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Hurry to Hollywood

Will the rapid gentrification of L.A.'s most famous district drive indie fashion elsewhere?

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From Hollywood springs an endless stream of images, including of course, fashion. Running from red-carpet glamour to edgy street style, the looks are many and varied. The area is home to a slew of retail doors, including mass chains and one-off boutiques. Just where these two ends of the fashion spectrum fit into the rapidly gentrifying area is a study in flux, but one thing is clear: Hollywood is a neighborhood on the brink. Of course, that means success for some, and extinction for others, depending on whom you talk to.

Geographically, Hollywood is a district in Los Angeles situated northwest of downtown, east of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, south of Mulholland Drive and the cities of Burbank and Glendale, north of Melrose Avenue and west of the Golden State Freeway/Interstate 5.

On Feb. 16, 2005, state assembly members Jackie Goldberg and Paul Koretz introduced a bill to require the state to keep specific records on Hollywood as though it were an independent city. The bill, known as AB 588, was unanimously supported by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles City Council and was approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in August 2006. Hollywood does not have its own municipal government, but it does have honorary mayor Johnny Grant, who is on hand for ceremonies such as the Walk of Fame star dedications.

Today, the famed intersection at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street is undergoing a redevelopment that includes a W Hotel, live-work loft spaces and condos and a slew of restaurants, clubs and retail chains that chase such gentrification projects. Two of the most anticipated openings are an H&M store and a Whole Foods supermarket, both due to open in the fall.

In the last few years, the area has seen drastic regeneration, anchored by the refurbishment of legendary theaters such as the Pantages and El Capitan and Grauman’s Chinese, and the building of the retail-tainment behemoth Hollywood and Highland, now home to the Kodak Theater and the Academy Awards, and retailers like Gap, Hot Topic and Lucky Brand Dungarees. One of the neighborhood’s original fashion icons, Frederick’s of Hollywood, has maintained its headquarters on the street, and last year revamped its flagship.

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Hollywood and Highland had somewhat of a rough start with 9/11 and the opening of the Grove taking away business, but it’s since repositioned its retail, and the revitalization of Hollywood and Vine is only helping that. The area is coming back, and there is a lot of buying power in those residential hills behind the business district,” said Jack Kyser, senior vice president and chief economist of the Los Angeles Economic Development Council.

In the nine-block area between the Hollywood and Highland and Hollywood and Vine Street intersections, a band of young designers such as Morphine Generation’s Erik Hart, swimwear designer Ashley Paige and jewelry designer Christie Martin have been carving out their own niche, as have fashion marketing and production companies and wholesale apparel showrooms.

Hart, who started his label out of his Hollywood garage three and a half years ago, has always been based in the area. Two years ago, he also leased a space on Cahuenga Boulevard, just southwest of the Hollywood and Vine intersection, which he uses for sales, private appointments and events.

“It used to be a scary place, but now there are great bars, restaurants and stores, and it feels like its own cool neighborhood,” Hart said. “Buildings keep getting snapped up, but we’ve been able to keep up with it because we got our lease at the right time. But it can be a bummer when a big billboard goes up on the street.”

William Anzevino and Richard Florence, owners of Anzevino and Florence boutique, decided to put down retail roots further east on the other side of Interstate 5, at Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue. Although there’s a mental gap for most Angelenos about crossing the freeway into the lower-rent neighborhood near Western Avenue, the area is also seeing its share of gentrification, brought on, in part, by the presence of a contemporary retailer on the block, the designers say.

“Our store has brought the attention of high-end investment to the area. Our landlord said our store has brought attention from a lot of different projects,” Anzevino said.

“The area has changed completely since we moved here in December 2005. There is a Ross and a Designer Shoe Warehouse about a block away, but now there are chichi condos going in on the other side of us. It’s been a battle between hipsters and developers and the city,” added Florence.

Matt Coyne, owner of the Favorcraft Sales Agency, which reps the boutique apparel lines Nudie Jeans and Fremont, believes there is still time, and that the massive development just a half-block north of him is actually nurturing his edgy, fashion-forward milieu instead of pushing it out.

Coyne said his company was one of the first tenants in the Cosmo Lofts building on Cosmo Street, southwest of the Hollywood and Vine intersection, which was one of the first buildings in the district to be redeveloped. “This area is more where things are going to be in the next few years. People are already signing five-, seven- and 10-year leases. All the stuff going in — the W, the Whole Foods — is for people like us. It only makes it more, not less, conducive to staying here.”

Although Coyne said he pays twice as much rent as he would for a showroom downtown, he believes it’s worth it. “Downtown is pretty icky as far as showroom space. You have shared bathrooms and there is nothing good around as far as culinary. It’s much better around here. Yes, it’s gone upscale, but it’s still young and fresh and it appeals to our specific clients.”

But for others, like Genevieve Productions’ Shana Honeyman, a fashion publicist, the development is more immediate. Her office is located in the historic Taft Building on the southeast corner of the Hollywood and Vine intersection. The building is protected by the city, so it won’t be torn down, but construction continues next door and across the street.

“The jackhammers are driving us crazy, but we love being here and we will stay as long as we can. We like the New York City-type foot traffic and being so convenient to stylists.” Still, she admits it’s a battle to survive the construction and the eventual loss of their parking lot next door.

“If you are an independent store or a small business, it is a tough life you live,” said Kyser. “Sooner or later they will get pushed out. They are at the mercy of big chains and landlords with big wallets. If they aren’t thinking about that, they should have a contingency plan and be scouting other areas for what could be a potential location.”

Hart is among those with a contingency plan. “If there comes a day when my friends and my creativity leaves the area, then I’ll just leave and find the next cool place, it’s not a big deal,” said Hart.

Anzevino and Florence are already tossing around the equally revitalized downtown as an option. Three months ago, they leased a warehouse near Chinatown and said they may eventually move retail there too.

“Things in Hollywood seem shaky now. The situation changes from one week to the next, and the planning is not really in favor of smaller stores and the creative vibe. We like what they are doing downtown, and we’ve been offered discounts on utilities by the city if we move there. It seems calmer and cooler, and it actually seems like it could be refreshing to leave.”

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