MR PORTER Makes a Case for California as a Fashion Capital

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There’s a new breed of brands coming from the Golden State. In recent years, stores like 424 on Fairfax, Magasin, Wild Style LA, and labels like John Elliott, RHUDE, and BILLY have brought a new energy to the Los Angeles fashion scene. This attitude was galvanized by Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Saint Laurent, moving the house’s headquarters to LA, and Tom Ford, who opted to show his FW15 womenswear in LA instead of Europe.

Of course, Fairfax Avenue and La Brea have also contributed greatly to LA’s style rep, housing influential shops like UNION and the old streetwear guard like Supreme, The Hundreds, and Undefeated. Perhaps that’s why the city is uniquely poised to flourish in a time where the lines between upscale fashion and culturally-savvy independent labels are much blurrier than they were a decade ago.

It’s clear that the case for why Los Angeles is a fashion capital is stronger than ever, and the latest evidence is a new collection from MR PORTER. The e-commerce platform’s “Made in California” capsule is its biggest one yet, collaborating with 12 labels (four of which are new to the site) on 145 exclusive pieces.

Tapping streetwear stalwarts like Stüssy to buzzy labels like Amiri, the capsule also sees the induction of Noon Goons to the site, a surf-inspired label with a youthful attitude. It also happens to be designed by some of the guys behind defunct surf-streetwear line Warriors of Radness. The collection launched yesterday, and will be feted with a Los Angeles party tonight, replete with In-N-Out burgers and churros, naturally.

We spoke to MR PORTER’s Buying Manager, Sam Lobban, about the new capsule, what attracts him, a Londoner, to California, and why menswear’s next big moment is happening on the West Coast.

One thing that stood out in this particular collection is the California attitude and surf influence. Skate-wear has long been fetishized in fashion, now there is a spat of brands that have more of a surf vibe.

I guess to some extent, if you extend out the surf vibe, it becomes this kind of “weekend at the beach,” but at a fashionable, quite cool level. It’s something that we’ve always revolved around, because we very much consider the MR PORTER guy as very well-traveled. Like, spending the weekend at the beach, and then throwing on a really lovely sweater over whatever you’re swimming in. We try and promote that quite a lot.

For me, the skate thing is an urban iteration, and the surf thing is not exclusively West Coast—but I think you’d argue that people in LA spend a lot of time in on the beach. Of course, you can surf in New York, and there’s people that make brands out of that. In my head, I think of West Coast surf. I guess for us, the surf/skate theme was super important, and I would agree that there’s definitely a surfy sort of element to it. It’s in the washed-out palette, the fabrication, and the slouchy, super-casual vibe.

Stüssy started as a surf company, and it was the first subcultural surf label. Now that’s permeating labels like John Elliott, which features a lot of beach-inspired clothes in its latest collection. Does it represent a specific kind of California style?

Stüssy’s the O.G. right? It’s the first one, and one of the things that sort of impresses me so much about Stüssy specifically is how they managed to some extent refresh their customer base. It’s been going for 35 years. There’s 40-year-olds that were wearing it originally, but there’s still 20-year-olds that are just getting into it and discovering it almost like it’s their brand—which it is, because it’s anyone’s. It’s like it’s the first time around again. I think that’s very clever.

Everything, to some extent, is cyclical. I think part of this renewed sort of spotlight on West Coast style naturally plays into that, because of the color palette, the vibe, the easiness of it, and washed-out, laid-back dude element. It’s all super synonymous with surf. If I think of what a surfer dude’s wearing when he’s not in the water or coming out of the water, it’s ripped jeans, bomber jackets, and open plaid shirts and prints.

How has “LA style” evolved? It used to have such a negative connotation, but now a lot of the labels in the collection, like Amiri, Second Layer, and John Elliott, have redefined what a “California lifestyle brand” really is.

What those brands are showing is how accomplished product made locally in LA can be. The fabrications and construction that Amiri are working on is on par with any sort of European powerhouse—and yet it’s all made in LA. The fabric’s brought in from Italy, but the cut-and-sew is done in LA, which is a pretty impressive feat really.

You’ve got Second Layer being an urban contemporary fashion/skate brand, sort of  “skate-inspired business.” You’ve got Noon Goons being more like mid-’90s surf sport. And Amiri is way more West Hollywood-proper, sort of late-’90s rock-and-roller.

It’s funny because the whole “LA guy uniform” has shifted, now it’s like a fedora, motorcycle jacket, ripped jeans and probably a pair of Saint Laurent Wyatts.

Yeah, exactly—and now he’s wearing Amiri. I guess what we’ve sort of tried to cover is all those different facets of what make up Californian style. It’s important that from our perspective that we’ve got Golden Bear, and we’ve got Mollusk, which are both based in San Francisco, but we’re trying to bring in a bit of Northern California as well as SoCal.

I guess the to some extent, you could draw a parallel between the overall sort of casual nature of menswear right now.Before it might’ve been a bit more buttoned-up, which lends itself more if you’re talking about East Coast style, because Northeastern style typically is a little bit more buttoned-up. When everything is leaning way more casual, it makes sense that you also lean towards the West Coast—because who does casual better?

For more about the West Coast fashion scene, read about Why Los Angeles Could Be the Next Fashion Capital.

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