could los angeles replace new york as america's fashion capital?

As Raf Simons, Tom Ford and Nicolas Ghesquière go west, could California become the fifth stop on the fashion month calendar?

by Austen Leah Rosenfeld
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31 March 2015, 11:19am

They might have grumbled initially, but New York editors made the journey west for the Tom Ford show this February, tweeting pictures of palm trees, and arriving to greet a star-studded front row. They returned to New York a few days later to freezing wind. It seemed the question on everyone's lips, instead of "Why LA?," was "Why not?"

Tom Ford's LA runway show, timed to coincide with the Oscars, became one of the buzziest events of fashion month this season, and after news broke that Dior and Louis Vuitton would both show cruise collections in or near the city this spring, LA became the focus of post-fashion week chatter. It seemed scandalous when Hedi Slimane, creative director of Parisian house Saint Laurent, moved to  LA back in 2012. Now, not so much. Could LA ever replace New York as America's fashion capital?

"I don't think that's possible, no," said John Elliott, the rising designer behind the cult menswear brand. Elliott's clothes are designed and made in Los Angeles. "I love LA. I moved to LA because of the manufacturing capabilities. I think there's an incredible spark taking place in LA right now, but realistically when you look at the institutions and editorial infrastructures that exist in New York, as much as I think it's really interesting as a "trend" to observe, I don't think its a truly viable threat to institutions in New York."

LA may not be a destination for all designers. But the fashion industry actually has been thriving for years there. Downtown LA, with its cheap industrial warehouse space, is prime real estate for apparel manufacturers, though it's mostly denim and mass fashion.

Gary Toebben, the president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce said, "our apparel manufactures have done a very good job of competing with the rest of the world. They do the best job in competing when they're not manufacturing items for the masses, but individual items that would appeal to a more exclusive clientele." LA has recently become the headquarters for jean companies, like Reformation and e-comm companies, like Nasty Gal. But that's still different than fashion with a capital F.

Fashion as such is steeped in tradition. It loves its artefacts and throwbacks. New York is America's fashion capital because New York has absorbed the culture and sophistication of its French friends across the Atlantic. Hollywood may be the land of reinvention, but New York is the land of refinement.

But Europe's economy has staggered over the past few years, and the fashion world, per usual, is looking where the money is. Hollywood, yes, but also China, Korea and Japan. Chanel's resort show will take place in Seoul, a vibrant fashion city. Plus, cozying up to Hollywood cannot be underestimated. When Derek Zoolander and Hansel show up on a runway, or when Julianne Moore sports a Karl Lagerfeld-made gown on the red carpet, it's a win-win for the fashion and movie industry alike.

For someone like Raf Simons, who recently announced he would move the Dior cruise show to LA, the pivot seems more conceptual than economic. In an interview with Tim Blanks for Interview, the Belgian designer says, "L.A. is a bit like Antwerp—relaxing and calm." Simons' longtime collaborator Sterling Ruby is based in Los Angeles, Simons' work often combines the industrial, nostalgic and surreal. Three pillars of the LA aesthetic.

It will take more than Simons' support to make LA an important fashion city. LA Fashion Week has wavered in and out over the years. Jen Uner, one of the former organisers of the LA Fashion Week schedule and producers of the LA Fashion Awards said, "There was never an opportunity for LA to set the calendar, to come in early, they were always following. Regardless, there was a lot of energy in LA. But the calendar was the biggest issue. And if there isn't a new story being told out West why would an editor or buyer hold open their pages or budget."

Mazdack Rassi, founder of Milk Studios in both New York and LA, said about fashion week, "in New York, space is a commodity so you can centralise. In LA there's a lot of space so you don't need to centralise."

He described the fashion scene in LA as twofold. "There is this incredible movement in LA in the last 4 or 5 years and it has nothing to do with big names or corporate sponsorships and its super duper relevant. It's the tale of two cities. Then there's a different world surrounded around celebrity, the Oscars, many people say the red carpet is the new runway for that level of luxury."

He also spoke about the publishing industry, and the trend towards celebrity covers on newsstand magazines, that will always draw fashion to LA. "Once that happened, and the magazines realised they could sell more magazines with celebrities, that trend will never go back."

But maybe the number of fashion shows isn't the best barometer for a city's fashion influence. Moschino recently opened its first flagship store in LA in January (where else would a pink Barbie biker jacket and McDonald's accessories sell as well?). In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Scott said about the city of angels: "I do feel like you do your best work wherever you're happiest, and I'm happiest here."

Happiness—that's a factor. Los Angeles has always focused on the California good life. The weather is great and the rent is (relative to New York) cheap. Whether it's the food, art, weather, lifestyle, or natural beauty (the mountains, ocean, and desert provide ample opportunity for photo shoots) fashion people love LA. Bernhard Willhelm relocated from his Belgian atelier to LA in 2013 (and currently has a show up at MOCA). Beyonce and Jay-Z are the most recent New York transplants to decamp for the sprawling city because it's a nice place to be.

But a sprawling city, no matter how lovely, can be difficult to capture. Jay-Z and Beyonce may live in LA but they aren't photographed by Tommy Ton. "I don't see people wearing my clothes in LA ever." said Elliott, "I will see that in New York. I don't have X-ray vision - I can't see through people's cars." Street-style, and media outlets, might be the two pieces LA is missing for a complete fashion ecosystem, plus a social culture that would draw young people to start creative fashion labels. Although that might be changing--Eckhaus Latta and 69 are two experimental LA-based brands on the rise.

Young creative directors, like Simons and Slimane, who have taken over old European houses, grew up romanticizing skate and surf culture, both products of Southern California. Ultimately, designers will go where they are inspired, so perhaps there is hope for LA as a fashion city, though it won't be like anything we've seen in New York. LA is home to some of the best denim manufacturers in the world--what about a denim fashion week? I asked the anonymous designer behind 69, "Yes! That's a great idea." she said.

Credits


Text Austen Leah Rosenfeld
Photography Ashley Webb