In the U.S., New York is the undisputed fashion capital. Los Angeles has typically been characterized as its second-rate cousin, home to Juicy Couture, denim brands, and bohemian wares courtesy of Revolve.com, while fashion’s more structured and sophisticated brands reside in Manhattan. However, with increasing frequency, arguments are being made that Los Angeles is more of a burgeoning fashion mecca than the industry gives it credit for.
Yes, arguments have been put forth as to why Los Angeles just might be the next fashion capital. Most began to take shape when fashion brands took to staging one-off runway shows in LA, a la Saint Laurent’s Fall 2016 men’s and Pre-Fall 2016 women’s show in February 2016, Louis Vuitton’s trip to Palm Springs for Cruise 2017 and most recently, Dior’s 2018 Cruise presentation at a nature reserve in Calabasas.
Consider, also, that there are quite a few designers that are making a name for the West Coast by calling it their home base. Johnson Hartig of Libertine, Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, Elder Statesmans’ Greg Chait, red carpet-favor jeweler Irene Neuwirth and even Hedi Slimane (remember when he moved the Saint Laurent design studio there”) – just to name a few – in addition to a variety of emerging labels, as well, make the pool of talent in Los Angeles one to be watched and highly regarded.
Still yet, as menswear site HighSnobiety noted last year, Los Angeles boasts a “better quality of living, a plethora of high-profiled personalities and an overall essence of ‘cool.’”
However, even if Los Angeles is just way “cooler” than its seasons-plagued and far less sunny counterpart, there is arguably something that stands in the way of its ability to truly rival New York, and it has nothing to do with the truly extraordinary design talent that resides there. It centers more squarely on the differing views of the protectability of fashion designs in the rival cities.
In case you are not familiar with the geographic divide that exists in fashion law (why would you be?), here it is. Unlike much of the East Coast: Namely, New York – which is the home of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (“CFDA”) and various ‘Made in NYC’ initiatives – and even Washington, DC – which is where the American Apparel and Footwear Association and the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition are based – a largely anti-protectionist mindset dominates the industry in Los Angeles.
This is not surprising or coincidental if we consider what brands dominate the landscape in Los Angeles. California is the home of the heavy-hitters in fast fashion, after all, the Forever 21s and Nasty Gals of the world (you may recall that Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso famously congratulated an indie brand that accused Nasty Gal of copying, saying that design piracy was a “rite of passage”). It is also the headquarters of an array of other big businesses (think: C&A and Guess, which has made a name for itself as a copycat following years of legal battles with Gucci) that rely on the ability to legally produce runway copies.
Unsurprisingly, most of these companies belong to the California Fashion Association, the state’s equivalent of New York’s CFDA. As a result, it is in the interest of that organization – and its constituent brands – to lobby (and lobby intensely) against design protection. We saw the California Fashion Association emerge as a staunch opponent of an array of proposals to amend the Copyright Act to provide specific protection for fashion designs, for instance. Note: the CFDA – and a huge array of its members, including Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez, who testified in front of Congress in connection with one version of the bill – was highly in favor of such proposed legislation.
Despite the existence of established brands, such as Libertine, Rodarte, and Jenni Kanye, among others in Los Angeles, it seems that the more deep-pocketed companies, like Forever 21, are the ones with the greatest amount of influence in terms of the protection of fashion designs. They are the ones, after all, with the most resources to dedicate to lobbying and other efforts. This will likely ensure that California – and the U.S. as a whole – remains a design piracy-friendly place, which could prove a very real barrier to its emergence as a real home to fashion design.