Before I continue my ‘conceptualist’ survey – this is Los Angeles, after all – drawing from my Paris haute couture notes (and everything else) – a few thoughts about the out-of-towner spin (and that’s really all it is) on the fashion/design scene here that ran in Sunday morning’s Times’ T Magazine Women’s Fashion Fall 2013 magazine supplement. You undoubtedly ran across Aaron Gell’s fly-over feature in the “Arena” section (under an “On the Verge” rubric) – the logic of the magazine’s section/department breakdown escapes me. If you actually read (as opposed to ‘flying over’) it, you might feel as if someone dropped a Quaalude into your coffee, coming across such breathless epiphanies as, “Angelenos aren’t particularly concerned with the zeitgeist,” (I always thought it was capitalized – what gives?); “Suddenly, though, something legitimately fashiony seems to be happening here” (‘legitimately’ – who knew?); [Hedi Slimane’s] “very rock n’ roll, L.A.-tinged collections”; “So what if Los Angeles … still hasn’t apologized for popularizing spandex…”; “Nobody goes out much—if they really wanted to go out, they’d be in New York…” (absurd – though, given the parking violations racket, it may be getting that way); and “Things have improved dramatically (on film industry award red carpets) with the rise of the celebrity stylist.” – which is arguable, to say the least. (See my post on what was missing from this year’s Academy Awards style-setters.)
You know he’s off to a bad start when he starts off “stuck in traffic on the 101, halfway…[between]…a pop-up dance party in Westlake and a benefit in Bel-Air.” (To get off Mulholland and shlep down Beverly Glen? I guess it makes sense if your destination is up near the Stone Canyon Reservoir … but really?) This is not the route most of us would take. And then Laura Owens and Gavin Brown both in succeeding personality photo-clusters – leaving out Wendy Yao? This has as much to do with art as with fashion – but Wendy Yao of Ooga Booga is the guiding spirit here, and her presence is at least as important as Laura Owens’ at 356 S. Mission. (Have a look at my feature on the geography of L.A. art commerce in next month’s Artillery.) Since he’s a bit distracted by the creative bleed between the L.A. art world and fashion, you would think that instead of rewriting his copy from press releases, he might have taken a closer look at actual design practices. In fairness, the Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte inevitably show up, as do Greg Chait (of the Elder Statesman cashmere line) and Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders. (Because he saw Scott at one of his brief social touch-downs?? Just guessing.) And oh yes – glad you noticed that the Guess? label’s revenues “dwarf better-respected luxury lines.” No mention of the private museum that label’s revenues are helping to fund.
You’re looking for the art-fashion nexus? Okay, Rodarte is a good place to start. Then you might want to head, uh, DOWNTOWN. I doubt that Gell would have had an opportunity to look at my ‘Conceptual dressing’ post (which featured the likes of Victor Wilde and his Bohemian Society line). You’d think he might have noticed that Lucky Brand was in the same neighborhood as 356 S. Mission. But he might have had better luck – with both the scene and the art – if he’d gone to Night Gallery (they have a terrific show up right now), also east of Alameda on 16th Street. That would have put him only a few blocks away from J Brand, a label he might be familiar with – having featured, amongst their many lines, collaborations with denim pioneer and rock couturier ne plus ultra, Henry Duarte, and that New York label loved my so many of us here in L.A., Proenza Schouler. Yes, we do go out, Mr. Gell – occasionally even wearing New York labels. But that’s another thing. It is an odd way of putting oneself together – at least as viewed through that Hudson River perspex – this ever-changing mix of the D.I.Y.-on-the-fly, the anti-fashion (even as it encompasses serious fashion) attitude, the conventional mingled with off-the-charts absurd, the mix of local, international, and vaguely theatrical design. What do you think a store like Just One Eye is about, after all? Speaking of which, that stretch of Romaine is not exactly just a “sketchy side street.” Did you have a look at the neighborhood? I mean, the ‘main drag’ in that particular neighborhood, which happens to be Highland Avenue. Don’t look now, but it’s become a major art corridor (again – see my forthcoming Artillery feature – out by week’s end). Doll, this is the Zeitgeist.
That same Zeitgeist pulses in Shanghai, Berlin, Istanbul, Antwerp, London and New York – because here’s the thing: the local art-fashion domain is global, and vice-versa. He mentions Eva Chow at one point. Is he aware that Eva Chow’s design career began in Korea, as Eva Chun? This, too, points up a global connection that’s one of L.A. fashion’s open secrets – all the great cutting-edge Korean design you see in L.A. street style. (Look around – you can see it, and not just in K-Town.) So glad you enjoyed The Standard on Sunset – and we’ll see you at the next Artillery event there on September 10th. Did you notice there’s one downtown, too? And before you nightcap it with Li-Lo at the Chateau Marmont, maybe you can do something about the traffic on the other side of Crescent Heights and the twenty-odd clubs on that side of Hollywood – to say nothing of the old-line clubs on the Strip. Or are they too ‘old school,’ too ‘school of rock n’roll’ for you? Oh right – like Hedi Slimane, whose label, after all, is still called Saint Laurent Paris. And no – some of us thought his first collection was actually more ‘late 1960s Yves Saint Laurent’-tinged – which I realize amounts to much the same thing. (Not to worry – signs are he actually might be responding to an L.A. vibe – he’s a pretty good designer after all. As for his photography…. uh – let’s just hope he sticks with ready-to-wear design for a while.)
Do you really think Gell actually made it downtown or even as far as Westlake (as in A Club Called Rhonda)? Even if he didn’t, he would have had access to great local design in any of a dozen stores and boutiques just a stone’s throw away from The Standard. (E.g., see my post on KIN – only a block or two away.) I mentioned AGAIN and Amber Kekich-Purling (speaking of the art side of the equation); also UNIF (Erick Espinoza and Christine Lai) – still rocking with a vengeance. But there are so many others – Driftwear (another knitwear line), Ellie Lavelle, NAMI, Bryan Hearns; Nikki Montoya, Liza Stromburg, Lizzie Mandler, Cynthia Sakai – a zillion jewelry and accessories designers (Chrome Hearts is probably a drug on Bergdorf Goodman’s market these days, but ya know it’s still made right here in Hollywood).
Finally – about the celebrity stylist and ‘cleaning up the red carpet’ – in a word, NO. This is not what characterizes Los Angeles fashion – high, low, street, runway, or anything in between – at its best, its most dynamic, its most eclectic. First of all, forget about Rachel Zoe and the army of celebrity stylists serving the Hollywood award industry. The celebrity stylist is a global phenomenon – evident from red carpets not just in L.A., but everywhere from New York to Beijing. More importantly, what distinguishes L.A. fashion and style is exactly the same spirit that embraces both a laissez-faire anti-fashion attitude and a dazzling playfulness with just a dash of malice – that willingness to be outlandish, to take it to the edge and be ready to plunge right over; a willingness to risk ‘bad taste’, to offend, to fail – or occasionally soar to glory.