“Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end” – Oscar Wilde
This is going to be long. And likely rambling. And probably self indulgent, allow me if you will and if you don’t go in for that, feel free to skim. I’ve bolded the important parts.
I started working in fashion, in Los Angeles at least, in 2007. I worked as a store manager and assistant buyer for a well known boutique on 3rd street (it is no longer with us). The owner, a bit of a nutter, would talk about fashion week like it was the most glamorous, most exclusive event on the planet. I’d had a taste of fashion week, living in London and working in Sloane Square – I understood what fashion week was and what it meant. I’d been in Los Angeles a year, I could only assume that L.A, with it’s affinity with Hollywood would be equally if not more glamorous. I was dying to attend. The store owner would suggest that one day I could join her, but it was very hard to get into. Maybe in 2007, still in it’s Smashbox/IMG heyday, it was. I wouldn’t know. I did not get to attend.
In 2008 I started a blog and my own accessories collection, named Stylesmith. I found myself rather enjoying the blogging aspect and harked back to 12 year old Kelsi, who would stockpile Vogue and dreamed of being a fashion writer. I’d kept up my love of photography, shooting my own collections as well as the vintage clothing I’d sell on the side and had even started documenting my own outfits. So my friends and I, a make-up artist, a designer, a stylist and myself launched a fashion blog in January 2009 called Dedicated Follower of Fashion.
Chriselle modeling for an original editorial piece we produced
Having a blog didn’t mean what it does today. It didn’t get you into shows, Susie Bubble wasn’t a world renown fashion writer, and as a community we were all only just beginning to find our voice and our place. The girls and I would pore over images coming in from shows and write our reviews like we were experts, we would shoot monthly original editorials we even worked with uber bloggers like Chriselle “before she was famous” and write about the things we loved – mostly local, indie designers, things we’d found on Etsy and at Unique L.A which was just getting it’s start as well. But the idea of attending fashion week as bloggers, even L.A fashion week, didn’t actually seem like something we could do.
At my first LA Fashion Week, 2009.
By 2009 Smashbox and IMG had dissolved their L.A Fashion Week and a few other organizations had stepped up to fill the void. Also by this point my blog partnership has dissolved and it was just me producing content. I did a little research and found a few contacts for shows and took myself to my first Los Angeles Fashion Week. There were already a couple venues by this point, but the bulk of them were split between the Los Angeles Theatre and the Japanese American Museum, both in downtown Los Angeles.
Chelsea Rebelle at Los Angeles Theatre
I remember arriving early at the Los Angeles Theatre and someone assuming I was there to help out. Being excessively British I helped out for a full half hour before pointing out that I wasn’t sure that I was supposed to be carrying chairs around, but maybe sitting in one. To my surprise I actually did get to sit in one, front row no less, but instead of feeling self important I felt confused. Why was a blogger of less than a year getting a front row seat? Within one show I was questioning the legitimacy of Los Angeles Fashion Week.
This photo is from 2012 at Concept, but this is what I mean when I say entrenched :) – with Andrew Asch
I saw some great L.A designers at those shows, Louis Verdad, Fremont, Future Heretics and my favorite at the time Chelsea Rebelle. It was also my first immersion into the L.A fashion community. Whilst waiting for shows I struck up conversation about punk and London with Andrew Asch of Apparel News, my first ever Los Angeles press contact and ever constant presence in my life today (I’m his “every source”, he’s even stopped referring to me as “blogger, Kelsi Smith” when he quotes me now!), I met Grace Marian, an intimidatingly cool but impossibly sweet waif of a model manager with amazing shoes, and Aussie transplant, Sarah Brannon, the designer behind Chelsea Rebelle.
That was it. I drank the kool-aid. I was in Los Angeles Fashion Week. Hook. Line. Sinker.
2010 saw the rise of Concept under Mike Vensel with the help of Michael Shane and Brady Westwater. I loved the old bank space, the creative designers. Chelsea Rebelle, Jen Awad, Fremont, B.Scott all showed.That season I also attended a BoxEight event – and immediately became frustrated with what I’ve come to hate about fashion week in L.A. It was a party. I didn’t want to go to a party. I wanted to see a fashion show. I knew there had to be a better way of doing things.
That one time we pulled a fashion presentation together in 24 hours with Fashion Los Angeles in 2010.
It was in 2010 that I began Two Point Oh! LA and the fashion bloggers became an integral part of my story. It was also in 2010 that my part in the Los Angeles Fashion Week story became a more public one through my work with the ill fated Fashion Los Angeles and Michael Venedicto. I was sold the Fashion Los Angeles dream pretty easily, I wanted to believe in a quality fashion week, a legitimate platform and as a result lost almost a year of time, a little bit of my brand new reputation and a lot of money. But, I also became more deeply entrenched in the fashion week community and wasn’t about to disappear.
Fash Mobs #2. Photo by Hagop Photo.
Working at Concept in 2012.
Cuit Gonzalez and I, both victims of the Fashion Los Angeles fiasco came out of the other side and launched Fash Mobs, a flash mob style fashion show concept, which, despite two successful runs and features in both Glamour and the Los Angeles Times, fell flat when we were both distracted by other directions for our careers (though I still love to say Fash Mobs is not dead, Fash Mobs can happen anywhere anytime don’t be surprised if it show’s up again one day….!) Concurrently I also worked as the publicist for Concept and a number of designers showcasing.
My work with Fash Mobs did lead to being noticed by my favorite fashion couple, Booth Moore and Adam Tschorn, and a profile that I am forever grateful for. When someone you respect a lot takes notice, notice enough to write something about you, when usually they spend their time writing about Parisian runway, you start to realize that maybe you actually might be on to something.
