California Dreamers

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California Dreamers

Words by Mr Dan Rookwood | Photography by We Are The Rhoads | Styling by Ms Eilidh Greig

19 April 2017

Six creatives test drive MR PORTER’s exclusive Made In California capsule collections – and explain why LA is the place to be right now.

With its long history of earthquakes, they’re used to tremors in California. But a different kind of West Coast buzz has been building of late in the city that sits on the San Andreas Fault. Long derided as a soulless void where you had to fake it to make it, Los Angeles is riding a new wave of genuine innovation in the fields of food, art, fashion and tech, as well as entertainment. Creatives are heading west in a one-way migration, attracted by affordable rents, a healthier work-life balance, to say nothing of the sun and a sunnier disposition. California has always had good weather, but it wasn’t until the recent explosion of social media that the world has been reminded of this on a daily basis.

To celebrate the launch of MR PORTER’s Made In California capsule collections, we gathered together a group of six local movers and makers – a chef, a performer, a designer, an artist, an entrepreneur and a surfer – to tell us how to make it in LA.

Mr Travis Lett, 38, restaurateur

The whole LA food scene has been bubbling up nicely of late, but there is one restaurant that stands out from the pack. Gjelina is a farm-to-table hotspot near the beach in Venice owned by self-taught chef Mr Travis Lett. His approach to food is organic, in every sense. Everything on the vegetable-dominated, seasonal menu is locally and sustainably sourced. Mr Lett also has a bakery, Gjusta, next door and is about to open an izakaya-style Japanese restaurant further down Venice’s rapidly evolving main street, Abbot Kinney.

Why do you think LA is such a creative hotbed these days?

I grew up in New Jersey and was raised to think of LA as a sort of cultural vacuum. But this city has a lot of room for a lot of different people’s ideas about how to do things. It almost lacks a unifying cultural identity, which I think historically is one of the things people didn’t like about it. On the other hand, it makes things a lot more open. You can make it and interpret it as you see fit.

You’ve lived in Venice Beach for 12 years. How do you feel about its gentrification?

I’ve been partly blamed for it, or credited, depending on how you look at it. It’s inevitable that places are going to change, so I try not to hold on too tight to what I think it used to be or what it should be. I try to flow with the change and contribute to it, shape it for the better, if I can.

In what way are you shaping things for the better?

Locally sourced, farm to table – these are phrases we’re all kind of getting sick of. But I have a little network of farmers I’ve been working with for the past 10-plus years. It’s symbiotic. I grew up in an environment where sustainability and nutrition were intrinsic to food. Because I didn’t work under any pedigreed chefs per se and I didn’t go to culinary school, when I started cooking professionally I sort of just developed my own point of view that incorporated all that.

Describe your day.

I live in a bungalow a couple of blocks from the restaurant and five blocks from the beach. Sometimes you might find me in the bakery at 5.00am. I try to surf or do yoga every day. At night, I’m back and forth to Gjelina, which closes at midnight. I’m 10 years in and I’m still working with the cooks, keeping my hands in the process. The line between what you consider work and not tends to be pretty blurred in my world, especially when you do something you love.

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Mr Reggie Watts, 45, comedian

When Mr James Corden moved to LA as host of The Late Late Show, he needed a team of collaborators. And the first person he thought of to lead his house band was Mr Reggie Watts, a musically minded comedian with whom he has developed an offbeat rapport. Mr Watts has earned his reputation, and living, from making things up on the spot, and this hasn’t changed. He completely improvises his routines on every show.

How come everyone’s moving to LA?

It’s a matter of economics. When I was living in New York in the early 2000s, there were still a lot of industrial spaces that were open for artists and had cheap rent. When gentrification started really firing up, a lot of creatives got priced out. So, they started moving to LA, where people have space. I lost 80 per cent of my friends to LA before I ended up moving here. Also, LA is just friendlier, artistically friendlier.

What car do you drive here?

My dream car – a Tesla . I love not going to a gas station, not doing any oil changes. I use the autopilot as much as possible. I just sit back and watch the car drive. I love that feeling of being in the future.

