Dynamist Blog


This LAT Magazine article identifies an L.A. approach to fashion--even high-end, expensive, name-label fashion--that upturns traditional New York assumptions about authority and status. Angeleno fashionistas, it implies, are simply more confident than their East Coast counterparts. They wear what makes them happy, not what someone says is the season's "must have." (Very junior high, that.)

Go ahead, say the words "L.A." and "style" together without smirking just a little. The implied regionalism of the term gives the game away. It's so "Me, too!" In Milan, the term is bella figura; in Paris, it's simply "chic"; in London, it's a "look." Our sister to the East, New York, has a million hegemonic expressions for it — one "works" a fashion mood, one "serves [up]" a designer outfit, one "feels" a costumey dress. And whatever "look" is in is guaranteed to be identified, dissected and priced within 30 seconds of its presentation.

L.A. women don't go for that. Sure, they covet, but L.A. style-setters don't get as fixated about "must haves" as women in other cities. "Fashion here is digested in a totally different way," says stylist and costume designer Arianne Phillips, who dresses Madonna, contributes to Italian Vogue, Pop and Harper's Bazaar and costumed actors in films including "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Identity" and "Girl, Interrupted." Phillips attributes part of this digestive process to good old California culture: the beach, the mountains, the desert, the climate, the sunshine.

"There really is a casual aesthetic, and it reflects the ease — or perceived ease — of life here," Phillips says. "People aren't quite as fashion literal here. I don't know people who go out and buy, say, the new fall collection. You walk into Fred Segal or Barneys, and that approach is just not there."

L.A. women are "more likely to throw together a Birkin bag, Juicy pants and a Chanel jacket. That's what I see," says boutique owner Tracey Ross. Designer Magda Berliner, whose whimsical dresses are a favorite of fashion editors and connoisseurs, and who counts Chanel among her influences, adds, "We don't have the 'That's last year's Balenciaga' thing. Here it's 'That looks great.' People are not really hung up on what's current right now."

L.A.-born model and style icon Peggy Moffitt, who with designer Rudi Gernreich helped create some of the most enduring fashion of this epoch, says fashion "is predicated on the idea that every six months it's going to change. When you look at something, you have to ask yourself, 'Do I want that because everyone does? Or do I want that because it serves my purposes?' I think people with style might have things 30 or 40 years."

The article is a bit detached from everyday reality, where multi-thousand-dollar Birkin bags aren't exactly normal, but the point is well taken. To quote an idea from my new book, pleasure and aesthetic identity--"I like that" and "I'm like that"--drive L.A. fashion. And, I'd argue, increasingly American fashion in general.

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