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Juicy Reads |City of Style

Melissa Magsaysay, author of the West Coast’s latest style guide “City of Style” talks Paris, Milan and Dogtown.

We recently caught up with Melissa Magsaysay on her 917 number from her LA digs to get the lowdown on her new book, City of Style: Exploring Los Angeles Fashion from Bohemian to Rock. The book takes a long overdue look at So Cal style, which Magsaysay thoroughly addresses through seven style archetypes: Romantic Bohemian, Glamour, Skaters and Surfers, Rockers, Chola Style, Indie Eclectic and Casual Chic. (Go ahead, take a moment to decide which category best describes yourself.) With a foreward by Amber Valletta, she approaches the conversation with perfect parts history, anthropological study, fashion critic, and best friend.

JC: LA fashion can get such a bad rap? Does that resonate with you?

MM: Yeah it resonates with me, and I wouldn’t deny that across the board. I can see where some people’s observations come from. New York, LA, London Paris, Milan—

We don’t take fashion with the same level of seriousness that those other cities do. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not fashionable or as stylish in some ways. It’s just not within the same box as other cities, and it has a lot to do with the environment, the actual geography.

It’s not a walking city; we don’t have cobblestone streets. It’s a new city. It’s an interesting confluence of different elements that I think are really interesting, which is why I started to explore. It wasn’t like I was right off the bat, ‘Oh my God, I love LA fashion we gotta celebrate this right away.’  I had to dig and explore, and having been at Women’s Wear covering the West Coast and then the LA Times, and having come from NY, it gave me this great perspective to see how LA fit in—and it fit in, in a really cool way, which was the inspiration for the book.

LA style may get a bad rap, but it just needs a little bit of exploration and conversation, which is what the whole point of the book is.

JC: What has that conversation looked like?

MM: After having covered the West Coast at WWD really in depth and then at LA times, a little bit more broad, I’ve gotten a front row seat to everything that goes on here. People are always asking does LA need a fashion week? This conversation has been going on for so long. ‘What is LA style? What is LA fashion?’ Let’s change the conversation.

This city is never going to be New York; it’s never going to be Paris; it’s never going to be Milan. And that’s going to keep perpetuating the notion that LA has no style, because when you put those things next to each other, it doesn’t. So I wanted to take a look based on the events I go to, the people I know, the nuances of the girls on the street, the girls on the courtyard at the Chateau. I kinda wanted to take a snapshot of that.

I just knew that conversation felt really tired and no one had an answer and I took a stab to see if I might.

JC: The book features different archetypes. How did you arrive at those?

MM: So I took these styles that feel more, of course this is going to sound so LA— organic to LA—without trying too hard. And that’s what LA fashion is kind of about. You’re not trying that hard. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t mean it’s not influential or inspirational. So, just taking those archetypes that I thought resonated with the whole world: skater, surfer, old Hollywood, rockers, and started to evolve them. What am I going to say about these looks? Each of these styles has such roots here; it makes it feel authentic. That made sense. I had to it put in context and give it a little bit of history and sort of an anthropological look and I tried to tell that through interviews with people who lived it and shaped it.

For skate and surf, you have Stacy Peralta and Tony Hawk. For rocker you have Slash and Heart and the whole punk scene. It was a lot of connecting the dots to show people where these things stemmed from, how they sort of evolved and taking it into modern day and talking to designers like Marchesa and Philip Lim, and editors like Joe Zee.

JC: There are some major players, how did you decide whom to include?

MM: I didn’t want it to be the usual suspects in any capacity. I wanted to take people who really shaped those eras. When you say Dogtown and Z Boys, you get an idea right away of what that is. So, who was at the forefront of that? Stacy Peralta. Had to talk to Stacy Peralta. Not just about Dogtown, but his life before Dogtown. And he gave me some really great stories about being 15 and being in Venice High School.

So I just thought of people who felt influential, but maybe not the most obvious. Tony Hawk is a little more obvious but he was around then. I was interested in Gleaming the Cube. So I asked him about his Gleaming the Cube hair, not about his T-shirts being sold in Walmart now. That’s just an example of how far that industry has come and how attractive that lifestyle is.

JC: How did you go about selecting the style profiles?

I really wanted to get the most, literally through my eyes. What I see if I spend the day between breakfast in West Hollywood and a lunch in Venice and shopping in Abbott Kinney and then back for dinner in Hollywood. I wanted to paint as real a picture as possible of people who I think really embody the different styles, without being literal cut outs. People whose spirit and attitude toward style fit each archetype.

Some people I knew really well, and some people, a friend of mine would email me, who knew what I was doing, and say, ‘Oh my God, I just came from this store in Echo Park and the owner of the store would be amazing for your indie section.” I had little eyes and ears all over. Then I’d ask people, ‘do you have any friends that look like this?’ Then I Googled and Facebooked people. It was like a citywide casting through every possible channel.

JC: How would you describe the Juicy girl’s look?

MM: I always picture there’s a filter over the city. And let’s say you buy from a really high-end store or off the runway, but when someone wears it here, it’s put through this filter so it’s tempered with this ease and the insouciance of ‘I live in these clothes, I’m wearing these clothes—these clothes aren’t wearing me.’ That’s how I think of the Juicy girl. She loves fashion and she’s really feminine, kind of trend-conscious, but doesn’t play to trends and gets put through the filter of the lifestyle and the light and it’s not stuffy and perfectly put together, but there’s a polish. It has that spirit of the California girl without being overly casual.

JC: If you had to put yourself in one style category, what would it be?

MM: A casual chic girl. I think the casual chic girl is someone who pays attention to trends, but I do translate them to fit my life, where I’ve been, what my life is now. I don’t wear it how I see it on the runway but I wear it to fit my life. Casual Chic with a touch of the Indie-Eclectic girl because I do love vintage—I can’t just say one. Which is what I think is the point.

JC: What’s your best bit of style advice?

MM: Be inspired every day. I know it’s easy to have a uniform and there are so many other important things, but it can always change your mood or change your day for the better if you feel inspired by something, whether it’s a piece of pop culture or these kind of girls we’re talking about, feeling a little bit boho or indie or rocker, I feel like you need to have a point of inspiration, but have that point of reference every day. Be inspired everyday but also be yourself. You have to be willing to try new things, but certainly don’t try things that don’t suit your comfort level or your body type. If it doesn’t work, kick it to the curb.

Images courtesy of the author and HarperCollins.