You’re looking trim. The California lifestyle obviously agrees with you.

I’ve lost 43lb since I moved here. I wanted to lose weight for a long time and it was difficult. Health is a valued commodity here. People take care of themselves. I work out with a personal trainer called Jorgen, which is the perfect name for a trainer. He is Dutch and, like, 50 and in perfect shape. I feel like my posture is better, my knees are in better shape. I can fit into clothes. In a way, this shoot is my first foray into “I feel kind of comfortable about my body – let’s do some photos!”

Mr Ben Medansky, 28, ceramicist

A lot of people start their day with a cup of coffee. Ceramicist Mr Ben Medansky built his business on it, making the cups for local hotspots G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger, each one an affordable work of signed art. The other pillar on which he established his name was clay pipes, thanks to the legalisation of marijuana in California. Last July he held an Up In Smoke party at his studio to celebrate his designs. It was an unfortunately ironic theme. The following day, his studio burned down due to a massive fire that had nothing to do with him. Mr Medansky has spent the past eight months rebuilding his business.

So, it pays to be a coffee snob in LA.

It all started with coffee. This time last year I had seven studio assistants making cups and sculpture. I would always say, “You centre your day and then you centre your clay.” We would all stretch in the morning and centre ourselves, then we would sit down to create the cups. Each one was a little bit different, because they had a bit of our soul in the cup. I like the aesthetics of chance and not knowing what is going to occur.

Sorry to hear about the studio fire. Was anything salvageable?

The studio essentially turned into a giant kiln. Afterwards, it was like conducting an archeological dig in the future. I had all these really futuristic-looking rocket shapes that I was really into, covered in tar and ash and melted roof and exploded LED light bulbs. Some of it was really cool. I refired a bunch of the work that wasn’t smashed or cracked, and ended up getting a really beautiful patina on it. I had a show afterwards, and sold almost 200 pieces from that. I guess you could call it a fire sale.

What’s the best thing about living in LA?

Winter is a choice and I choose no. I also like to think of Los Angeles as a place where we are all on a hike together, rather than being on a ladder where you have to step on somebody to get ahead. People out here are very inclusive and they all want to see you succeed. Collaboration is key in this city.

What’s the most LA thing you do?

In my mind, nothing sounds that LA. Then I say things out loud and I’m like, “Oh yeah, that is really LA.” Like yesterday, I woke up, went to a sound-bath yoga class, and then I got a cold-press juice and some activated cashews for a snack. Then I took Banjee-girl, my basenji-dachshund mix, for a hike up Griffith Park. Then I went and worked in my studio and did my ceramics in the afternoon, and that was a normal day for me.

Doesn’t the LA traffic get you down?

I love sitting in traffic, which is the opposite of everyone else. I find it really meditative. I tend to leave early to get places. I get some of my best ideas when I’m sitting in traffic with time to think.

Mr Alex Matthews, 40, co-founder of Juice Served Here

It started out as a 10-day break from his advertising job in London. Twelve years later, Mr Alex Matthews is still here. He quickly fell in love, both with a Californian girl, who is now his wife and mother to his son, and with the healthy, wholesome and positive lifestyle. He became such an advocate of this good standard of living, he decided to try and bottle it. So, after working on trade shows and then at a denim brand, in 2012, he co-founded a cold-pressed juice company that preaches wellness to the converted. Does it get any more LA than that?

Why juicing?

I’ve had psoriasis pretty badly since I was a kid. It wasn’t showing any signs of clearing up, so I started researching what I could do to get it under control and I read about cold-press juicing, which is the Rolls-Royce of juicing, basically. It’s not pasteurised. The enzymes and nutrients are alive, and those two things, when they work together in your body, can do great stuff. It pretty much cleared up my skin, but there are a great many other health benefits.

What’s your best-selling juice?

Probably our charcoal lemonade, despite the fact that it is black. Charcoal absorbs the toxins in you. It’s amazing for a hangover. Drink one before you go to sleep and you’ll be fine next morning.

