ONCE UPON A TIME, men’s style in Los Angeles was laughable. Think loud, logo-driven and larded-up with more skulls than a pirate cruise. Remember the jeans with back-pocket stitching visible from a block away? What about the faux-vintage concert T-shirts? The flaming eyeball Von Dutch trucker caps? I’m sure Ashton Kutcher wishes he could forget.
But the cheesy L.A. of the mid-aughts—when paparazzi swarmed West Hollywood store Kitson and Mr. Kutcher hosted “Punk’d”—is a thing of the past. Kitson will close its doors forever this week, Mr. Kutcher is now a budding tech mogul and the city’s fashion scene is associated less with Ed Hardy and more with Saint Laurent creative director Hedi Slimane, who maintains his design studio in L.A. instead of at the brand’s Paris headquarters. In fact, Mr. Slimane recently announced he will show his fall 2016 men’s collection (and part of the women’s range) at the Hollywood Palladium on February 10 instead of in the French capital.
Is that enough to position Los Angeles as a style capital—strong enough to contend with Paris or London? A confluence of factors has given that idea momentum. Factor one: L.A. is attracting creative talent in design and retail thanks to relatively affordable real estate and low operating costs. Factor two: As high-end menswear has moved away from formality, a “creative casual” wardrobe has become more vital than a suit and tie to the working lives of many men all over the country. Not seeming so far-fetched anymore, is it?
Certainly, a number of stylish and influential guys have embraced the notion. “For a long time, Manhattan was the epicenter of all creative thought, but now I feel like that’s changed,” said Josh Peskowitz, the former men’s fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, who settled on L.A. for his first independent retail venture, a 1,500-square-foot men’s specialty store called Magasin, opening Feb. 20.
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Mr. Peskowitz said he’s seen the city evolve beyond a metropolis driven by one or two industries: “Entertainment and music are still important, but now there’s also tech, art, clothing design and all the creative services that go along with Silicon Beach.”
And he’s hoping to outfit a good portion of that population in a refined but casual wardrobe of unstructured seersucker Camoshita suits, garment-dyed polos from Massimo Alba, cashmere T-shirts from Naadam and handmade slipper-like leather shoes by Feit. “It’s for people who need to look like they are put-together and mean business but don’t want to wear a coat and tie,” he said of his store’s offerings. “It’s clothing that expresses personality but is still business- adjacent. There’s a big market for that.”
Even men who still wear a suit to work every day can benefit in their off-duty hours from the well-executed fare, elevated via fit and fabric, that L.A.-based labels such as Greg Lauren, Apolis, Aether and John Elliott sell in the city, in stores worldwide and on e-commerce sites.
L.A. stylist Jeanne Yang, whose clients include Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr., sees the city leading the charge away from the Americana-worshiping look that reigned a few years ago toward a more sophisticated, urban-casual style. She cited L.A. labels Second/Layer, 424 and Stampd as well as Kanye West’s Yeezy collection and Mr. Slimane’s work at Saint Laurent. “The next movement is this street look, and it’s 100% L.A.,” said Ms. Yang.
The growing influence that the city’s homegrown labels now wield comes as a surprise to many of the designers, who see themselves just doing their own thing. “I don’t think anyone in L.A. woke up and said, ‘I’m going to compete on the runway,’ ” said John Moore, creative director of Outerknown, the surfwear-inspired brand he co-founded with champion surfer Kelly Slater with backing from French luxury conglomerate Kering. “We’ve always had to do things our own way, which has created a school of eclectic talent. Surf has always been here and always will be, denim has always been here and always will be, but now there’s so much more.”
Outerknown’s coastal casual chinos, button-up shirts, board shorts and T-shirts in muted tones are available via e-commerce site Mr Porter as well as boutiques like the Webster in Miami and Forty Five Ten in Dallas—as are many of L.A.’s strongest labels.
Still, fashion-minded visitors to the city would be well advised to explore a number of its brick-and-mortar stores that, beyond mere clothes, offer a selection of hard-to-find products that reflect a unique sensibility.
Designer René Holguin has two neighboring stores on La Cienega Blvd. devoted to his label RTH that are like upscale experiential souvenir shops, with rotating art displays, the scent of pinon incense in the air and talisman-like handcrafted leather jewelry. Mr. Holguin’s collection doesn’t sell online, so you have to go there to procure his twist on the classic navy blazer, rendered in super-soft cotton fleece with gold buttons.
On La Brea’s menswear row, you’ll find the soon-to-open store for fashion-forward streetwear label Stampd as well as Union, which sells skate brands alongside Comme des Garçons and Acne Studios. And in downtown’s buzzy Arts District, you can nab a knit jacket by L.A. brand Apolis, made from indigo-dyed boiled wool responsibly sourced from Peru. A stone’s throw away at multibrand menswear boutique Wittmore, the store’s second location which opened last summer, you’ll find windbreakers made of recycled fishing nets by Outerknown, alongside apothecary items and Danish modern furniture.
“It’s expensive in New York to run anything,” said owner Paul Witt, another Manhattan transplant. But with L.A.’s far more sprawling landscape and therefore far more reasonable rents, he added, “there’s more independent expression in retail.”
Mr. Witt caters to locals as well as quite a few tourists who request made-in-L.A. items. “When they go home,” he said, “they have a piece of California with them.”
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