In retrospect, looking back on that piece, I made a lot of statements about fashion week, and whilst I hate to admit that 27 year old Kelsi may have been on to something. I probably was. I was more right then than I have been for a little while.
From the article:
“In terms of established designers doing runway shows, New York has that covered. L.A. is a springboard for new designers, and should embrace that by taking advantage of the entertainment industry, the weather and the great locations to do something community-based.” – Me, 2011.
I look back on this now and wonder how it is that I strayed so far from this original concept. Booth and Adam have continued to be exceptional supporters of the work we’ve done, and I consider Adam a mentor of sorts and at the very least an incredible resource for kind words during my many meltdowns. I remember when I started LAFC and Collections, Adam questioned my motivations – he said that he was puzzled as to why I was doing it and was trying to understand what was in it for me, he also stated that he hoped I never worked it out or questioned it myself.
British Fashion Council Designers, 2011.
At the end of 2011, after volunteering for a brief stint with the British Fashion Council in Los Angeles, something began to dawn on me, Los Angeles doesn’t need a fashion week, Los Angeles needs a network of people within the fashion industry supporting them. So I began badgering the BFC team with questions. Antonio Fiengo of the BFC made one of the most important statements, a statement that Los Angeles Fashion Council has stuck behind.
“We support talent. We don’t care if you have no money. The less money you have, the more we will support you” – Antonio Fiengo, BFC
Los Angeles designers in London
In that moment and in that statement, Los Angeles Fashion Council was born and within four months we were presenting our first ever showcase to likes of Vogue and Harrods from an old Brewery in East London.
We stated numerous times that we weren’t interested in Los Angeles Fashion Week. We believed that fashion week was a symptom of a healthy industry. We wanted to focus on making that industry healthy, supporting emerging designers and elevating the profile of Los Angeles designers on a global level.
Just over six months later we were producing our first Los Angeles Fashion Week event. We were adamant that it was not, we were adamant that calling it The Collections, that moving it a week earlier, provided us with enough distance to not be associated with an event that had little to no respect. We were wrong, instead what we did was move everyone’s fashion week productions to that week. Something I believe was one of our best achievements.
Rose La Grua SS15
Tokyo Fashion Week, 2014
Six seasons later we’ve taken over Fashion Week Los Angeles and have made some real attempts to legitimize a platform for fashion in Los Angeles. We’ve showcased in London, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles. The crux of this has always been focusing on actual talent, not running a pay for play platform and a result we have had critical success.
The reality of this is I’ve personally spent $50,000 of my personal funds. This is not and has not ever been a money making venture for me. I have frequently found myself with unpaid bills unable to make ends meet and continued to fight on. More importantly, whilst our designers have received a tremendous amount of local media, our efforts are not saving their businesses.
Four out of my five core designers are not producing collections this coming season. So as someone that has always believed that fashion week is a symptom of a healthy industry I have to recognize that our industry is not healthy, emerging designers are failing constantly and producing a fashion week for a small amount of press seasonally is no longer serving anyone.
Not to mention that fashion week as a global concept is struggling to remain relevant, a forced change is coming and it’s time to adapt or die.
Our shows don’t cost a lot to produce, but without sponsorship or financial support, that cost is shouldered by either the designers or myself. We do not and have not charged any Los Angeles designers more than $1200 to show, this is compared to other shows that are charging $15,000 to show. Continuing at this point would require a minimum of $30,000 in sponsorship seasonally. This would allow us to handpick designers to showcase free of charge and allow us to fly in press and buyers outside of the local area as well as produce quality shows. But even with that cash influx, if our designers can no longer afford to produce collections, what are we doing?
We’ve also suffered from a lack of influence. Seasonally we’re supported by local publications such as L.A Times, Racked L.A and California Apparel News and international publications such as WWD – but we are largely ignored by the remaining media and influencers in this city and we’re entirely ignored by the boutique buying community which is where the difference could actually be made. Part of this is that L.A falls on the butt end of the buying schedule. But mostly it’s a lack of motivation on the buyers’ behalf. No one expects a buyer to write an order straight from the runway – but where’s the excitement in the discovery process? Our designers expect to be watched and monitored before orders are written – maybe even for seasons, but that’s not even happening.
Where’s the home town pride? One Santa Monica based boutique buyer we attempted to invite actually yelled at me at my very audacity in inviting her, apparently I didn’t do my research “I don’t stock Los Angeles designers” – though her store stocked NYC based designers and European designers – this was apparently a firm anti Los Angeles stance, a questionable one for a store actually based in Los Angeles.
On a personal level, financial hardship aside, my involvement has affected my business and my personal life numerous times. From the fraudulent claims of LAFW’s most recent players, to a designer attempting to sue me (me personally) for what could have been tens of thousands of dollars, enough to bankrupt my business (fortunately she had no case and chose not to pursue). Even more recently another production attempted to question my credibility with a major client. This isn’t a climate I need to be participate in.
I’m sorry Adam. I questioned it. I questioned it all.
All of this is to say, for the foreseeable future I will not be participating in Los Angeles Fashion Week and at this stage my role in its future and that of Los Angeles Fashion Council is entirely unclear.
It’s just time to reevaluate exactly what we’re doing here. Why we’re doing it, who we’re doing it for, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion the answer is not going to lead us in a fashion week shaped direction. I promise it will be new, innovative and useful.
I’m sure that I want to continue my work within the industry and with emerging designers and I’m actively pursuing ways in which I can do that. I know I’ve built an incredible community of both designers and supporters, and I’m not abandoning that. Not at all.
With that, I want to thank those of you who support us and have supported us. I also want to challenge all of you to consider your role in the fashion industry on your home turf. Designers are not making clothing for your fashion week viewing pleasure. Shop local. Support emerging. That’s the primary way we fix the Los Angeles fashion ecosystem. Not with fashion week.