I knew I wasn’t going to buy; I just wanted to touch. I had seen these new pieces from Kenzo in magazines — the fashion press has been swooning over the ’70s-era label’s recent reinvention — but I’d never seen them in real life. And there they were on a recycled-pipe clothing rack at Satine: a grouping of stiff, boxy black sweat shirts emblazoned with rows of top-stitched stylized eyes and bright, graphic logos. It was easy to see why they were so popular with the model-off-duty set.
I considered tucking into the antique brick coziness of the dressing room to try one on. Or maybe a chunky knit from Vanessa Bruno, or a light-as-air Nina Ricci frock. But there was no time to ponder any purchases. We had dinner reservations, and we’d noticed too many hungry hopefuls milling about outside the restaurant to risk losing our table.
Broodingly atmospheric and filled with industrial-chic fixtures, Gjelina is as renowned for its hyper-local approach to food as it is for its no-substitutions policy — reportedly even Victoria Beckham couldn’t get the kitchen to bend, and she was dining with Gordon Ramsay. I didn’t want to find out firsthand how they dealt with latecomers. Where else would I find raclette and Parmesan pizza laden with wild nettles and garlic confit or Brussels sprouts crisped with jalepeño, lime and smoked walnuts?
We rushed into the street, weaving through a lively neighborhood scene of evening meanderers. Groups of flannel-clad guys with ironic mustaches mixed with tall girls in leather jackets with messy topknots. Friends greeted friends, couples walked dogs.
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If I didn’t know better, I would think I was in the West Village. Maybe even Chelsea, or Brooklyn. But my location was far more au courant than that. I was in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has always been a culturally important city — it’s the film capital of the world, after all. But shine isn’t always synonymous with style, and somewhere between the kombucha and the Kardashians, the City of Angels often trended commercial rather than cutting edge.
No more. Today L.A. has become a hotbed of creative risk-taking, and stylephiles are flocking to enclaves like the Abbot Kinney neighborhood of Venice, where I had sated my Kenzo obsession, and to West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air and even the once dead-after-dark downtown district.
When did this happen? Some say it began a decade ago when Tom Ford moved to Bel Air. But a recent influx of big names definitely has the city in style overdrive. Daft Punk and Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane live here. Photogs Mario Testino and Steven Meisel, too, own homes here.
Which led me to ask the next logical question. Why? I decided to call my colleague Cameron Silver, who had just gotten home to L.A. from Paris Fashion Week the night before. A SoCal native, Silver opened the groundbreaking boutique Decades on Melrose Avenue nearly 20 years ago, and he’s a reason vintage couture is a staple on the red carpet.
Now a reality TV star, author and designer, Silver is practically his own lifestyle brand. And not surprisingly, he had an immediate answer. Which, in true L.A. style, he shared with me before setting off for his morning hike.
“L.A.’s cultural and creative renaissance has to do with the art community,” Silver said. “We have so many great artists and museums that are showing work that it’s making the city a destination for that scene, and the art world and the fashion world tend to join quite often in it.” Add great restaurants — The Daily Beast dubbed Los Angeles “the best food town in America” last November — interesting architecture, plentiful valet parking and sunshine, and the deal is sealed.
I couldn’t wait to check it all out for myself. I had wanted to stay at the Ace Hotel because I love the hipster hotel chain’s Midtown outpost, its excellent coffee and its unparalleled people-watching. As in New York, L.A.’s Ace Hotel is located in a wonderful old building — the ornate 1920s United Artists Theater. Design blogs had been buzzing for months about the hotel’s eclectic, retro-inspired rooms, its spectacularly renovated theater space and its restaurant, L.A. Chapter, which was modeled after the popular Brooklyn spot Five Leaves. Alas, it wasn’t open yet (it is now), so I surrendered to the pull of old-school luxury and settled into a corner suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Back in the day, the Beverly Hills Hotel was where magic happened — Marilyn Monroe stayed in one of its many bungalows surrounded by blooming azaleas and palm trees on its magnificently manicured, 12-acre grounds, as did Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who reportedly had a standing room service order for four bottles of vodka a day — two at breakfast and two at lunch.