What’s the next big thing in juicing?

I’ve got my eye on three things. The first is tinctures, which are like medicinal-grade botanical remedies, packed with antioxidants. The second is non-dairy milks, ie, nut milks, and what they are like in coffees and some Asian teas. And the last thing is drinking vinegars to cleanse.

What’s the most LA thing you do?

What, you mean apart from owning a juice company? Spending $5 on an almond-milk cappuccino every day. Five dollars! It’s nuts – literally.

Mr Luke Davis, 24, pro surfer

Surf culture is synonymous with the SoCal lifestyle. Mr Luke Davis grew up in San Clemente, a beach town midway between LA and San Diego, but has been travelling the world with his boards since the age of 12, making a good living from doing what he loves through sponsorship. Between trips he hangs out and parties in LA. Mr Davis is known for his colourful, care-free, occasionally reckless style in and out of the water, as documented on his Instagram feed, which is followed by 106,000 people.

What do you like most about LA?

The open-mindedness. There are tons of cool people doing art, music, something creative. Where I’m from, it’s a small beach town and it’s a bubble. Here, you can do whatever you want and no one really cares because it’s a city of freaks. I’m really into some stuff that is pretty odd for a surfer, but no one bats an eyelid. I went through a kimono phase. Glitter. Hair colouring. This is my natural colour and I’m getting bored of it now, so I might go red next.

What part of the city do you live in?

I just float around, staying at friends’ places. I’ve been doing that since I turned 21 and started coming up here more from home in San Clemente. I’ve never paid rent in my whole life. There’s no point. I’m away all the time, it would just be like paying for storage. My thing, too, is just to have as low overheads as possible because then you’re not thinking about much, apart from where to go next.

How often do you go away on surf trips?

A lot. I’m away more than I am here. I’ve been travelling since I was 12. It’s so ingrained in the way I live my life that if I stay in one place for too long, I start wigging out. I can just go whenever I want. That’s why I have a ton of clothes and stuff in my car, so as soon as I want to go, I can. I have my boards, passport, I have a bed set up in the back. I could just leave tonight if I wanted. I’ve learned to travel super light.

Mr Stephen Kenn, 33, furniture designer

Mr Stephen Kenn makes a good living from his sofa. His highly recognisable signature furniture – often repurposed military canvas cushioning set on a welded metal frame sprung by a row of heavy-duty leather belts – is designed to develop its character (and comfort) with use. Not unlike a good pair of jeans. Mr Kenn originally drove down to Los Angeles from small-town Canada aged 20, with 300 pairs of jeans that he had customised, to chase the “blue gold” denim dream until the recession of 2008 forced a change of plan. He moved to the newly resurgent Downtown LA well before it was cool and is a founding father of its regeneration. When casting for this story, Mr Kenn’s name was recommended more than any other; he is part of the city’s furniture.

How tough was it to start all over again after the recession hit?

The state of the economy pushed people to be more creative. A lot of people lost their jobs and it gave them the opportunity to think. Do I actually finally pursue the thing that I’ve been talking about for five years?

In what way has your denim know-how informed your furniture designs?

I want people to think differently about the objects they put in their homes. I want them to last a long time, but I also want people to be involved. So, for example, if the sofa stretches out slightly, they can go around the back and tighten up that belt one notch and it stiffens up the whole piece.

How has the arts district of Downtown LA changed in the time you’ve lived and worked there?

I just thought, where do you move when you move to a new city? The core, the centre, downtown. And I’m really happy that I did because I feel like I got to see it go from nothing to what it is now, which is very active and very exciting. It’s exploded. I love the idea of local. I’m constantly trying to bring everything closer to where we live so we can all cut down the commute, spend less time in traffic and be more focused.

What’s the most LA thing you do?

My wife and I love taking motorcycle rides together. I have a 2007 Triumph and she has a 1978 Honda 550. We love going up the coast, like Highway 1, or into the canyons. It’s incredible.

See all of the Style Council’s LA recommendations here