"The vibe was desert disco drag ball," explained now-solo Baja East designer Scott Studenberg on Friday afternoon, after showing his Fall 2020 collection in Los Angeles. "I go to Joshua Tree a lot; that's my grounded, spiritual place where I really regrouped my entire life over the past year."
As you can probably tell from that sentence, Studenberg lives in L.A.; and though he's only been here two and a half years after 15 in New York, he's already a true convert. "I love it in L.A.; I was in New York for 15 years so it's just very refreshing, I've always wanted to move here, I've had tattoos of palm trees on my arms for a long time."
Baja East was one of three brands to eschew New York Fashion Week in favor of showing their new collections in L.A.: Margherita Missoni held a show for M Missoni last Tuesday and CFDA Chairman Tom Ford put on a show for an audience of A-listers on Friday night. And as much as L.A. has become an escape route for disgruntled New Yorkers (hi!) and always been the primary home for celebrities and influencers, this mini-decampment (similar to one that happened this time three years ago) wasn't just about L.A. or dismissing NYFW or piggybacking on Ford. It was also about brands in general thinking about what's best for them and their customers instead of blindly following traditional rules.
"Literally it has nothing to do with New York Fashion Week, it's completely selfish," said Studenberg about his decision to show in L.A., where he plans to show going forward despite the brand having previously shown in New York. "I do fittings at home where I'm comfortable, in my living room, which inspired the set [for this show]." (Fun fact: It was in that very living room that Studenberg and Billy Porter's stylist Sam Ratelle came up with the idea for that viral mechanical fringe hat from the Grammys. And yes, according to Studenberg, they were smoking some of California's legal recreational weed at the time.)
"I'm not dissing New York, I'm just comfortable and happy here," Studenberg adds.
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M Missoni hosted its showgoers outside of Pink's Hot Dogs, during which street-cast models came out of a custom double-decker bus and danced down the runway in the brand's signature patterned fabrics, many of which are now upcycled from the Missoni archives.
"When I took over M Missoni, it never showed before and when I started deciding how to handle this, I realized a lot of the rules fashion brands have to follow don’t necessarily respond to the needs," Missoni told me. "Fashion shows are so expensive to put on and it's hard to stand out during a fashion week."
Missoni thus decided she didn't want to show during a traditional fashion week, instead planning to show each collection "a different way, in a different place for a different crowd." Wanting to target the U.S. market, she chose L.A. for its lack of ties to a fashion week and its alignment with the M Missoni brand.
"I feel M Missoni is all about laid back, relaxed, there's a relaxedness to it...I think there's a similarity to the lifestyle that people have here in Los Angeles and [people here] also are more prone to colors [than in New York]," she said.
While showing in L.A. might mean you won't have all the big editors and buyers in your audience, it allows arguably better access to influencers and celebrities, especially so close to the Oscars. Paula Abdul, Sophia Bush, Ashley Simpson and Evan Ross sat in Baja East's front row. M Missoni brought out Chiara Ferragni, Courtney Trop, Maye Musk and more. And we've already discussed Tom Ford and the most glamorous, celebrity-filled front row of all time.
Like it or not, the goals of fashion shows have shifted away from trade and towards creating buzz, which celebrities and influencers help achieve. Plus, each of the aforementioned brands will no doubt be bringing these collections to New York and/or other fashion capitals to ensure that the industry figures who need to see it in person do. So why is it necessary for them to host a runway there?
"I'm in my own fashion world in a way," said Studenberg. "I'm so happy that the industry supports me and I hope I'm giving back to it in my own way from home where I'm comfortable."
What became clear through each of these L.A. events is that it's not necessarily a direct affront to NYFW when a brand skips it. Whether it's showing in a different city, on a different schedule or in a different format, brands are just reexamining what works for them in a shifting industry.