Downtown Los Angeles has experienced an unprecedented revival over the past five years with big swatches of the district being transformed from blighted streets to neighborhoods buzzing with new restaurants, boutique hotels and now an onslaught of high-end streetwear stores.
Most recently, RSVP Gallery from Chicago debuted a new downtown Los Angeles location on Hill Street on Jan. 31. The boutique is part of a group that outfits an ardent group of customers who obsess over high-end sneakers, love hip-hop as well as skateboarding and cultivate an appreciation for European fashion houses.
In the past few years, high-end retailers selling contemporary fashion have been rolling the dice by opening stores in downtown Los Angeles. But there now seems to be more momentum by streetwear stores to explore this new territory.
Streetwear stores scheduled to open soon include the highly anticipated Bodega, a Boston-headquartered shop scheduled to open in mid-February at the RowDTLA compound in the Los Angeles Fashion District.
Oliver Mak, Bodega’s founding partner, described his new downtown LA store as being “2.5 floors of the best fashion we could find from around the world, presented with a street homage, an extensive library of analog materials and plenty of room for art installations,” he wrote in an email.
He said downtown provides a great milieu. “Downtown has a creative energy that is hard to resist,” Mak said. “You meet artists, musicians and other creatives everywhere you go, in a landscape draped with skyscrapers and dotted with hidden corners covered in murals. It has history, grit, imagination, a distinct visual language and sophistication that makes us feel at home,” he said.
Another recent opening was Pakkard Studio, located a couple of blocks away from the RSVP Gallery.
The Arts District gets cooler
Last December, Commonwealth, which has stores in Washington, D.C., and Virginia Beach, Va., unveiled a 1,500-square-foot store at 2008 E. Seventh St. in a gritty section of downtown’s Arts District. Omar Quiambao, design director for Commonwealth, said he wanted to open a shop that sits apart from other shopping districts because he wanted to define the boutique’s neighborhood. He liked the sense that his store was pioneering a new retail area.
But he won’t be the only game for long. Warner Bros. Records is reported to be opening its new headquarters in the Arts District neighborhood this year. Also, the long anticipated Soho House, which runs a group of exclusive private clubs around the world, is under construction in the same neighborhood.
Dover Street Market, created by Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo, will reportedly be opening in the Arts District this spring. It is expected to cement the Arts District’s reputation as a happening retail center.
“I think downtown LA is becoming the new Fairfax,” said Chris Josol, founder of the underground surf brand Surf Is Dead and the Flagship showroom.
New stores are coming to downtown Los Angeles because of its central location and hip vibe. “It’s still not bougie,” Josol said, referring to the abbreviation for bourgeois. “Rent is a little cheaper than everywhere else, for now.”
Pioneers blaze the downtown trail
While a wave of new stores is a recent phenomenon, streetwear has a history in downtown Los Angeles. One of the pioneers of high-end retail in downtown Los Angeles was the sneaker store Blends, which continues to be popular with the streetwear crowd. Blends opened in downtown more than a decade ago near the area’s Old Bank District. In 2013 it moved to downtown’s Fashion District.
In 2015, Shiekh Shoes, a high-end sneaker store that devotes significant space to clothing, opened on downtown’s Broadway. It was more than a year after contemporary stores such as Acne Studios had opened boutiques a few blocks away on Broadway and Ninth Street. Other high-end sneaker shops followed, includingFoot Action and Nice Kicks. A Vans flagship will reportedly open in downtown later this year.
One of the most prominent events in streetwear style took place last year in downtown Los Angeles. The Louis Vuitton x Supreme luxury streetwear collaboration, which blended the DNA of a French fashion house with the streetwear brand, opened a pop-up store in the Arts District.
It attracted hundreds of people who lined up overnight to get a chance to buy the coveted items.
But downtown Los Angeles is a place that still hasn’t cemented its credibility as a retail district, according to some merchants.
Pioneering downtown Los Angeles store The Well is closing at the end of February after a five-year run. Located on the once gritty edge of Los Angeles’ South Park neighborhood, The Well sold streetwear and contemporary clothing and also ran a hair salon and events space on the corner of Olive and Eleventh streets.
The neighborhood was isolated and blighted when The Well opened its 7,500-square-foot space. If there was once a frisson of urban danger there, The Well’s new neighbors now are a Starbucks and a Chipotle. “It’s definitely not our vibe,” said Stephanie Harrison, the buyer at The Well.
With its lease expiring, The Well’s owners couldn’t compete with bids from businesses with deeper pockets. So they chose to close the business and move to ventures outside of retail.
After a four-month run on the 700 block of South Main Street, the Odaingerous boutique is moving for various reasons. It is located in a dicey neighborhood with a lot of street people. One of the store’s neighbors is a rehabilitation housing center for recovering addicts and the homeless. “Overall the area was heavily populated with homeless, and the added lifestyle of the neighboring tenants made it hard to conduct business,” said founder Odain Watson.
Odaingerous is scheduled to reopen as an appointment-only shop in West Hollywood, Calif.
Despite challenges, new stores are bullish about the people who shop in downtown Los Angeles. The Loit boutique opened a 7,500-square-foot boutique last year on the corner of Hill Street and Olympic Boulevard because downtown Los Angeles gets almost every kind of shopper, said Wilkins Frias, the store’s manager. “A 20-year-old woman …and a 40-year-old woman shop here,” he said.