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Style Over

Style Over


Edwing D'Angelo, an upstart gay fashionista, is praying there's a market for glamour in these days of belt-tightening.

America's recession was declared official just days before the December opening of clothing designer Edwing D'Angelo's boutique in downtown Manhattan. In large part, it was fashion as usual. A mix of clients, journalists, and department store representatives marveled at the new Aquatica line, a collection for spring 2009 that includes a white kimono-style gown with a black obi and a to-die-for bubble-skirted dress with black inseams peeking out. A pair of photographers captured every moment. An eccentric man wandered in carrying a garden gnome. And the Colombian-born gay designer, wearing a shiny black blazer with a prominent Budweiser (his leading corporate sponsor) logo on the back, bounced around to answer questions and greet well-wishers.

Yet signs of the current economic climate could be felt. Instead of opening a stand-alone boutique, D'Angelo and his business partner Debbie Brennan rented a space within EDGE*nyNOHO, a miniature department store that features the work of 50 up-and-coming designers in a trade-show format, one booth per shop. Most of the other boutiques were open that night, and everyone was grousing about lackluster sales.

"Yes, it's a recession in the sense that people aren't shopping as much and people are losing their jobs," said D'Angelo, looking for the silver lining. "However, the [EDGE*nyNOHO] landlords are cutting deals with the designers. The deal we got wouldn't be available in a good economy."

D'Angelo's sales have slowed, though the former paralegal -- who makes clothes for women, men, and teens -- benefits from a diverse clientele. "Most of my gay clients don't have to worry about supporting a family," he said. "They're high-powered and usually aren't hit as hard by the recession."

The designer is no stranger to ill-timed launches: He hung out his first shingle a few weeks before September 11, 2001. Nonetheless, his designs were noticed by the fashion press, and his prom-wear line became a certifiable media hit, even if sales were ultimately slower than expected. In 2003 he met Brennan, a bond trader and part-time wedding planner who could teach D'Angelo how to build his brand, through Vogue's editor at large, Andre Leon Talley. Brennan, who is also gay, encouraged the young designer to stand out by preserving signature elements of his designs -- most of his pants come with a trademark front flap and hem slits just above the shoe -- and helped get his clothes into the public eye. One of D'Angelo's dresses appeared in the fashion-drenched The Devil Wears Prada, and stars like Patti LaBelle have donned his creations.

Despite America's economic coma, D'Angelo remains optimistic. "It's going to be tough for a while," he admits. "But if you can hold on in a recession, you can do well anytime."

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Jonathan Vatner