From Hong Kong to Venice Beach: fashion designer relaunches label on the US west coast, and tells us her five favourite spots there
Elle Waldmann has moved back to her favourite Los Angeles neighbourhood, where she aims to mix East with West, showing off her stylish range with pieces such as the Calabasas dress, Agave gown and Electric City top
Fashion designer and former Hongkonger Elle Waldmann is sitting on the roof of the remodelled Hotel Erwin at sunset, overlooking the golden beach and Pacific coastline.
Venice vibe under threat: Seaside LA enclave known for bohemian style is at risk from ‘gentrification on steroids’
Venice, says Waldmann, has always been her favourite LA neighbourhood. The area has undergone gentrification as more tech companies including Google and Snapchat set up offices there, forcing up property prices and pushing out some (but not all) long-time locals. It’s become a shinier, fancier version of itself (like it or not), while experiencing a tourism and economic boost. For Waldmann, who lived in Hong Kong for several years until 2013, put her label on hold in 2014, and moved back to LA last year, the area is now the base of her home, design studio and relaunched Waldmann brand.
“The whole growth of ’silicon beach’ has affected it quite a lot,” says the Central Saint Martins graduate. “Skyrocketing rents make it more of a fight between local businesses on the high street and the more ‘mainstream’ brands that want to move in. But it’s always been a hub for artists, with a real community-minded soul, and I hope it doesn’t lose those unpolished edges.”
It seems a million miles away from the last time we talked shop properly, screaming over the din at Ho Lee Fook restaurant in Central, Hong Kong.
Los Angeles has also been refining its high-fashion chops for some years now, so it seems fitting to reboot her chic, sophisticated label there. As the city experiences a new surge of internationalism, fresh creative boom in the arts and a second wind as a creative capital, the timing seems right for a relaunch. Waldmann cites an “influx of expats, international money and a larger wave of entrepreneurialism” as helping to boost the city.
Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger have been choosing to do big, celebrity-packed seasonal shows in LA. Even more telling is Tom Ford moving his design headquarters from London to LA (into Hedi Slimane’s old Saint Laurent studios). Slimane is an almost obsessive ‘Angeleno’, remaining one of high fashion’s biggest champions of the city.
California might be more bureaucratic than Hong Kong, but Waldmann does benefit from the massive US market being on her doorstep. She wants to introduce a Hong Kong buzz to the relaxed retail landscape in LA.
Waldmann aims to keep a subtle East-West mix in mind with her brand. For example, her just-released mini fashion film The Journey is directed by Taiwanese, LA-based creative Shiouwen Hong and looks at the interconnectedness of lives while celebrating “diverse women taking their own paths through the contrasts of Southern Californian landscapes”.
Pieces like the Calabasas dress, Agave gown and Electric City top (a hand-embroidered urban planning map of LA) show off her impeccable craftsmanship and embroidery, which she learned working at the Alexander McQueen couture studio in London. There’s the carefully placed flash of iridescence, but the look is far from fussy or complicated – a easy, pragmatic attitude shows through clean, precise lines and cool-girl fits.
There’s perhaps a tinge of Hong Kong sparkle too, from “the magic of coming back into the harbour at sunset just as all the skyscraper neon comes to life,” she says. Despite the easy-going west coast life, the designer still yearns for the pace and energy of her former city.
“I miss the beautiful cacophony of the markets, the trams and all the thousands of people from different walks of life bustling through the city everyday, and then the peace and tranquillity of sailing out to the outer islands for fresh seafood,” she says.
For inspiration, Waldmann is rediscovering LA artists such as the painter Jen Guidi or “the immersive studies of light and space of James Turrell”. This translates to a label that is more about a certain sensibility than eye-popping motifs or slogans. While the high-octane power of Hollywood red carpets and the film industry is an undeniable factor in Los Angeles fashion, it refreshingly seems to cast only a slight shadow over this small corner of Venice’s creative community.
“Living in LA can make you a bit immune to the idea of celebrity,” says Waldmann, “I’m way more focused on clients than dressing celebrities. The type of client I dress is always a woman versus a ‘girl’. Driven and accomplished, but curious about the world. They have urban lives but appreciate being in nature – and may lean towards the more minimal, but seek out experiences that indulge the senses.”
Elle Waldmann’s favourite spots in Venice Beach:
1. Menotti’s is a go-to for the best coffee in Venice. It has an old-school vibe where the baristas play an eclectic mix of their favourite records while making great espresso … and it’s right by the beach.
2. Rose Cafe (where we went) is a great place for lunch with friends or a working breakfast meeting. Get a table on the back patio and it feels like dining in a garden. It’s recently been renovated but is also a great community-minded institution that’s been in Venice since the 1970s.
3. Mona Moore is a boutique on Main Street, with more adventurous taste that goes beyond the traditional beach vibe, carrying designers such as Christophe Lemaire, Haider Ackermann, Ann Demeulemeester, Marni and Molly Goddard, as well as hometown heros like Rodarte.
4. The rooftop at Hotel Erwin – a great place to take visitors for a drink while watching the sun set over the ocean and the Venice skate park.
5. MTN is a new favourite spot for dinner. It’s a moody, candlelit izakaya with an indoor-outdoor vibe and the food is delicious. (It’s the new addition from Travis Lett, the chef at well-known Venice establishments Gjelina and Gjusta.)