"We are finding that there is more interest in leather now," said Johnson, 34. B-Vain plays on that interest with avant-garde fashions and a strikingly designed boutique. The corner shop is painted a traffic-stopping lavender. Inside are racks of samples so that clients can see firsthand the company's work.
While they can and do produce a wide array of designs, from the most conservative to the most outre, Daniels and Johnson favor club wear, such as skin-tight leather pants with studs, zip-front leather tunics with sheer sleeves, micro-mini skirts with zippers, and crushed velvet suits with gold leather sleeves and collars.
"We like our clothes to be different," said Daniels. "I like to make things that stand out."
That's no understatement. One of the pair's best-selling designs is a black leather halter-back mini-dress with a rope-fringe hem dangling gold coins. It comes with a matching bolero jacket. Then there is the striking little number in the window: crimson-colored snakeskin hot pants and a fitted leather tunic.
These hotter-than-July clothes grew out of Daniels' love of designing club fashions for herself.
"I used to go out to clubs a lot, and I would always design all these crazy outfits for myself. I was concentrating on standing out in a crowd," she said.
Daniels, who grew up in Yeadon, attended the Craft Fashion Institute in Center City from 1981 to 1983. Her first job in fashion was sewing school uniforms for a local company. She did that for a few years before taking an assistant's job with Philadelphia leather designers Karon Woodland and Craig Rimes. She met Johnson through mutual friends in the early 1980s and was surprised to find how much they had in common. Johnson also worked once for Woodland and Rimes, loved working with leather and was looking for a partner.
"Every time I would see her I would talk to her about our getting together," said Johnson, a 1980 graduate of the Tracey Warner School of Fashion.
Johnson trained with Sayida Hafiz, one of Philadelphia's most respected designers. He opened his B-Vain couture boutique in the Empire building at 13th and Walnut in September 1990. Daniels joined the business a year later. Then they decided to specialize in leather and moved to their present location. The design team has garnered a wide following through participation in community fashion shows, particularly shows by Classic Productions, which is directed by Stephanie Cain, a longtime model who operates a South Philadelphia modeling school.
"We get lots of clients from these shows. They don't always want some of the things they see on the runway, but we show them how we can adapt a design to them and make it look different," Johnson said.
Their prices for leather goods start at $175 for a vest, $350 for a jacket, $200 for pants and about $175 for a skirt. The black leather halter dress with dangling coins goes for $800.
Customers might go into the shop wanting something hot, but often they settle for more conservative designs. That is, except for one unusual customer who popped into the shop when he discovered that it specialized in leather gear.
"He was a live one," Johnson recalled.
The man wanted some serious S&M gear for his wife, he said.
"I was shocked," said Daniels.
Did they make the goods for him?
"We told him to come back another time," said Daniels, laughing.
THIS AND THAT. Todd Oldham is getting to be one busy dude. Aside from creating his tongue-in-cheek designs and serving as chief fashion consort to rapper Queen Latifah, Oldham is about to do a limited menswear collection of shirts and vests for the Bergdorf Goodman for Men store in New York. And next year he plans to launch a women's and a men's scent. As if that's not enough, Mr. Workaholic has signed to be a regular correspondent on MTV's House of Style, a sporadic fashion program hosted by megamodel Cindy Crawford. Maybe he needs the money. . . . Hot young designer Byron Lars canceled his scheduled February appearance at the annual career day sponsored by the Philadelphia- area chapter of Fashion Group International. Plans to bring Nicole Miller instead look doubtful, also. Bud Konheim, president of Miller's company, said last week that she would probably be too busy designing her fall collection to make an appearance. The group is scrambling to find another designer/speaker for the Feb. 23 event. . . . The annual award gala of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in New York promises to pack almost as much star power as this week's inaugural ceremonies. (Well, maybe not quite.) Scheduled presenters for the Feb. 1 event include Cher and Elton John and a host of other celebrity types. King Karl Lagerfeld will be a presenter as well. . . . Word is that a certain red-haired Philadelphia model has fallen madly in love again with her former Euro-beau and wedding bells will soon be ringing for the reunited pair. . . . After many years as the fiercest model on the runways of community fashion shows, Sharon "Ronnie" Lopez has made the leap to professional. Lopez, whose razor-sharp turns and exotic beauty have made her a favorite on the semiprofessional circuit, was recently picked up by Askins Models. The divas of the local high-fashion circuit had better watch out for this one. She takes no prisoners.