Erik Kabik / Retna / ErikKabik.com
Thursday, May 29, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Drive up to valet at the new boutique hotel the Cromwell, and a smartly suited valet attendant in a bowler hat greets you warmly. Check for your dinner reservation at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Paris, and the seamed-stockinged receptionist looks as if she’s just stepped off a fashion runway.
Ask for directions at the High Roller in the Linq, and you’ll pay more attention to the representative’s wardrobe than his answers. Over at Guy Fieri’s new restaurant at the Quad, your server may have you stuttering over her designer denim duds before you can give her your menu order.
And at the Interlude lounge in the Cromwell, the cocktail models are wearing the hottest, shimmering short gold-and-chain outfits you’ve seen on the Strip in decades, and the chain links match right down to their high heels.
A startling fashion revolution is underway on the Strip, and one woman is responsible for the cutting-edge new looks. She’s no relation to me, but the last name is the same. Meet Allison Leach, who grew up on a farm playing with Barbie dolls and making clothes for them.
A childhood hobby has now turned into a lucrative fashion-design profession. In addition to her Hollywood movie work, she’s slowly changing the look of Las Vegas one unique collection at a time. Her sense of style is turning up in films, digital productions, television, commercials, live shows and the slow but sure takeover of the Strip.
It’s not easy to describe her aesthetics because she cuts across normal genres of stage and film to new media and mixes nostalgia with innovations of the future. It might look formal, somewhat severe, yet dancers, acrobats and athletes love the mobility built into her design. For Las Vegas, that means our hard-working valets, servers and runners give her their tips.
I first talked with Allison almost two years ago when she unveiled her designs for the men and women of Gordon Ramsay Steak. In short order, she won assignments for the Linq and the High Roller, quickly followed by Guy Fieri’s new Quad restaurant for his hosts, customer-relations personnel, bar operators and servers. Now this past week at the opening of the Cromwell, her cocktail wear on the casino floor and the Interlude lounge were unveiled, too.
As head of wardrobe, Allison is wrapping up designs for the new “Max Steel” movie in North Carolina. She also recently designed two ambitious digital series: Jon Chu’s “The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers” and Bryan Singer’s interactive sci-fi series “H+.”
Allison took time out from her hectic schedule of sketching and sewing and fittings and fabricating for a Q+A:
So the latest project for you in Las Vegas after your success with Gordon Ramsay is the Linq and the High Roller, right?
Yes, I have four properties that I’ve been designing in Las Vegas that are all just about open or have just opened. First is definitely the one I’m most excited about, the High Roller. Just because that’s such an amazing attraction to be the largest Ferris wheel in the world. Being a part of that has been amazing, and it’s been a long process of designing. I think it’s been over a year, actually, that I’ve been working to design the uniforms for this property.
What staff there did you design uniforms for?
I designed for what you would call the front-of-house staff. From the people who greet you to the bartenders and cocktail waitresses, as well as security. They call them the operators; they actually operate the pods. Basically everything that you see that’s blue, silver and some splashes of poppy orange.
And the next one?
We just opened Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar at the Quad. I designed for the staff there with Jeffrey Fredericks. I did the new uniforms at O’Sheas, as well. Then the fourth one is the Cromwell. I designed all of the cocktail wear and VIP cocktail wear for Cromwell. It’s going to be a great hotel. I can’t wait to stay there. It’s going to be the first kind of Caesars boutique experience.
Are you continuing your innovative nostalgia with all of these?
I would say yes. Certainly with Guy Fieri, we did very American work wear. Kind of a nostalgic, classic Americana kind of vibe, but then we switched it up with some asymmetrical details and more contemporary things with more patchwork and cutting and mixed materials. We use both sides of the denim, and that kind of a salvage, reworked denim vibe.
When you take on a project like any one of those four, how do you get started? How do you look at it? What triggers your creative juices?
Well first I look at the chef and his brand and vibe and personality. Customers know that it’s impossible for Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri to come and serve every order of burger or fries, so I think how can I express his brand down to the last detail of every busser or every person representing them in their restaurant. They’re wearing something in the spirit of that chef that he would like.
So I get started with that steering what they’re trying to achieve with the restaurant. I work very closely with the food and beverage manager to find out what it is that they’re looking to achieve. Then I start doing research. For Guy Fieri, I literally did research at the Blues Festival last year in Dana Point, Calif. These are men’s men. Would he like to wear it? There’s a lot of kind of preacher style down there with a blues influence. Just doing research on kind of the culture of whoever the chef is. Then it’s my interpretation, my idea and my spin whether it’s Gordon Ramsay with the London vibe or Guy Fieri with the down-home vibe — America.
