On a recent visit to the fashion pied-í -terre of local designer Hajnalka Mandula, there was a development application posted outside. Can the end be nigh for Mandula, her eponymous boutique at 882 Homer Street?
A quick pop-in finds the stylish Mandula wearing her own ruffle-collared black halter wrap top (which can be tied around at the waist or the hips, $270), a re-engineered vintage men's vest (also black) and a tan fisherman's cap.
She's fussing over a storefront mannequin adorned with a fuchsia top.
Colour, it would seem, is on her mind more than leases.
"I just discovered how beautiful fuchsia is, and people are really responding to it this season. You know, I always work with black. I wear it and it inspires me the most, but I always have a pop of colour."
Mandula drifts to a rack in the back. According to her, black is the colour for this summer–that's what everyone is buying. And she's fine with that: "I can see textures the most in black, and it doesn't get any better. It's my palette."
She pulls out a dress. "It's a boiled silk–wool dress with a cotton ribbon machine-stitched down on top of pleats." At the neck, an insert of dark lace makes for a nice focus point and provides a sense of depth and an elegant high-fashion complexity to a street-smart slip dress ($540).
The hype around Mandula has always been related to her use of recycled and certified-organic fabrics. But that reputation–which is a good representation of her long commitment to green fashion–has overshadowed the keenness of her constructions. She makes dramatic, urban clothes, all the while maintaining an earthiness that is granola-free.
"It's all about the material, how it feels against the body and how it will enhance a woman's beauty," Mandula says. "It's comfortable and sensual. The opening of the store helped me realize who the clientele is and how we can convert people and help me become more aware of how they feel in my clothes. And now it's a matter of addiction. You know you've got something when your customers have more pieces of Mandula than I do."
This brings the conversation back to the original question. Whither Mandula?
"I've re-signed a lease until March 2008. At this point, I really love the fact [that] I'm looking for a new space here and I'm looking to put a store in Los Angeles. I don't like staying in one place and, as long as people are willing to move with me, I'll be fine," Mandula says.
She scans the boutique, pointing out the smooth concrete floor and white organic-paint walls. Sunshine bounces off the condo tower across the street and floods the store with a delicate light.
"Unfortunately, buildings like this are coming down and I definitely won't even look at a new space if it's not what I want, because I come from Europe and I need to be in a space that makes me feel I'm in Europe, and this space makes me feel like I'm at home."
As if on cue, she produces a cup of tea for the guest and a box of bonbons for all. A few polite nibbles lead to a second helping.
"I just went to Japan a week ago. And it was amazing seeing how people are so great with fashion there and so free with style. Someone even photographed me for a streetwear magazine while I was walking down the street. I might even make the cover. It was my first time there, and I'm still in a daze," Mandula says. "I totally want to be in Tokyo."