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Carmen Hawk's New Old Act

The onetime style-world star and Milla Jovovich's former design partner is quietly back on the scene with a Lou Doillon-favored vintage store on L.A.'s Eastside.
LIKE A HAWK: Carmen Hawk stands watch at the door of Avalon Vintage and Records, her Highland Park shop that has attracted French style stars Lou Doillon and Vanessa Paradis as shoppers.
Jessica Chou

Any fashion follower worth their weight in Manolos likely recognizes the name Carmen Hawk, Milla Jovovich’s former design partner whose aesthetic, British Vogue once said, had the “girl-about-town cult status most designers spent years trying to achieve.”

A former runway model who posed for the likes of Craig McDean, Hawk graced the cover of downtown bible Paper and was nominated for a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2006, when her three-year-old namesake line was at the height of its critical acclaim. She was just as much a fixture on the fashion circuit as her film-famous business partner, lending the street cred needed to catapult Jovovich-Hawk into a cool-girl-favored global line carried by London’s prestigious Harvey Nichols and Fred Segal in L.A.

But in 2008 — just after the duo announced an impending capsule collection for Target — they suddenly shuttered the business. And while Jovovich continued to stay in the limelight with her film career, Hawk largely retreated from the scene. Until now, that is.

Turns out that the international style personality has manifested her love of vintage clothes (the catalyst for Jovovich-Hawk in the first place, she says) into Avalon Vintage and Records, an eight-month-old gem nestled next to a Vietnamese dinette in L.A.’s blossoming hipster enclave of Highland Park.

“It was cheap, and the neighborhood is cool,” the Missouri-born blonde said of the space while nibbling on local pastries and listening to an Emotions record spin at her store one recent afternoon. There's cool in the air indeed, as French style stars Lou Doillon and Vanessa Paradis are regular shoppers.

“I grew up with a mom that would raid abandoned houses [for clothing] in the Midwest; it was always around me,” she explains.

The space came together almost effortlessly in March, thanks to Hawk’s readily available personal trove of vintage clothing stored at her Koreatown home, not to mention a sizable archive of dead stock Jovovich-Hawk pieces that -- with their signature nod to eras past --  are right at home amid Avalon’s early 1900s to 1990s offerings. The clothes, combined with more than 6,000 handpicked records courtesy of music devotee boyfriend and business partner Rodney Klein (who first established a name in the L.A. music world with the now-shuttered popular Silver Lake record boutique Plastic Fantastic) make for a store one can kill some time in.

“We’ve moved the shop around five times, already,” said Hawk, who has so much stock she has to  reorganize continually. Bins of vinyl by everyone from Mazzy Star to British comedian Nigel Planer complement a wall dotted with album covers while the remainder of the space is devoted to one-of-a-kind pieces that hang from the ceiling and adorn racks carefully organized by color and style. Vintage lovers can rejoice over silk pajama sets from the 1930s (“I’m so into old pajamas”) that rub shoulders with one-off metallic Lurex gowns from New Orleans (“The colors and the workmanship are amazing; I want to do an entire NoLa collection”) and a few hats — including a black felt Halston bowler made for someone with a very small head. A robust collection of luscious chunky knits from the ’80s is complemented by an equally well-edited grouping of old magazines, including copies of Creem and Playboy.

It’s this artful collection that has already drawn the likes of longtime friend Jovovich (for whom Hawk has been designing Resident Evil film costumes since 2002) as well as producer and The Conversation helmer Amanda De Cadenet. In October, Doillon – the songstress daughter of Jane Birkin and director Jacques Doillon -- stopped by to shop before performing a show at L.A.’s El Rey Theater. Around the same time, Paradis popped in to pick up several pieces from the 1930s. The store also has become an Instagram hit, with shoppers pouncing on pieces mere minutes after Hawk posts shots.

Which makes one wonder -- with such a natural knack for retailing, why shutter a successful clothing line just when it’s on the brink of greatness?

“It was just too much,” Hawk said, noting that she’d be forced to miss her daughter’s first day of school each September in favor of showing her line at New York Fashion Week.

Her knowledge of vintage and passion for her shop is palpable as she describes her current excitement over tracking down pieces from Kandahar Designs of Boston, which are flowy, 1970s-era dresses fashioned from old Afghani burkas. Of the two she’s found, one will stay in her own closet. “I don’t think I’m historically educated, but there are certain things that I really love. Honestly, I just react. It’s almost emotional, and its part of my nostalgic nature.”

Except for a few major names (a brown and black graphic patterned Rudi Gernreich dress is one example; a sweeping brown crepe ’60s gown by Ossie Clark is another), Avalon’s stock is largely label-less and priced quite reasonably (think $45 for an ’80s sweater; $125 for a ’70s color-block wrap dress). That's no surprise, as the items here are procured by their finder not for pedigree but for having that certain je ne sais quoi, much like her famous clientele. “I’m from the Midwest,” Hawk says, looking around the quaint, comfortable shop. “I think this is what I always wanted to do.”

Avalon Vintage and Records, 106 N. Ave. 56, Los Angeles, 323-309-7717, avalonvintage.com

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