LOS ANGELES — The city of angels has long been a key fashion market. During the post-pandemic US luxury boom, mega-labels from Dior to Gucci touched down with elaborate runway spectacles in a bid to tap local clients. Los Angeles is also a key clothing manufacturing hub and home to scores of denim and DTC labels. But it has never had a fashion week with international standing.
Now, after acquiring the intellectual property for LA Fashion Week in January 2022, N4xt Experiences — a group of executives from fashion, beauty, finance and entertainment that includes former Fenty chief creative officer Ciarra Pardo and Spring Place co-founder Imad Izemrane — is trying to achieve what others, including events and talent giant IMG, have tried and failed to do: put Los Angeles on the global fashion week map.
Following a rebrand of the event last year, N4xt Experiences is betting that efforts to bring new designers to the event, which runs Oct. 18 to 22, as well as new formats and ties to entertainment, beauty and wellness, will help resuscitate LA Fashion Week.
“There is no competing with the other fashion weeks of the world, their legacy — they’ve been doing what they do for a very long time,” said Pardo. “Los Angeles hasn’t been able to stick for a very long time. The only way for it to create its own lane is to do it differently.”
N4xt aims to make a clean break, both from the event’s past and what fashion weeks are expected to be more generally, encouraging designers to forgo the traditional runway shows and embrace more novel activations in a bid to draw celebrities and influencers as well as buyers and press.
This cycle, the group has attracted new talent to the event, including a handful of labels which have previously shown in New York: Luis De Javier, Imitation of Christ and Theophilio, the winner of the 2021 CFDA Award for emerging designer of the year. Sergio Hudson, whose September show was a hot ticket at New York Fashion Week, will also show a capsule collection.
Los Angeles label No Sesso, which has presented its collections at LA’s MOCA and Art Basel Miami, but opted to show in New York in February 2022, is also coming back to its hometown to present its latest collection, said designers Pia Davis and Autumn Randolph.
But N4xt has its work cut out for it. Dozens of cities around the world now stage fashion weeks, and for every Copenhagen or Shanghai, which have succeeded in drawing international attention to local brands, there are many more Amsterdams and Vancouvers that get little notice beyond local press. Even New York and London have sometimes struggled to attract international talent, buyers, editors and celebrities, as big brands and emerging designers alike gravitate to Milan and Paris. LA Fashion Week is working with hotel partners and Mercedes-Benz to cover travel for some press and buyers.
LA Fashion Week has a particularly tumultuous history. IMG and Mercedes-Benz took over the event in 2002, while Smashbox also hosted simultaneous events before eventually teaming up with IMG under one main umbrella in 2004. That version ceased operations in 2008.
The event then fell into a period of fragmentation, with multiple organisations — Art Hearts Fashion, Style Fashion Week, Los Angeles Fashion Council and Concept Los Angeles — all hosting their own versions over the years, sometimes simultaneously.
The event purchased by N4xt was launched by Arthur Chipman in 2015. It operated under Chipman through 2022, earning a trademark registration of the name “LA Fashion Week” and sign off from LA’s mayor that it was the “official” LA Fashion Week, but struggled to gain relevance.
Pardo has experience with shaking up the fashion show format: at Fenty, she worked with Rihanna on Savage X Fenty’s 2018 lingerie show, which turned the Victoria’s Secret “Angels” concept on its head, casting more diverse models and incorporating contemporary dancers. It went on to become a full-fledged entertainment production the following year featuring Rihanna, as well as performances by other artists including Halsey and Migos.
LA Fashion Week’s organisers are encouraging designers to lean into these kinds of marketing spectacles, if on a smaller scale. “We have taken a very open approach to how we encourage designers to show,” said Pardo.
How labels measure return on investment is also shifting. Hudson, who shows with a standard runway format in New York, will use LA Fashion Week to do something different. “I already sold the collection, mostly,” said Hudson. “This is to get it out there for people to know that it’s there.”
“You have to do it in an LA type of way,” added Hudson, whose brand got its big break dressing celebrities before it ever held a fashion show. “We like to party. We like a red carpet. We like a drink or two. … If it was just a straight runway show, that would be like, ‘We already do that in New York.’”
A Cultural Capital
To be sure, Los Angeles has some natural advantages. As the centre of the US entertainment industry, and home to countless influencers, the city could help designers who show at LA Fashion Week to more easily stack their front rows with a crowd that will drive media impact.
And if Copenhagen Fashion Week, which launched in 2006, has found success in leaning into “Scandi cool” and sustainability, LA’s “melting pot,” with a fashion scene ranging from streetwear to red-carpet formalwear, could prove an asset, said Pardo.
“The rule is that there’s no rule, that’s what we want to be known for,” added Izemrane.
In addition to publicity, N4xt will help designers connect with investors. “It’s important for us … that there’s some sort of tail to this, some sort of economic benefit,” said Marcus Ticotin, another of N4xt’s co-founders.
Whether the plan will work remains to be seen. “I don’t think any fashion week is going to start and immediately all the buyers are going to come,” said Hudson. “But I feel like once you start building a fan base around it, and building some fanfare around it, it will be that eventually.”