As a frustrated teenager in the New York suburb of Westchester, designer Jonathan Simkhai dreamt of moving not to the city, but to Los Angeles. "I had this crazy plan when I was in high school — I never really fit in growing up because I loved fashion and I was different from all the other kids in high school," he says. "I was like, I'm gonna move to LA and everything is gonna be better because LA is like the promised land."
Instead, he ended up going to Parsons and FIT and setting up his namesake women's clothing line in New York. "I thought, if I'm going to launch a fashion brand, it has to be in New York," he says. Still, LA was always in the back of his mind. And, spoiler alert: our interview took place at his new headquarters and retail space in West Hollywood.
He made the move so many New Yorkers (including myself) have done recently one year ago, and hasn't looked back. He saw the move as an ideal "escape route" and says it's "surpassed" his expectations.
When you're a former New Yorker working in fashion in Los Angeles, there's a lot of talk of the "moment" LA is having and its increasing legitimacy as a fashion capital: There's the fact that the manufacturing infrastructure here is growing while New York's diminishes, as well as the plethora of cool, independent clothing, accessory and streetwear brands making names for themselves on their own terms. But bigger-name luxury institutions have been paying greater attention to Southern California as well: Labels like Dior, Moschino and Opening Ceremony have shown here in recent seasons, and celebrated designers like Tom Ford, Jeremy Scott and Hedi Slimane call it home, at least part of the time.
For Simkhai, whose HQ is now a stone's throw from Céline's, it feels like an especially exciting time. And if living in LA was a dream come true, the space he and his team now occupy is beyond the average designer's wildest dreams. Located where La Cienega intersects with Melrose Place — arguably LA's hottest and prettiest retail street right now — it houses everything under one roof: pr, sales, design, sample making and even a physical storefront. It would have been impossible to find in New York.
The eight-year-old brand is by all accounts successful — his commercially viable, classic-with-a-twist, masculine-meets-feminine wares are sold in all the biggest doors from Net-a-Porter and Shopbop to Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom — but I was still surprised to hear he was already opening a store, especially at a time when most brands are so focused on digital. But for Simkhai, it just worked out that way, and he's excited about the opportunity to have control over the way his designs are presented and to gauge customer response to new product in a more direct, streamlined way. "It's so much better than letting buyers come in and obviously choose what they get to put in their store; you get to tell your own story," he says. "You're designing it, then you edit. I'm very involved in selecting the product that's in the store."
In a time when many brands are also shifting their focus away from wholesale and more toward direct channels, Simkhai says he doesn't plan to diminish wholesale, but that the direct-to-consumer channel is the next phase of growth. "I think wholesale is so fun; it is always so exciting to see how other retailers merchandise the collection and I do love that process of going to market and showing. Something about that always feels so timeless for me," he says. " The next step is pushing direct to consumer, but [we wouldn't] be able to be in the position [of opening a store] were it not for the incredible retailers we work with. They gave us a chance and believed in the brand."
The space is pretty in a clean, industrial way, and even has a private outdoor area where the company has all its meetings. "If I'm ever like, 'Okay, we're having a department meeting,' everyone's so excited versus like a department meeting in New York where you're dreading it. It's not as cute," he says. Aside from outdoors space and great weather to enjoy while being outdoors, a big advantage to being in LA has been the proximity to influencers, celebrities and stylists, many of whom were present at Simkhai's store opening event Wednesday night — like actresses Gillian Jacobs and Lucy Hale, and celebrity stylists Monica Rose and Tara Swennen.
Simkhai may have done pretty well for himself in New York, but on top of being his lifelong dream, his first year in LA seems to have been pretty good to him. (He also just became a dad to twin babies!) He convinced much of his team to move here as well.
Don't worry though New Yorkers, you're not missing out at all so feel free to stay put. The traffic!!