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LA Confidence: A Fashion Force Beyond Film

With a thriving art scene, retail momentum and a GDP of more than $825 billion, Los Angeles is a growing fashion force with impact beyond its Hollywood star power.
Designer brand stores on Rodeo Drive | Source: Shutterstock
  • Lauren Sherman

LOS ANGELES, United States — Like many stores that operate within the Los Angeles sprawl, Just One Eye is not the sort of place you stumble upon. A visit requires intent. The three-year-old brainchild of Tunisian-born, French-bred Paola Russo, who has spent the past 31 years living in the city, the Hollywood boutique features a shrewd blend of high fashion, jewellery, art and home décor — from a $9,690 Alexandre Vauthier sequined dress to a $30,000 Marilyn Minter limited-edition print.

The mix generates a magnetic pull that brings fashion industry insiders, tourists and locals to 7000 Romaine Street, an art deco building that was once the offices of Howard Hughes. "It's one of the first stops I make when I go to Los Angeles," says London-based stylist and Vanity Fair contributing editor Elizabeth Saltzman.

“LA, for a while, was a quiet city. Far from everything,” Russo recalls. “French people used to hate LA. Now, all of the sudden, everybody loves it.”

Indeed, the world — and the fashion world, in particular — is currently besotted. In February, Tom Ford staged his Fall 2015 runway show here. A few months later, Nicolas Ghesquière took to Palm Springs, two hours east of the city, for the debut of Louis Vuitton's Resort 2016 collection. The front row of Burberry's April 2015 show at Griffith Observatory reflects the power of fashion's current love affair with LA. "I've never seen anything like it," says Ilaria Urbinati, a buyer-turned-fashion stylist, whose client list includes Bradley Cooper, Shailene Woodley and Lizzy Caplan. Alongside the typical crew of celebrities — most notably, the Beckham family — sat tech executives, including Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom.


“There are more showrooms and reps out here than ever,” Urbinati notes. “Designers are more and more conscious of how much the red carpet world affects their sales.”

January Jones outside Burberry's April 2015 show in Los Angeles | Source: Burberry January Jones outside Burberry's April 2015 show in Los Angeles | Source: Burberry

January Jones outside Burberry's April 2015 show in Los Angeles | Source: Burberry

At Burberry, there were also entertainment industry insiders like DreamWorks chief executive officer Jeffrey Katzenberg and Creative Artists Agency managing partner Bryan Lourd, who, alongside American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, hosted an intimate dinner for Burberry designer Christopher Bailey at Lourd's home the night before the show. Maybe not something that would have happened 10, 15 or 20 years ago, when the city was better known to outsiders for fashion faux pas like terry cloth tracksuits, peroxide blondes and low-rider denim. "It's a different vibe now," Saltzman says. "It's not just surfer chic. It's not just hippie chic."

But why the shift? When and why did Los Angeles go from being a fashion backwater to the place where everyone — not just New Yorkers, but Europeans too — wants to be?

"The culture has always been here," argues Lisa Love, the West Coast director of American Vogue. What's changed is the outside world's exposure to everything LA has to offer, from healthy food to endless sunshine — a shift inextricably bound up with the broader rise of wellness as the ultimate luxury. The highly curated Instagram accounts of resident bloggers like Aimee Song (2.5 million followers) and The Blonde Salad's Chiara Ferragni (4.3 million followers) make a compelling argument for great weather and healthy food. "I call it the style of life," says retailer Ron Herman, who opened his first store here in 1976.

"Los Angeles has an exceptional quality of life," says Jonathan Schley, a real estate broker and developer who has worked on several projects in burgeoning downtown Los Angeles, including the Ace Hotel and Acne Studios store. "Now that everybody has access to everything and communication is easy, there's no reason to be in a place that's super expensive with terrible weather. It's not cool or fashionable to be freezing."

Much ink has been spilled over Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane's residency in the city, which is also home to Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott, Greg Chait of The Elder Statesman, and jewellery designer Jennifer Meyer. Other internationally recognised Los Angeles-based labels include handbag maker Clare Vivier, cobbler George Esquivel, rising red carpet star Juan Carlos Obando and Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte.

LA stylist-turned-designer Andrea Lieberman’s contemporary collection A.L.C. is stocked at more than 300 stores worldwide. Meanwhile, promising upstarts include Zaid Affas, whose work is stocked at Just One Eye, and Rosetta Getty, whose personal flavour of luxury minimalism has won over retailers like Net-a-Porter, Saks Fifth Avenue in the US, D’NA in the Middle East and Harvey Nichols in London. “Before, it was hard to find people related to what you were doing,” says Getty, an LA native. “Now, it’s not hard at all. It really is helpful to have your peers working alongside you. It makes a huge difference.”


Of course, fashion has a lengthy history with Hollywood. In the 1950s, costume designer Edith Head transformed her leading ladies, including Tippi Hedren and Audrey Hepburn, into style icons. In the 1980s, Los Angeles-based designers like James Galanos ruled the red carpet. But LA's fashion story goes beyond the movies. In 1994, then Los Angeles resident Rick Owens began selling to pioneering boutique Charles Gallay. Richard and Laurie Lynn Stark of Chrome Hearts launched what is now a mini-empire based in LA back in 1988. Costume designer Arianne Phillips, who recently collaborated with Prada, has also lived here for years. Fashion photographers Steven Meisel, Steven Klein and Herb Ritts have all been based here, as was Helmut Newton, who lived at the legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.

