What’s Checking: Downtown Los Angeles/Luxe Boutiques Gamble on Downtown L.A.
Carl Louisville made millions of dollars for Prada as director of the fashion house's Epicenter store on Rodeo Drive.
After more than 25 years of working at Prada, he was looking for something new in a place where few in recent memory had sold refined and expensive fashions.
In May he opened Guerilla Atelier in a former furniture warehouse in downtown Los Angeles' Artist District.
He wasn't alone. In the past year, a handful of luxury retailers have gambled on downtown Los Angeles. With a wave of glitzy restaurants, bars and luxury condo developments, they sought to build independent luxury businesses in what once were no-go neighborhoods.
Darren Gold, owner of the Alpha pop-up store, which opened in June in downtown, said the pioneering boutiques call for a unique retailer and shopper. "The people who open shops here are innovative," he said. "They do things a little differently. The customers here are genuinely excited to see something new. They're not jaded."
For Louisville, it wasn't much of a gamble. He is a downtown resident. "I see it changing. I see more people like me down here. I asked, 'What can I do to service the growing community of people who want to buy clothing but don't want to drive to Beverly Hills?'"
For Shanacie Tangradi of The Well, a boutique/salon/events space that opened last November, there was no gamble in opening a store in her own neighborhood. "There was never any thought of going anywhere else. Downtown is our home."
What's Checking - Downtown LA - Guerilla Atelier
After more than one year of producing pop-up shops in downtown Los Angeles, Carl Louisville felt the neighborhood was ready for a permanent store filled with refined, artisanal crafts, furniture, and clothes picked by himself. In May, he opened Guerilla Atelier at 821 E. Third St. in downtown Los Angeles' Arts District.
Since then, the place has been the site of a moveable feast. People from Louisville's new neighborhood drop by for a sophisticated happy hour—a classical pianist frequently played the grand piano that, until recently, was at the store. They mix with Louisville's former customers from Rodeo Drive, where he worked as the director of the Prada Epicenter store.
One top-selling item has been the "Loco Denim" jacket by Los Angeles–based designer Mr. Freedom. It retails for $439.95 and feels like a second skin, Louisville said. "I've reordered it every week since I opened," he said. The jacket is made out of Japanese denim and has buttons made in Brazil and a craftsmanship that speaks of effortless luxury, he said.
A shirt by the Borrelli Napoli fashion house has been selling well. The denim blue shirt with brown stripes retails for $365. "People are getting an education on handmade clothing," Louisville said. "They see the value. The Borelli shirt features a yoke attached by hand and stitching that cannot be done by machine, he said.
The "Pantalon Jack" drawstring trouser by French label Vénus et Judes retails for $185. "I have an obsession with loungewear that doesn't look like you just came from yoga," Louisville said of the garment. "It's comfortable enough to wear on the street."
The Beckley by Melissa "Low V Paneled Leather Dress" retails for $648. "It flatters everyone who puts it on," he said. The leather is soft, and the V-neck is supported by a back that is laser cut.
What's Checking - Downtown LA - The Well
The boutique, salon and events space is located at 1006 S. Olive St. on an isolated strip in between downtown's Fashion District and Financial District. Retail manager Stephanie Harrison and Shanacie Tangradi of The Well hope that their store will be one of the first outposts in a community of boutiques that will grow on the street.
One of the top-selling items at The Well is the "Sureshot" by Australian brand Zanerobe. The leather drop-crotch pant with a drawstring retails for $560. "The silhouette is on trend for men and women," Harrison said. "Comfortable leather clothing is taking over the industry."
The "Muffie Pink Sequin Dress" by the Again label retails for $1,550. The dress's black sequin and lace are imported from Italy. However, it is made in Los Angeles.
A draped motorcycle jacket by Skingraft retails for $900 at The Well. Most leather starts off fitting in a stiff way, Harrison said. "You have to break it in and mold it to you. With this, the work is done," she said.
A knitted heavy cardigan by Italian designer Isabel Benenato retails for $850. The oversized sweater looks exotic, even a bit raw, but it is not scratchy at all, Tangradi assured.
What's Checking - Downtown LA - Alpha
Veteran boutique retailer Darren Gold opened a downtown Los Angeles pop-up shop for Alpha at 845 S. Los Angeles St. in June. It was scheduled to close in August, but his lease was extended for another month.
Like Gold's other Alpha stores, the downtown pop-up sells a mix of menswear, gifts and accessories. One of his top-selling items is a bikini-print shirt from Los Angeles label Altru. It retails for $88. "People love unusual motifs that make it lighthearted and summery," Gold said.
The "Renegade" short by Orange County, Calif.–based brand Athletic Recon retails for $60. "The whole athletic thing is really working," Gold said. "Some people are buying as a fashion piece, too."
The Drifter label's burnout tank top pieces retail for $26. "It's so soft and lightweight. We have men and women buying it," Gold said.
Call 2013 the year of the sock. Socks with novelty prints have been big sellers. The Orange County–based Stance label is one of the brands dominating this category. Pairs of Stance socks retail from $12 and up at Alpha. "We're blowing through all of these funky socks with wild patterns. The wilder the pattern, the better the sock," Gold said.
What's Checking - Downtown LA - Akai Ito
Jeremy Friend and Douglas VanLaningham opened Akai Ito at the edge of the Arts District, at 941 E. Second St., in 2012, to indulge their taste for avant-garde fashions. Since then, the place has been a hub for stylists and music-industry people looking for an exotic look.
The most popular style at the store has been drop-crotch trousers. Designer Daniel Patrick gave Akai Ito an exclusive to a style of his drop-crotch pants. They retail for $578. "They're linen, but they also feature leather," Friend said of the style. "It is in between beach and the rocker."
T-shirts by Antonio Barragan retail for $150 at Akai Ito. But their Barragan shirts come with an edge. "It's a men's T-shirt that looks like a dress," Friend said. "You're living in Los Angeles; you can't wear a leather jacket all of the time. So you need something to keep an edge."
A one-off by the Los Angeles–based Olima label was made for women but has captured the imagination of both sexes. With a silhouette of a men's sweatshirt, it is made out of vintage silk lingerie and retails for $618. Women shopping at Akai Ito like the sweatshirt shape. "They seem to be more comfortable with boy-esque attire," Friend said. "But I'm also a boy who will wear skirts."
The "Forma" legging by Mila Hermanovski retails for $278 at Akai Ito and is popular with dancers. "Every girl likes leggings," Friend said. "[The Forma] doesn't rip, they're not see-through, and they don't look like pants."