Is Los Angeles A New Fashion Capital?

In the age-old debate between New York City and Los Angeles for the country’s reigning city, there has always been a clear-cut winner depending on the subject. Weather? Los Angeles wins without so much as a fight. Culture? It’s tough to compete with Broadway and The Met. Public transportation? Los Angeles is down for the count in seconds. Fashion? Well, that answer seems to be ever evolving. Sure, New York City’s Garment District has been the center of fashion design and manufacturing since the early 20th century, but in the last several years LA’s own fashion scene has come a long way. It seems this prizefight is getting better with each round.

Best known for being the home of a host of denim companies (Guess, J Brand, Seven For All Mankind, to name only a few), Los Angeles has long been associated with a laid-back, casual look and the easy-breezy surf culture, rather than high fashion. That, however, has slowly changed thanks in no small part to a few key and respected designers basing their brands here, including Rodarte, Band of Outsiders and Monique Lhuillier. “There has been a tangible change in LA as more LA based designers continue to create buzz,” says Lhuillier. “I think people are starting to see beyond the red carpet and realizing there is a lot of talent and creativity to be found in LA—and not just during awards season.”

This site’s own Editor-in-Chief, Rachel Zoe, is an LA-based designer who maintains her eponymous line’s headquarters in the City of Angels. “LA has been my home for more than a decade,” she says of the decision to base her company on the West Coast. “The California lifestyle inspires me to design for a woman who has an effortless glamour, which I really identify with. It’s a relaxed—yet always stylish—aesthetic.”

A palm tree-lined street in sunny Los Angeles. Photo: iStock

Perhaps the tide really began to turn in 2012 when Saint Laurent Creative Director Hedi Slimane made the monumental decision to base his studio in LA, as opposed to Paris, a bold move that raised more than a few eyebrows. “There has always been a desire to celebrate, showcase and promote fashion here in Los Angeles, but it’s taken some time to figure out how to do that in a way that makes sense to the unique landscape and industry here,” says Melissa Magsaysay, fashion journalist and author of City of Style: Exploring Los Angeles Fashion, From Bohemian to Rock. “For years I think people were trying to duplicate it, and you could sense it felt like an afterthought. I think fashion, from a more global perspective, has finally found its place in LA, incorporating all of the things that make the city great, blending with influences from all around the world, rather than just trying to emulate what makes other cities great.”

A look from Saint Laurent Spring ’15. Photo: Courtesy of Saint Laurent

If a house as iconic as Saint Laurent moving its studio from France to California was a watershed moment, there have been many since that proved Slimane was onto something. Last year, Diane von Furstenberg kicked off her exhibit Journey of A Dress in LA, instead of on the East Coast. And while we are only a few months into 2015, this year has brought the most undeniable proof yet of LA’s growing significance in the fashion industry. There was Louis Vuitton’s decision to also premiere its exhibit, Past, Present and Future—a conceptual interpretation of Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Spring/Summer ’15 collection—in LA. And then there was perhaps the most exciting news yet: Tom Ford announced he would forgo the European runways to show his Autumn/Winter womenswear collection in Hollywood on Oscars weekend. Where Ford goes, unsurprisingly, others follow. Recently it was announced Burberry will host a party and runway show in LA mid-April, while Louis Vuitton plans to return to the West Coast in May to show its resort line in Palm Springs. There is no question about it: LA is now officially about more than denim and neoprene. “Labels like Tom Ford and Saint Laurent are capturing, promoting and packaging the romantic aspect of LA life that artists, designers and creative types have long been inspired by,” says Magsaysay. “Capturing the LA lifestyle, as enviable as it’s always been, used to mean board shorts, maxi dresses and flip flops—endless-summer items, but that’s no longer the case. The free-spirited vibe that used to result in semi-cheesy boho garb is now way more about the Saint Laurent ’60s rock girl, and the thriving athleisure trend can be attributed to the ubiquitous post gym ensembles that have always been a uniform here in Los Angeles.”

Looks from the Tom Ford Fall ’15 fashion show, which took place in LA on Oscars weekend. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Ford

Retail, too, has followed suit. In 2014 Cos—H&M’s higher-end sister—opened its first US outpost here (before launching in New York), and other major European brands including Sandro, Maje and The Kooples have opened boutiques in LA in the last couple of years. Even KCD—arguably New York’s leading PR firm—opened an LA outpost earlier this year, sending a message about the growing impact of the West Coast by creating a permanent office here.

The Louis Vuitton exhibit Past, Present and Future opened in LA. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

So what is it about LA that has finally drawn the big designer names here for reasons other than dressing A-listers for the red carpet? Could the city’s notoriously perfect 70-degrees-and-sunny-climate actually be a factor? According to Lhuillier, it isn’t out of the question: “In LA, I’m able to reflect on my collections and designs while hiking with my family or watching the sun set over the ocean,” she says. “At times, living in LA offers a different perspective. As long as you work hard and make the most of your opportunities, I don’t think it puts you out of the mix—especially as more designers and editors are opting for better weather.” It does make sense, after all, that Louis Vuitton would want to show its resort collection somewhere that felt, well, like a resort. And given the bitter-cold temperatures at this past New York Fashion Week—which brought the layering-coats trend to new heights—no one could blame a designer for wanting to head West for some much needed Vitamin D at the end of a long winter.

Layering coats was a pervasive trend at New York Fashion Week due to freezing temps. Photo: Adam Katz Sinding

There is also the undeniable truth that LA, in general, operates at a slower pace. Perhaps in our technology-obsessed world, where everyone is “on” all the time, spending time in a city known more for palm trees than concrete is an appealing option. If, like most professionals, fashion-industry heavyweights need to be constantly by their phones and attached to their emails, they might as well do so while basking in the sunshine on the courtyard of the Chateau, rather than tucked away in a windowless high-rise.

The bottom line is this: LA will never be New York, but it’s looking more and more like it isn’t trying to be. “LA doesn’t need to function exactly like New York in order to be a legitimate fashion capital,” says Magsaysay. “People have grabbed onto the chic, inspiring and eclectic aspects of LA, and the outcome is something really special—it no longer feels forced.”—Sari Anne Tuschman, Editor-at-Large