Fashion’s Westward March

In the eyes of many East Coast fashion types, Los Angeles will always be the lightweight land of Ed Hardy, leggings and flakiness. But an increasing number of New Yorkers have realized that the benefits to an LA fashion career outweigh the stereotypes, and, in turn, have started trickling westward seeking sun, space, and those all-important celebrity connections.

“I always considered myself a New Yorker, in the sense that the harder you live, the more successful you are,” says Jenn Ripley, who got her start with Showroom Seven before launching her sample sale production company, Archive Agency. After stints in Brooklyn and Atlanta, Ripley moved her business’ HQ to a live/work loft in LA last month. “There’s just as much opportunity and creative talent in LA, but once you put in your work for the day you can actually have a life.”

In our straw poll of West Coast converts, the balanced, laid-back LA lifestyle was the main factor behind their moves. “People here are willing to take a more relaxed approach to business,” says Ripley. “It’s more about building relationships, and not about the bottom line every single minute.” As a result of this free-spirited mindset, many would-be entrepreneurs find themselves indulging in creative risks they might not have taken back east. “I went to college for art and design, but it just didn’t exist in my New York world,” says Helen Cavallo, a former ad exec who launched a jewelry line called Knot2Much2Ask with actress Joely Fisher upon moving to LA. “I don’t think New York allowed me to act on my whims…it doesn’t afford that same easiness.”

While Cavallo attributes her line’s celebrity following to “the laws of probability,” rather than blatant pandering, she recognizes that her famous fans have had a big impact on her business—a fact that New York fashion professionals are taking more and more seriously. “LA is a great place to do business, as Hollywood draws so much attention to product,” says former New Yorker Sonya Auvray of Wetherly Fashion Group, a PR agency which has operated from Beverly Hills for the last four years.

“Success in fashion used to be about talent, but now that’s not as important as your marketing capability and which stylists you know,” adds Clark Sabbat, a New York designer who is scouting LA studio locations for his womenswear lines, Voudoo and Friends with Benefits. “I want to start spending more time in LA so I can cultivate relationships I can’t cultivate in New York.” LA’s media world is also booming, according to Meghan Cleary, a shoe expert (and occasional JCR contributor) who moved west last year to build the TV side of her media company. “A lot of New Yorkers only think of LA in terms of movies,” she says. “But once you get here, you see there’s so much happening in online media, gaming, mobile applications and entertainment on top of everything else. I’ve experienced a lot more project development in a much smaller timeframe than I ever did in New York.”

And it’s not just the local tastemakers that make LA so enticing—it’s also the closeness of their social circles. “LA house parties are an interesting phenomenon,” says Chloé Jo Berman, founder of green lifestyle network GirlieGirl Army, who spends a portion of each month in the city. “You’d have to go to so many more events in New York to meet the same amount of people you’d find at one party in LA. People are so keyed into their scenes, if you meet oneanimal rights,  person into animal rights and you go to their house, you meet everyone you need to know.”

Then there’s the matter of LA fashion itself, which is proving more and more relevant for our times. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed my east coast clients responding to LA-based companies rather than those from New York,” says Ripley. “People are downsizing their budgets, and I think comfort, sustainability and a contemporary price point have become a lot more significant than a directional cocktail dress that’s not functional in real life.” Adds Berman: “True fashion geniuses are more likely to be in New York, but LA is more on the pulse of green design. In the future, LA could find its own niche as the green fashion capital, rather than just trying to compete with New York.”

Despite the disadvantages of LA life—namely car-dependence and the infamous sprawl—most everyone we’ve spoken with said they’ve been converted to the West Coast mentality. “I used to come to LA and say there’s no way I could ever live here,” says Cavallo. “I still believe New York is the greatest city in the world, but if you’re tenacious and smart enough, LA is a nurturing place to hatch your ideas and build something.”

—Erin Magner