trina turk

Two Slices of California Pie

Ali Rahimi and Trina Turk trunk shows display wildly different flavors of Golden State style.

Lisa Marie Hart Fashion & Style, Fashion Week El Paseo

trina turk
Trina Turk provided personal styling as part of her trunk show March 19 at Fashion Week El Paseo.

Sunday morning brought a dilemma for the fashion world. Head back to the big white tent to meet designer Ali Rahimi and feast one’s eyes on the painstaking details across his one-of-a-kind gowns? Or swing by the Trina Turk and Mr Turk boutique on El Paseo to sip a California aperitif and hang with the most fashionable couple in the desert? For those who had attended the California Dreamin’ fashion show the night before, the simple solution was: both.

Neither event proved a traditional trunk show. While both Los Angeles–based design houses pull inspiration from California’s roots and culture, one dresses women in custom pieces that make her feel as if she’s floating down the red carpet; the other appeals to those who are blissfully content strolling barefoot across the grass toward the pool. Both events gave shoppers the opportunity to connect with the faces behind the runway looks and ask all their burning questions in an intimate setting.

In the white reception tent, the tall racks of statuesque Ali Rahimi for Mon Atelier gowns were on par with any fashion retrospective at The Met. A range of silhouettes represents the designer’s 22 years in business — each creation the only one of its kind. Among them, reimagined moments of Old Hollywood glamour: Grace Kelly in ’50s Dior blends with Rahimi’s imaginative eye and hand-stitched accents.


A range of silhouettes represents Ali Rahimi’s 22 years in business — each creation the only one of its kind.

Joining unforgettable pieces from the runway were custom samples and wearable accessories like bow ties fashioned from vintage brocade and georgette scarves printed with a California photographer’s images of wildflowers and wheat. Just four are printed of each, deeming them pieces of art. “We custom-make everything,” explains Rahimi’s partner, John Barle, who manages the business side of the salon. “Whether you’re going to a charity luncheon or the White House, no one will be wearing your dress.”

More than a trunk show, the event let the couture serve as a starting point for Rahimi and Barle to meet enthusiasts, encourage students, and explain the origins of each piece. The rose-shaped sleeves on a capelet took a week to form. Vintage gingko leaves from post-war Japan were applied by hand to one gown. Vintage velvet ribbon and 1950s fabric on another dress are in short supply, with only enough remaining for one more custom creation.


A shopper peruses the designs of Ali Rahimi for Mon Atelier.

Rahimi encouraged an admirer to try an Italian cashmere coat. “Nobody sees the lining, but you see it, you feel it,” he says of the buttery silk charmeuse. Barle adds, “No one uses this as a lining because it’s too expensive. But it’s a tactile experience, it’s against your skin.” Rahimi has invested in the piece-by-piece custom process at all costs; some clients have been with him from the beginning. The youngest is 2 months old; the oldest is 97.

With each piece, “you want to evoke a certain emotion, and they come back to feel that again,” says Rahimi. He is a proponent of showing his work up close, not to make a sale but to simply share its artfulness. “Every single piece has been created because somewhere in my head, something moved,” he says.

“It takes life experience to wear these,” Barle adds of the sophisticated fit-and-flare dresses, floor-sweeping red gowns, and sexier visions for 1950s suits and hats. Roughly 90 percent of the gowns boast built-in corsets because the designer and his clients agree: It’s all about the foundation. Despite the structure, each dress feels like a natural fit, an extension of one’s own skin. “I love listening to the models,” says Rahimi. “They say, ‘Your stuff is so light and moves so easily.’ This is a huge gown,” he says touching a pale-blue one-shoulder number with a cloud of blue feathers swirling around its skirt, “but it weighs nothing.”


Down the block, an in-store gala was in spring swing. Women scurried to and from the Trina Turk dressing room with armfuls of juicy floral prints and mimosa-infused determination. They emerged for personal styling from Turk herself.

“I actually like that one on you better than the other one,” she offers to one shopper. The designer is tailored yet hip in ruffled-hem plaid Cahuenga pants from her latest collection and a matching plaid suit jacket with rolled up sleeves from her husband’s. “We share fabrics,” she says of her counterpart, Jonathan Skow, who roams the room mingling in red plaid trousers and brown leather sandals. He stops to chat with a couple mixing cocktails for guests.

Shoppers giddy to slip into pieces from Saturday evening’s show found swimwear, sun hats, shorts, dresses, breezy blouses, silk palazzo pants, jewelry, and shoes within reach. Continuing the good vibrations from the show, the Superbloom collection was inspired by California’s wildflowers. Secret Garden is the season’s “hero print,” making its way onto just about everything. The shop also revealed its first look at a slightly 1960s lemon-yellow summer collection that launches in early April.

“So you know, this one is reversible,” Turk says to a girl tying a halter top on over her tee, too anxious to bother with a dressing room. The white floral top reverses to a black floral, adding versatility and value.

The bright boutique that always feels like a party with its poolside prints, engaging staff, and glass shelves stocked with candles and ice buckets feels even more so. The Fashion Week bash is the first official party in the Palm Desert store (one  of 12 boutiques nationally), whose lease Turk just extended for two years. Several men lounged patiently on the couch outside the dressing room, rather than trying on the swimwear. But at their wives’ prodding, a few perused the Mr Turk racks and promised to consider coming back the next time they “have to go somewhere.”

A woman leaving with a bright-yellow shopping bag passes the logo golf cart stuffed with signature throw pillows only to stop in her tracks. “That looks so good on you!” she exclaims to a staff member in a white crochet dress. She does a U-turn on her heels and makes a bee-line for the rack.


Trina Turk interacts with her customers.