Does everything have to be sexy?
In Las Vegas, yes. Not necessarily on the East Coast, not necessarily Los Angeles, but in Las Vegas, yes. Being Las Vegas is part of the package. For men and women. I have a code name for Las Vegas. I call it vest and breast. I know for sure that they want vests on the guys, and I know for sure they want to frame the women’s bust lines.
How does a girl growing up on a farm in California get to be interested in fashion in the world’s designer capitals? Were you bored as a kid with cows getting milked in the backyard? Did you just dream of getting away from walnuts and oil? What triggered you to leave?
I did grow up on a farm, and that’s been very much a part of who I am in loving animals and loving farm life; getting my hands dirty. In the freedom of having Mom, Dad and my brother on a farm with our nearest neighbors being my grandparents a half-mile away, I think instead of playing with kids in the schoolyard, I was watching a lot of movies and playing with a lot of Barbies and making clothes.
Both of my grandmothers taught me to sew, and one grandmother had a dress shop. I would work there, and I thought that I was truly being baby-sat. I would go around and put little Post-It notes on all the clothes saying this is pretty, this is ugly or help the ladies who are getting dressed — help choose what they wanted to buy in the fitting rooms.
That was like age 6, so playing dress up was very much a part of me growing up. My other grandmother was a quilter. She would teach me how to go get cotton out of the field and put it straight into a pillow and fill it up. She also exposed me to a lot of opera and theater and films — pretty much a recipe for a very creative individual.
Eventually it led to an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington and then a master’s in fashion and textile design at the Institut Francais de la Mode in Paris. Now you’re doing the “Max Steel” movie. How is that different from your previous films?
It is a teen superhero movie that’s fantastic, and I’m so thrilled to be part of it. It’s different because I’m getting to do full-on fantasy, science fiction, comic book type stuff, which is my dream. I used to be a lot more into the nostalgic side doing a lot more vintage things. We’re getting into more science-fiction territory where I get to think about what the future might look like or what fantasy elements might look like. Basically, I’m living the dream because I’m getting to do this futuristic stuff. I’m getting to learn about a whole new part of specialty costumes that is really real.
Allison, do you think of yourself as a designer like Valentino? How do you describe yourself? When you say designer, you don’t think of somebody who designs for digital series. You’re like a new world designer or a new technology designer.
I’m trying to figure out exactly what that is, too, because like they told us when we went to college, the jobs that you will have when you get out don’t exist yet. In this generation, we’re kind of designing our own careers; therefore, I’ve been able to start my company, Rebel Unicorn Creative Services Inc., as a way to say I am more than just a costume designer or fashion designer or a uniform designer.
I’m thinking more along the lines of a design director, or somebody like, I would say, Dianna Vreeland. Looking at people who are visionaries in general, like Richard Branson or one of my favorites, Steve Wynn. It’s true visual storytelling. You can do a lot; you can do a lot of different things. So I consider calling myself a more visual storyteller. In a sense, it’s concept design and branding design.
What do you think the future of fashion design is as we sit here in 2014? How much more daring can it be, can it go?
Well it can go to infinity and beyond as technology in the fashion industry and the textile industry changes. For instance at High Roller, we used textiles not used before: special, breathable-looking advanced technology in the garment so that those wearing it would be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
In Las Vegas, you need clothes that adjust to the body’s heat levels. So that’s one example where technology innovations can make people more comfortable and it looks just as good, so you might as well make it more comfortable.
I’d love to design for the Olympics. I’d love to design for the military and astronauts. When clothes are not just for visually branding reasons but also for health and safety or for things we don’t even know yet, like what do we have to wear when we go to Mars or the moon. Well, I guess you’ll have to have a textile designer to help you figure that out.
It is fascinating for me. That’s what I do all day long is think about this stuff. Except for right now as I’m working about 100 hours a week while we’re in production!
We hope you go on revamping this new look to Las Vegas.
Well Steve Wynn has done a good job, and now I’d say that I’m giving it a ladies’ eye, and that’s a nice thing after the men having it their way up until now.
He keeps building, and you’re changing the way people look.
I hope to. I really try to do my research on the industry there. There’s no question Steve Wynn has had a major impact on Las Vegas while reimagining it. People like Jeff Fredericks overseeing the restaurants at Caesars Entertainment and the company are certainly thinking that way.
You’re always having to redesign Las Vegas. It’s a constantly changing, morphing kind of city, which is what I love about it. I love being part of it, so much so in fact when I get back, I’m looking into getting a place.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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