Although the 100-year-old property’s provenance is laden with sagas and starlets, it’s still as fresh and relevant as ever thanks to a meticulous, multi-year renovation that’s set to be completed this year. Every element has been refreshed, from the colorful, art deco-style banana-leaf wallpaper in the hallways to the famous Polo Lounge, where Charlie Chaplin held court. Even the gift shop boasts an outstanding collection of must-haves.
(It’s not the only L.A. landmark to stay popular with bold-face names: I ended up lunching at the venerable Spago, where Wolfgang Puck invented California Cuisine back in the early ’80s, and spied Gwyneth Paltrow sitting at a nearby table.)
My entire experience at the Beverly Hills Hotel, from my afternoon at the pool where I swear I sat just a few chaise lounges over from John Krasinski, to moments spent posing in front of the step-and-repeat set-up under the striped ceiling of the porte-cochère, made me feel like a VIP . My room boasted a working fireplace, a wrap-around balcony with plenty of seating and a strong Wi-Fi signal. Being able to catch up on email in the sunshine while gazing out at the palm trees along Sunset Boulevard felt about as close to heaven as work can get.
Further proof of this hotel’s street cred: My jaded Los Angeles friends were more than willing to meet me here — just driving up the curved road to the Pink Palace made their hearts flutter.
But what made me vow to return were the many special touches. My daily newspaper came wrapped in paper printed with the hotel’s signature pink and white stripes. The walk-in closet had excellent lighting. Hair and body products in the bathroom came in elegant glass decanters. The pink-and-white-striped notepads were so cute, I couldn’t stop myself from pocketing them every morning, and the housekeeping staff graciously kept replacing them.
I considered never leaving the hotel grounds but ultimately followed the siren call of the city. Someone had to check out all the emerging chic-ness, after all.
I started with art. There are many wonderful museums across the vast city: the spectacular Getty Center in Brentwood is definitely worth a visit for the architecture alone. But it’s the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (known as LACMA) that really grabbed my attention. This museum is so hip that Gucci was the presenting sponsor of its 2013 gala. Getting tangled up in the sea of yellow tubing in Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrable provides the selfie of the century, and the gift shop features pieces from Wear LACMA, a line created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection.
Add commerce to art and you’ll get two of the city’s most popular boutiques. The newer of the two, Acne Studios, opened in December in downtown L.A., and it’s already credited as a major player in the area’s revitalization. The designers behind this Stockholm-based label also are at the forefront of photography, furniture and publishing — hence the “Studio” part of the moniker — and their clothing is known for its spare, minimalist aesthetic. The boutique occupies about 5,000 square feet in the Eastern Columbia Building, a landmark considered by many to be one of the city’s finest art deco structures still standing. But the retro vibe ends where the sheet metal walls begin. Inside, it’s pure future shock, with perforated aluminum partitions, clear blue carpets and a freaky sculpture (is it a mushroom?) on a mirrored base, right in the center of things.
Arguably the most esteemed destination for creativity and commerce continues to be Just One Eye in Hollywood. Since it opened in 2012 inside a massive art deco building that was once the headquarters for Howard Hughes’ business empire, it’s been a game-changer thanks to its myriad collections of designer clothing, housewares, sculpture, photography and all manner of artistic collaborations across these disciplines.
One evening, my husband and I met up with my dear friend Gina and her husband for drinks at the Polo Lounge (natch) followed by a late dinner at a West Hollywood hot spot called Ink. Although we hadn’t seen each other in a couple years, it was hard to talk about anything but the food, and how it could be that chef Michael Voltaggio (known to many as a winner of Top Chef, where he beat his brother, Bryan) could so completely surprise our four-top of fine-dining veterans. Egg yolk gnocchi exploded in the mouth with a squirt of warm cheese that impressed even my friend’s husband, a born-and-raised Italian. The apple, caramel and burnt wood ice cream tasted like a crisp autumn evening spent cuddling around a campfire.
Then my friends shared a story that seemed to underscore just how important fashion had become to Angelenos. A few months before, robbers had broken into their West Hollywood bungalow. Bypassing the laptop and other electronics, the robbers had eyes only for Gina’s closet, cleaning out her cache of Gucci bags and Alexander McQueen skull scarves, and scoring a very valuable vintage McQueen coat. “I guess that’s what has value these days,” she lamented.
She’s in the process of rebuilding her treasured wardrobe right now. And she couldn’t be in a better city to do it.