"New York has Fashion Week and Los Angeles has Coachella," said Meritt Elliott, one half of the designer (and celebrity styling) duo behind LA-based label The Great, at a brunch hosted by the CFDA and Popsugar in Palm Springs on Saturday. It's a bold statement, but it isn't entirely untrue. In fact, I noticed a lot of parallels between the two events: People travel from all over the world; brands send out "survival kits" in advance; outfits are meticulously planned and gifted for street style; they've both become increasingly commercialized and consumer-centric; there are more parties than any one human can possibly attend; Instabait is everywhere and the influencers and celebrities get as much attention as (if not more than) what the event was originally meant to promote. (In Coachella's case, that's music; at fashion week, it's designers' collections.)
At Coachella, however, it's typically the big brands with lots of money and resources that are able to command attention and press. For local brands, most of which are on the smaller end of the spectrum, Coachella doesn't provide much exposure unless they manage to dress a celebrity or influencer with a significant following — and even that can be a competitive process since many are compensated for what they wear and post on social media.
In the hopes of shining a spotlight on LA talent, the CFDA began partnering with Popsugar in 2015 on a brunch for press and influencers during Coachella. Each year, it asks a few local designers to attend as hosts and often dress attendees; this time around it was Meritt Elliott, Emily Current and Clare Vivier. "When we look at partnerships or events to get involved in, we always [assess] what's the value for the CFDA or for our members," explained CFDA CEO Steven Kolb, whom we almost didn't recognize because he was wearing a T-shirt instead of a suit. "Here's a great chance for two LA members — Clare Vivier and Emily and Meritt — to be here and have a presence at Coachella, which maybe they wouldn't otherwise."
"All of our bags are made in Los Angeles; we've got three stores [in Southern California] so we're really a Southern California brand, and Coachella is a huge cultural event that happens every year," said Vivier. "We've never done anything to be a part of it, but it makes so much sense because our girl is here; the girl is wearing our bags."
Still, with so many competing events taking place all day every day of the festival, the spotlight on these designers is comparatively dim. Plus, there still isn't an organized platform on the level of NYFW to promote and, in a way, legitimize the LA fashion community. Perhaps hoping to build on the attention the West Coast received after several designers opted to show here in February, Kolb affirmed that the CFDA is working on that. "Someone in my office told me that 20 percent of our membership is LA-based and we just had a meeting with our members in LA last week," he said. "For 2017, we have an enhanced focus on being more engaged in LA, creating more of a feeling of family, networking, professional development, just having a greater presence and supporting the West Coast designers."
A rep for the CFDA says the organization has begun holding bi-annual CFDA membership meetings in LA — gatherings that were previously only held in New York. It has also begun scheduling more programming on the West Coast, examples of which include "workshops and seminars on various topics to further our members' professional development."
According to Vivier, Current and Elliott, that's needed. "A lot of the New York designers have much more contact with the CFDA and maybe get more of a benefit from what they're doing," said Vivier. "For them to be doing an event with Popsugar here in Southern California and then bringing in some Southern California brands is really cool."
"Anything we can do with and for the CFDA is an honor for us and there's a lot of CFDA presence now on the West Coast," added Current.
Many LA-based designers we've spoken to have described feeling isolated compared to their East Coast peers, and it sounds like the CFDA hopes to remedy that. There have been many instances over the past few years when people have mentioned, whether in conversation or a think piece, that LA fashion is having a "moment," but American fashion's governing body paying closer attention might signify that it's officially more than a fleeting trend.