesh cuffs. Many looks also have inner corsetry to shape the body.
Prices range from $2,356 to $6,588, depending on embellishments, and dresses take six weeks to complete. Haney is also rolling out the collection at "ambassador parties'" at private homes across the country. And Net-a-porter will begin selling non-customizable versions of some of the gowns Dec. 15.
Haney grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn. She attended Parsons School of Design in Paris and earned her MFA in film studies from the American Film Institute. She is a 20-year veteran of the fashion industry in L.A. who has worked as a magazine editor for Allure, Marie Claire and GQ, a stylist for A-listers such as Blake Lively and Sarah Jessica Parker, and a TV host.
All the celebrities she has worked with, "even if they are a size 0, wanted to make changes to their dresses," she says. "That's where the idea for customization came in."
In the beginning, Haney had doubts she was going to be able to produce the line in L.A., which is better known for mass than for high-end apparel production. But she saw what designer labels such as Rodarte have made here, and after several months of research, was able to put together a team with the right expertise, based out of the fashion production house Lipstick Prophets.
Although the fabrics come from Europe, some of the trim comes from L.A. "We found Michael Schmidt to make crystal mesh sleeves," Haney says. "L.A. is actually still filled with these amazing artisans because of the movie industry."
Eventually, Haney hopes to expand her brand to include lower-priced pieces. She says, "Our goal is to bring a Hollywood sensibility to every woman."