In 1976, a profile in The New York Times written by Michiko Kakutani declared that “California belongs to Joan Didion.” But this California, Kakutani makes it clear, was not the one where “everyone wears aviator sunglasses, owns a Jacuzzi and buys his clothes on Rodeo Drive.” No, hers was California as the West—“a parable of the American penchant for discarding history and starting tabula rasa,” which is to say starting over, or seeking a blank slate.
While the fashion world’s obsession with Didion began as purely aesthetic (her minimal style aligning well with current trends), it has now—consciously or not—moved on to something more profound: the adoption of these beliefs. A host of designers, brands, and general fashion influencers have been picking up and heading West for over a year now, whether for good or just longer stretches of time than has previously been the case.
Hedi Slimane, the creative director of Saint Laurent, seems to be the earliest arbiter of this movement, having relocated his design studio from Paris to Los Angeles soon after his new gig was announced in 2012. Speaking to Yahoo Style about his decision, Slimane explained, “I presume the distance, and the configuration of the city, gives you the possibility to focus entirely outside distractions, and therefore to develop your creativity. I do work constantly here, more than I used to … in Paris, but [here] there is also that lack of social pressure. Los Angeles is about making things.”
Slimane is not the only fashion-world Parisian to be enamoured with the West Coast. Designer Isabel Marant told us back in March that California inspires her because “you can have the city life and feel like you’re on holiday at the same time.” For photographer and blogger Garance Dore, the appeal is particularly Didion-esque: “You can forget who you are and take part in the American Dream.” And as an article in The New York Times this past May pointed out, design heavyweights like Nicolas Ghesquière and Raf Simons also make a point to visit California a few times a year. Their houses—Louis Vuitton and Dior, respectively—have both staged shows there, as has Tom Ford, the designer-turned-director whose enchantment with Hollywood (the place as much as the people) is palpable in both his designs and his films.
Perhaps sensing the growing appeal of the West, some of the hottest brands in and around fashion—The Row, Diptyque, and Rebecca Minkoff, to name a few—have all recently opened Los Angeles–based flagships. In The Row’s case, it was its first store ever, making quite a statement given that designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen live and work in New York. “For us, we very much wanted this to feel like a home,” Ashley told Los Angeles Times when the store opened in May of 2014. “California is our first home.”
But the sense of homecoming that California provides seems to transcend where one was actually born. Chiara Ferragni, easily the world’s most famous fashion blogger, left Italy behind in 2014 for Los Angeles. “[It’s] a beautiful city,” she told Pret-a-Reporter at the time, “and the only place where you can work hard but at the same time relax.” Where New York’s nonstop pace and perpetual buzz once reigned supreme for fashion’s finest, the allure of a slower, simpler life seems to have arisen. What was Ferragni most looking forward to from the move? “Having a beautiful garden, walking the dog … and, of course, hiking.”
More recently came the announcement from Natalie Joos—the fashion writer, stylist, and photographer—that she, too, would be leaving her New York life behind for Los Angeles. “I’ve been living in New York for 17 years and it’s getting stale. I’ve lost my childish excitement and curiosity,” she wrote on her blog, Tales of Endearment. “Maybe it’s a been-there-done-that type of motivation, or just the simple fact that I’m bored with the dirt and the chaos. I’m a sun bunny at heart and [have been] been dreaming of palm trees and breaking waves since birth.” She had just returned from the West Coast when she wrote it, and described her time there as nothing short of idyllic: “I didn’t do anything remotely taxing on my body, nor my brain.” There were slow mornings, runs on the Venice boardwalk, dips in the ocean, and a slew of cocktails and sushi. No sense of perpetual pressure, no needing to catch the subway or find a cab at rush hour, an easier avoidance of the club scene and a host of unfamiliar faces (“bearded, surfer” ones, to boot).
In effect, California has offered Joos a refresh button, that tabula rasa so often applied to Didion’s take on the coast. It seems to provide that, and a rare sense of calm, for many of today’s hardest-working industry folk (in fact, two of our editors who nurtured their careers in New York City recently ran off to Los Angeles with unbounded enthusiasm). The West’s laissez-faire vibe is almost antithetical to fashion’s need for speed—its constant hunger for what’s new and next—and seems to signal what could be a larger reckoning within the industry. Will it happen? Only time (if we allow it) will tell.
Shop some of our favourite pieces from the designers mentioned, below.
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Saint Laurent Babies Leopard-Print Pony Hair Ankle Boots ($)
Isabel Marant Daryl Oversized Bouclé Coat ($1060)