Winds Of Change

Has Los Angeles Replaced New York As America’s Fashion Capital?

A tale of two cities.

Has Los Angeles Replaced New York As America’s Fashion Capital?
Image: Izayah Ramos/Unsplash

Not too long ago, the mention of Los Angeles would often conjure up images of the Beverly Hills Hotel, rows of towering palm trees, and Paris Hilton (and her wannabes) strolling around Rodeo Drive with a little poodle underneath her arm.

Los Angeles has never been able to attain the same cool, refined, fashionable status as her sister on the East Coast: New York.

Sure, there is fashion in the city — what with all the parties and red carpets that were regular fare pre-Covid — but Los Angeles’ fashion scene has always played second fiddle. Where New York is embodied by the cutting edge and buzzy energy, Los Angeles is all about dripping gemstones and tight minis.

Yet, in recent times, the tides seem to have turned. Fashion has suddenly found new love with The City of Angels, especially in the last few months. The question is: Why?

The Celeb Equation

A large part of our understanding of Los Angeles comes from the impressions pop culture has instilled in us. To the world, LA is Hollywood, reality television, red carpet premieres, and a city where you could be sitting at a coffee shop right next to George Clooney or Reese Witherspoon.

Celeb culture has arguably grown in the last decade or so, too. Once shunned by fashion brands, past awards seasons have become a race for brand execs to see which celebrity is available to wear their latest season.

  • Charlize Theron attends the 31st Annual Producers Guild Awards, wearing Givenchy.Image: Givenchy
  • Timothée Chalamet attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, wearing Prada.Image: Prada

Some even consider pulling out not-yet-debuted designs from future seasons just so one of Hollywood’s next It-actresses will be papped wearing it on the red carpet.

Celebs, too, have taken to fashion far more than in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Where actresses in the past shunned fashion because it felt diminishing to their actual craft and body of work, most celebrities today come with a rider that includes requisite wardrobe experts to help them get ready.

Margot Robbie enlists the help of Anna Wintour’s ex-assistant Kate Young, while Zendaya works regularly with celebrity stylist Law Roach to turn out top-rated red carpet looks each time.

Together with a crew of hair and makeup artists, Hollywood’s next generation of actors and actresses want to be taken as seriously for their sense of fashion as well as their talent.

In the golden age of Instagram, where fan accounts work around the clock to document and repeatedly post their favourite celebs’ looks from a variety of angles, this gold rush of coverage has become something that fashion can no longer ignore. The red carpet is the new runway.

Back To Basics

Then, there’s also a global shift in trends that has allowed Los Angeles to thrive.

Unlike New York’s fast-paced, cutting-edge image, LA is considerably more laid-back and effortless. The quintessential mental image of LA is that you’re sitting on your patio lined with macramé plant hangers in a tie-dye tee and a pair of denim cut-offs while watching the sky turn pink and orange as the sun slowly sets behind you.

As the world begins to embrace a return to wellness (thanks, Goop!), and as the idea of slowing down and caring for one’s self is also a message that the garment industry has started to promote, it only seems natural that inclinations would veer towards the West Coast.

Even before the pandemic, healing crystals and alternative lifestyles have already started to trend. Suddenly, tomorrow’s consumer doesn’t want clothing and accessories for a tough urban environment, but one where he or she can take a more relaxed approach at living. This has only been exacerbated post-coronavirus, as large urban centres are now slowing down as dwellers continue to seek safety and isolation at home.

Take all of that, and combine it with LA’s sun-drenched, effortless “modern hippie” vibe and you’ve got a winning combination.

Rising and Falling

Perhaps more pertinently, New York has lost a bit of spark because of the troubles that plague Fashion Week.

In the timeslots where great names such as Ralph Lauren, Tomy Hilfiger, Joseph Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler used to occupy, NYFW has seen a series of exits by some of its star designers from its erstwhile glittering roster. Lauren presents his collections at his own time, and Hilfiger chose to show his recent AW20 collection in London, while Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler have both been showing in Paris for a few seasons now.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley joins a bandwagon of celebs that include actor Jason Momoa, singer Ciara and South Korean popstar CL in the front row of Tom Ford’s AW20 show.Image: Tom Ford

And the death knell? On NYFW’s first evening — which coincided with Oscars weekend — Tom Ford took his entire AW20 show to Los Angeles to show there instead, bringing along his usual draw of celebrities that included actresses Jennifer Lopez and Kate Hudson.

“There is an excitement in LA on that particular weekend, and the relationship between film and fashion is a strong one,” Ford said. “In my role as chairman of the CFDA, my main intent and priority is to globalise and bring attention to American fashion. There is truly no bigger or more prominent stage in the world at any given time than Los Angeles during the Academy Awards.”

Thanks to a star-studded front-row, Ford’s show got plenty of buzz, and LA won another little victory, but it didn’t end there.

  • Dior’s Fall 2020 collection included several tie-dye pieces.Image: Sarah Blais for Dior
  • Louis Vuitton’s new perfume, California DreamingImage: Louis Vuitton
  • In April this year, Fendi collaborated with LA artist Joshua Vides on a capsule collection named “California Sky”.Image: Fendi

In the last few months, both Louis Vuitton and Dior showed their takes on tie-dye patterns, elevating the iconic DIY pattern of the summer to luxurious new heights. Louis Vuitton’s newest fragrance is named California, and takes its bearings from the famously picturesque skyscapes of the city’s sunsets. Meanwhile, Fendi dropped a capsule collection named “California Sky”, in collaboration with an LA-based artist, Joshua Vides.

On top of that, Saint Laurent’s latest SS21 Menswear collection had plenty of LA-styled inflections to boot. Featuring parkour artists vaulting across the rooftops of Paris, a wardrobe of floral-printed shirts, loose bomber jackets and easy layering began to take shape. Other LA-inspired aesthetics included yet more tie-dye patterns, as well as accessories that ran the gamut from feather pendants to straw hats and braided sandals.

  • Saint Laurent Men’s SS21Image: Saint Laurent Paris
  • Saint Laurent Men’s SS21Image: Saint Laurent Paris
  • Saint Laurent Men’s SS21Image: Saint Laurent Paris

While the long-term verdict on whether Los Angeles will replace New York as one of the world’s major fashion capitals is still being decided, it’s safe to say that if it does, many of the industry’s biggest players are already on board.

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