We strolled last week down Memory Lane. Not, to be sure, our own, but that of a visiting out-of-town friend, who worked in film in 1990s Los Angeles. Our template was Melrose Avenue, where we walked a reasonable length, (a contradiction: to ambulate in southern California beyond the mailbox is to be instantly declasse) from La Cienega east to Wasteland, a second-hand store we understand is largely unchanged from our friend’s prowling years ago. We noticed high prices, above end-of-season sale rates, for much-worn pieces. We noticed our age, too. The music was far too loud and the light too low. Girls wandered through the gloom in states of semi-dress, trying items on in mirrors fixed to architectural columns. Only as they departed, so meagerly clothed, did the intelligence of their efficient changing-room outfits become clear.
The city’s retail transformations might, paradoxically, be more evident to recent and infrequent visitors to Los Angeles, like us here at Gyun Gyun. There are on Melrose and elsewhere long stretches of high-rent spaces empty, creating segregated and no-go spaces within the famously patchwork neighbourhoods of the city. The dialectic effect is of a hyper segregation of geography at the same time that, as we have remarked elsewhere in these pages, a much greater diversity of Americans are bravely patronising neighbourhoods historically closed—except as staff—to them.
Our friend came of age and self with Vivienne Westwood, whose tall, light-stone store looms incommensurably on a corner lot arm’s-length from the self-consciously luxurious stores of Melrose Place. With its VIP space upstairs and rooftop garden, the store evokes a mistaken urbanity, of a Parisian atelier placed clumsily like a monument on the Washington Mall.
We have had over the years similarly bewildering in-store experiences. Where other sellers of rebellious, liberating, and identity-transforming clothes have tended to be welcoming and encouraging (when not grooming), the Westwood staff have always been impressively cold and standoffish, with a remarkable, almost trained, consistency. Maybe it’s a “punk” thing?
On one such occasion, we mistook such negligence for tasteful discretion, only to look up from a rack of clothes terminating behind the counter, where staff were idly scrolling the Huffington Post homepage. As we exited the store we loudly praised the Westwood/The Rug Company rug near the street entrance. Finally sure of an audience, we slowly dug our toe into its surface. “I have the bigger version.”
This visit the staff were much more lively, showing consideration and efficiency to walk-in shoppers while they operated at much-reduced capacity, though not without that familiar suggestion of effortful patience. The clothes don’t quite work for us here at GG-like Punk music an artistic dead-end, at their best an Edwardian style and texture put to better, more progressive use by Burton at McQueen. Neither did the prices suit our guest. We each took home a neatly coloured pub/football towel at what we thought a fair 75 USD. One can never have too many towels near the beach.
Before entering the store, we made a small queue with a young couple arrived shortly after us. The man, unusually tall and thin, wore a black, logoed, ironic-synthetic athletic warm-up suit. The sun was out and it was warm. He campily puffed a heavily flavoured cheroot, bringing to mind a clammy Jimmy Savile. His partner was heavily made-up, with a gyroscope eye which, though her head was invariably turned away, would at intervals fix on us a level stare.
“Who makes that bag? Lanvin?”
“You have a good…eye. Wow. Yes, it is.”
He nodded and half-turned his head to exhale. A mock-propriety amidst virus-shy regulations.
“How much was that?”
We alternate between policies of inquiry and disclosure on cost. For a time we thought it a cutely anti-bourgeois line of conversation. On reflection it seems a dubious way to start a revolution. To his direct question we thought the only move a straightforward reply.
“21. Or 25?”
We cringed at our own abbreviation. Surely that is only on when there are at least two more zeroes in play.
“Seen the new collaboration with Gallery Dept.?”
“In fact, I just read the email this morning…”
“Those are going to be rare. Expensive.”
“Oh?” Doubt concealed with quick agreement. “I’m sure. They looked interesting.”
“They’ll be hot.”
He nodded confidently.
Such genuity regarding fashion betrayed the man as an avid consumer rather than insider. And who, apart from fans of older Lanvin womenswear (we’re sure we’re the only ones who half-heartedly collected the old men’s) would spot their latest bags? Both a Paul Smith and a Loewe employee misidentified ours as Loewe since we started wearing it. We were impressed by this young man’s research.
The exchange raised questions for us on the future of legacy fashion houses. Here was embodied proof of the excitement of the drop/dump/collaboration. Hype for its own sake; utterly false rumour of limited quantities; truly dubious artistic merit. And yet, clearly this young man was a serious shopper: the future. What then, does that future look like for the big houses? Should they remove the fixed designer entirely, rotating as they do now between teams, like relief pitchers or football goalkeepers, and set up shop as so many art galleries, lending their logos to a changing cast of influencers, who will dump/drop/collab a remix on the hype-hungry?