New York Versus L.A.
One night I met some friends for drinks at the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan. Among the crew was a renowned young film director who had just wrapped up a major feature in Los Angeles.
Having just returned from a relaxing trip to L.A. myself, where I walked for hours along Venice Beach and shopped for trendy halter dresses on Melrose, I asked him which city he preferred—New York or L.A.
He considered his response for a moment.
“I see America as a huge carpet. One day a giant decided to shake out the carpet, and he grabbed it from the North East, right where New York is, and shook with all his might. The really resilient people clung on for dear life and managed to stay in Manhattan. The ones who couldn’t hold on went flying across the country and ended up in L.A. It’s a higher quality lifestyle out there, and the beach is great, but I miss the toughness of New York.”
It’s true that New Yorkers live fast and hard—we’re like warriors with our guard up. Constantly assaulted by jewelry vendors and sidewalk performers, we walk hurriedly through the noisy streets with our Bottega and Goyard bags stuffed full with things we’ll need to take day into night, including Cle De Peau concealer to hide the dark circles of our sleep deprivation.
Our clothes are our armor. We try to look attractive even as we bundle up to conquer artic winds and snow flurries in winter, or strip down with a calculated sleekness during the suffocating humidity of summer. The downtown set favors layers: Mike & Chris or Philip Lim leather or tweed jackets underneath a heavy wool or down-filled coat. Exquisitely tailored Valentino and Chanel jackets in both elongated and cropped lengths and calf-length minks dominate the Upper East side—perfect for a day of shopping at the boutiques along Madison Avenue.
Because New Yorkers don’t have cars, we are more exposed. We cannot walk through the city without becoming part of it. We must be deliberate in protecting ourselves from the black slush, the hard rain, the heat emanating from the subways and from the buildings—and from the army of briefcase-laden businesspeople, the wide-eyed tourists and the wayward teenagers haphazardly bumping into us on the streets.
Because we know that white will get dirty from all of this accidental human contact and our 12-hour workdays, we favor black, navy and dark grey. Dark colors never look too morbid in the city that bred American punk rock. Especially since we’re in Prada or Gucci.
We are ready for anything. We have to be, because you never know who you will meet. Strangers talk to each other in bars in New York and models like Natalia Vodianova and Gemma Ward can be seen in Soho, wearing skinny jeans and carrying Balenciaga handbags, surrounded by hopeful suitors with ample trust funds.
Fashion Week is monumental, and we all celebrate by going to the after-parties for the open bar. We drink a ton without worrying about the carbs, because we know we’ll burn it off by walking everywhere. In fact, we consider walking our primary form of exercise because the gym is rather boring, and if we can’t manage to walk around at night in our Manolo Blahnik stilettos because we’ve had one too many Patron shots, then we simply fling our arms out and hail a cab.
We pay insane amounts of money for tiny apartments that are beautifully decorated, and which only our closest friends and lovers will ever see, even though everyone will always ask us EXACTLY where we live, right down to the cross streets, because in New York we are judged by address.
The light quality in New York is unique: bright sun muted by tall buildings, considered one of the best cities in the world for photographers. The light is flattering to the skin, and the women tend to wear less make-up, especially in summer because it will just sweat right off. Overly bleached hair seems frivolous here somehow, and brunettes dominate.
But even the most die-hard New Yorker makes their way to California at some point or another, usually on business because when we vacation we tend to go South rather than West.
And even though we know the West Coast is far more relaxed than the East Coast, when we get there, we are still taken aback by people wearing their yoga pants and bare tops to lunch at trendy outdoor cafes, delicately picking at salads with avocado on the side, drinking water instead of wine. Don’t these people have to work? we wonder, with a pang of envy.
In Los Angeles, a New Yorker will have frequent flashes of self-consciousness. Our clothes feel a bit too formal and hot once the morning smog evaporates. Our skin looks alarmingly pale and tired, and although we try to blame jet lag, it’s really that we need a tan or more make-up to look healthy in the blazing bright light.
We become hypnotized by all the glitter. We walk down Melrose, with its sparkly sidewalks, and are attracted to flashy clothes shining in the windows. Silver lame tops and white sundresses fit here, and look good on these lean muscled bodies. Sex sells, and it sells hard in L.A. Because of the warm climate, it’s natural to wear less clothing. New York women tend to only show off one body part at a time, either the legs in a mini or their shoulders in a strapless gown, whereas L.A. women are comfortable showing all their assets in a bustier and very short shirt.
The Rockabilly/Punk style is signature, but it’s a softer, better tailored punk than the hard punk of metal studs and safety pins in New York. Along with various shades of blonde hair, the two-tone look is common, especially dark with bleached out platinum or red. Tattoos are abundant and proudly displayed with sleeveless shirts rather than hidden under sleeves. The vintage is amazing, and costs a lot less than in New York—where authenticity is another commodity.
Having a car changes the way people construct their day, because they can carry a change of clothes or leave an extra jacket in the trunk for the evening. Because the homes are more spacious, there is no hesitation in bringing friends back after a daytime activity and getting ready to go out for the evening together. There are always rumors of parties and it takes a bit of work to find out where the good ones are on a Saturday night, and if there is a pool someone always has an extra bikini to lend.
The glamour of Hollywood also affects the tone of Los Angeles. This is a city where it’s possible for starlets to become movie stars overnight, where hopeful actors and actresses frequent celebrity hotspots like the Green Door, hoping to be noticed.
Hollywood is a place of mythic proportions, where our favorite childhood stories and fantasies were brought to life. LA feeds off of that promise, that somewhere amidst the palm trees a fairy tale can come to life.
Even in New York, we are seduced by that promised glamour of Hollywood—by the beautiful people in long gowns, with megawatt smiles reflecting the bright California sky. No one knows how to create an epic red carpet event like Los Angeles. We hold Oscar-viewing parties in our tiny living rooms where only 4 or 5 friends can fit, enticed by the frenzy of Heidi Klum in Galliano or Cate Blanchett in Dries Van Noten as much as by the awards themselves.
People love to compare things: a new lover to an ex, a quiet confidant versus the life of the party, New York versus L.A.
“Well are you going to live in L.A. and work on your film career or stay in New York?” I asked the director.
“I’m going to do both,” he answered. “Being bi-coastal is the solution. I’ll live in my beach house and work hard during the winter months, and come back to New York in the spring before I lose too much of my edge.”
Perhaps that is the ultimate solution, the best of both worlds.