I moved to New York City in June of 1999. That means that by the skin of my teeth, I get to say that I lived in the city during the 90s. In certain circles, that’s a badge, a mark of street cred, that signifies living in the Big Apple during a cultural high water mark, the era of Biggie and Sonic Youth, the birth of Supreme. But regardless of when one moved to New York (those that are actually born in NYC have an O.G. status that you don’t even question), a key component of being a True New Yorker™ has always been feeling superior to every other city in the United States, and oftentimes the world. New Yorkers say they’re from “the City” as though it is the only city and requires no other descriptors. And if someone asks, “Which city?” that’s a clear sign that you are talking to a rube who is most likely not worth your time. It’s incredibly snobby, but it’s also the truth.
One of the big reasons for New York’s on-high status is that it is the global capital for so many different industries, including media, finance, art, and fashion. That last one though may be changing, especially when it comes to menswear. The shift is subtle, kind of like tectonic plates shifting or the changes on Kanye West’s “Waves,” but a rising tide of design talent, prevailing cultural trends, and geography are causing Los Angeles to emerge as a men’s style hub.
Yes, L.A., the town that popularized Von Douche trucker hats and bejeweled Ed Hardy T-shirts is now the home to some of today’s most interesting menswear labels, such as John Elliott, Stampd, Second/Layer, Aether, and Apolis.
In Annie Hall, Woody Allen tells a transplanted New Yorker in Los Angeles that he doesn’t “want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.” But today the advantages have expanded. L.A. always had a more casual attitude toward fashion, but today that ethos is being embraced worldwide. Trends like athleisure and more casual workplace attire started in Southern California and designers like Elliott and Chris Stamp of Stampd are pushing those movements forward in elegant ways that feel relaxed but never sloppy.
The idea of elevated basics has always felt right at home in L.A. The “72 and sunny” daily forecast means that a plain pocket T-shirt can be worn for any occasion, but L.A. designers continually find ways to make that staple tee more refined, whether it’s with details like a perfectly soft cotton or an elongated hemline or a wider neckline. And the rest of the world has embraced it.
Los Angeles also has a manufacturing infrastructure that allows young creatives to bring their ideas to life. Rising rents have shriveled New York’s garment district, but in downtown L.A. it is still vibrant. “You can afford to live there and you have manufacturing capabilities,” is how designer John Elliott sums it up. “The great thing about L.A. is anyone can go there with a dream and you can make that shit happen.”
The skate and surf cultures that were born in Los Angeles have also seeped into the fashion world at large as has streetwear. You’re seeing a lot of L.A. designers who have a background in those areas gain recognition. But those designers aren’t limiting their sphere of influence to just skate and surf. They are drawing inspiration from other worlds, whether it be more classic tailoring or art, to create a unique hybrid that is more accessible to guys who like to look put together, but still cool and casual.
Finally, there is the celebrity factor. While he certainly reps Chicago hard, today Kanye is as much a product of Los Angeles and he is probably moving the needle more than any other individual in men’s style through his Yeezy line and Adidas collaborations. On a different level, the constant mingling of fashion and celebrity can result in a star co-signing a brand which then propels that brand into success. Justin Bieber rocking Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God is just one example of this.
It’s still way too early to knock New York off the top spot on the podium. The fact that most of the fashion media is headquartered in New York means that up and coming designers still need to make it here (New York) before they make it anywhere to a certain degree. But New York’s ironclad grip on influence isn’t as strong as it once was. It used to be that NYC was the home for high culture, while L.A. was the home for low and Angelenos had to come east to kiss the ring. But younger generations that have seen the differences between geographic regions flattened thanks to the internet, no longer feel the need to pay fealty to the Empire State.
That irreverence will serve L.A. designers well going forward. It’s almost a punk mentality that bangs down the doors rather than waiting for the gatekeepers to open them. Who knows? Living in L.A. in the 2010s may even become a sign of street cred in the decades to follow.