Los Angeles is also the world’s long-standing denim capital, where jeans by J Brand, Mother and Current/Elliott are manufactured. To be sure, many denim companies have moved their production to other countries. Yet apparel manufacturing employed 44,400 workers in Los Angeles County in 2014. In fact, apparel manufacturing is one of the biggest industries in the area, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

While apparel production in the city isn't expected to skyrocket any time soon — especially given the recent layoffs at American Apparel, one of the city's biggest manufacturers — there are new opportunities emerging. Clare Vivier, who began wholesaling her handbag line in 2008, started with one local factory. With annual sales of over $10 million a year, she now works with five. The Elder Statesman's Greg Chait employs 30 people, many of whom are skilled artisans who handknit and dye his cashmere sweaters and blankets. Chrome Hearts, an investor in The Elder Statesman and a favourite of the fashion elite — including Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs — has more than 500 local employees on the payroll, with workshops specialising in leatherwork, knitting, engraving and other skills operating under one roof. "It's a small village," says Laurie Stark. "They're skilled in everything from leather and ready-to-wear sewing to hand-setting diamonds and wood carving."

And while home-grown brands are doing their part to build Los Angeles’ profile as a fashion epicentre, plenty of outsiders are also establishing retail roots in the region, eager to tap the 13 million residents in the city’s metropolitan area, which boasts a GDP of more than $825 billion according to the US Census Bureau. What’s more, 330,000 high net worth individuals, worth a total of $1.2 trillion, reside in Los Angeles, according to the 2014 US Wealth Report released by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management. While Los Angeles has always had its fair share of respectable multi-brand boutiques, it makes sense that more individual brands and international retailers are flocking here.

The facade of Hollywood retailer Just One Eye | Source: Just One Eye The facade of Hollywood retailer Just One Eye | Source: Just One Eye

The facade of Hollywood retailer Just One Eye | Source: Just One Eye

In many ways, Melrose Place has replaced Rodeo Drive as the ultimate luxury shopping destination, with The Row, Irene Neuwirth, Marc Jacobs, Isabel Marant, Chloé and Violet Grey occupying storefronts. Balenciaga, The Elder Statesman, Opening Ceremony, H. Lorenzo and Maxfield are all just a few minutes' drive away.

In burgeoning downtown, concept shops like Guerilla Atelier and Please Do Not Enter have joined Acne Studios — which is at the bottom of the historic art deco Eastern Columbia Building — and the Ace Hotel, among many others. Over in Venice, there's British fashion photographer Glen Luchford's Rose Hotel. And after years of anticipation, California native Rick Owens — who began his career in the city — is opening a 5,200-square-foot store on La Brea Avenue, not far from Just One Eye.

L’Éclaireur scion Meryl Hadida is already at work on an LA outpost of her family’s internationally renowned Parisian concept stores. “It has become an international hub for all people and businesses revolving around the arts, design and fashion,” Hadida says. Tourism is indeed on the rise, with 44.2 million visitors passing through in 2014, up 4.8 percent from the year previous. About 6.5 million were international visitors, a 5.6 percent increase from 2013. Together, they spent a record $19.6 billion, up 6.8 percent.


Where there's fashion, art has often laid the groundwork. And, indeed, art has long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles, with the city serving as a home to seminal artists like Ed Ruscha, Sterling Ruby and John Baldessari. "When Regen Projects opened up their gallery [in 1989], it was bold and daring," Vogue's Love says. In the early 2000s, New York artists were drawn to LA by the cheap rents. Aaron Rose, owner and director of Alleged Gallery, a leader in New York's downtown art scene, arrived in LA in 2001.

Katherine Ross, the ex-LVMH consultant who moved to Los Angeles nine years ago with her husband, has been integral to conjoining the worlds of fashion and art in the past decade. Ross curates Wear LACMA, for which she invites LA-based designers into the museum’s permanent collections to cull inspiration. “I think there’s been an energy and momentum culturally,” Ross says. “Not just in fine art, but in food and fashion. A lot of hardcore New Yorkers have said to me, ‘Oh, maybe I should get a place [here].’”

But as more creatives from New York and beyond see the potential of Los Angeles, the less accessible it may become. The median price of a one-bedroom home in the city for the three months ending in July 2015 was $450,000, up 10.1 percent from $408,752 during the same period in 2014. Five years ago, it was $275,000. Commercial real estate prices are also rising.

“I hope it will keep its edge,” Russo laments. Love, for one, welcomes the company. “It’s so exciting to have new people come to town. I have no fear of feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “We don’t need their validation, but we need them.”

This article appears in BoF's third annual #BoF500 special print edition, celebrating the most influential people shaping the global fashion industry. To order copies for delivery anywhere in the world or locate a stockist, visit


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