Hedi Slimane, Rachel Roy and Alejandro Ingelmo may represent the new coterie of fashion and accessories designers who embrace the Los Angeles lifestyle so much that they recently have taken up residence there. Compared to Joyce Azria, Trina Turk and Cynthia Vincent, however, they’re merely carpetbaggers.
In a roundtable titled “California Lifestyle and Influence” at WWD’s inaugural Fashion Forum in Las Vegas, the longtime denizens of the Golden State highlighted the virtues of living and working on the West Coast, which helped shape their growing businesses in ways that perhaps being based in New York wouldn’t have.
“I don’t know if it would have been the same company if I had started it in New York,” said Turk, chief executive officer of her Alhambra, Calif.-based namesake company, which marked its 20th anniversary this year. Certainly, the four words she often uses to describe her brand are optimism, California, print and color. The landscape — whether it’s the 840 miles of beaches or the desert city of Palms Springs that is oft associated with her aesthetic — is inspiring. “We’re lucky to have all that inspiration right outside the door,” she said.
Moreover, “there is an ease about California and a relaxed culture that always translates to apparel,” said Azria, creative director of Vernon, Calif.-based BCBGeneration.
Vincent, who founded both 12th Street by Cynthia Vincent and Cynthia Vincent and designed the latter until its parent company, Big Strike, was acquired by Arlington Global Financial last month, basked in the creativity that flows through California, which is also a nexus for entertainment, technology and art. “It really does allow you to be yourself and explore,” she said.
On the flip side, the trio still must keep an eye on what’s happening in New York, which Azria acknowledged is “the mecca of fashion.” Deterred by the challenges of mounting a runway show at New York Fashion Week, Azria hopes to elevate Los Angeles Fashion Week with an upcoming presentation for her young contemporary brand. “Are we going to be like New York, Paris and Milan?” she asked. “I’m not going to lie to myself. But I would like to see a more meaningful L.A. Fashion Week.”
Still, it’s difficult to strike the balance between living a lifestyle and chasing a trend. For Vincent, who is synonymous with flowing maxidresses and other bohemian styles, “it’s always been a dangerous wire,” she said. Now that she has left her namesake brand, she can escape the pressure from being typecast to a specific look. “I’m excited to show other parts of myself,” she said.
Azria added that it is important for a designer to show a point of view to the customer. “The strength of a brand is to weather through different trends and stay who you are,” she said.
In addition, another factor to consider as a brand based in Southern California is the proximity to Hollywood. “It’s important,” Turk said. Citing Mindy Kaling, the star of “The Mindy Project,” Turk said, “She has 1 million Instagram followers. If she posts something, people see it.”
Indeed, even with BCBGeneration’s relationships with Bailee Madison and other starlets representing Young Hollywood, Azria observed that a new celebrity is on the rise: the creative director. And as is the case with actors and singers, it’s imperative for designers to connect directly with fans on social media. Vincent strives to make posts that are aspirational, beautiful and authentic. “We used to chase likes,” she confessed. Discouraged that social media missives containing sugar, puppies and flowers generated more likes than images of Rothko artwork that inspired her, she did an about-face on Instagram. “When we were really thoughtful and curated it, the likes just came. We didn’t have to chase them,” she said.
One more thing that the seasoned fashion designers don’t need to pursue actively anymore is a talented pool of potential employees in L.A. “There are more people who want to work in the design department than positions available,” Turk said. “So many people want to be designers.”
Hiring someone who is the right fit requires more consideration, however. Particularly with Millennials, who see nothing amiss about jumping between 15 jobs in six years, Azria worried that they processed jobs like Instagram posts — at a rapid, non-stop pace. Her advice: “Try to sit through a position when there is a little discomfort, a little more than six months, and see your work pan out.” After all, she reminded the audience, “everything is built to sell, but nothing is built to last.”