Design Industry's Leading Experts Discuss LA/NY Rivalry

Masters Panel - H 2015
Courtesy of Degen Pener

As New York's creative brain drain intensifies, East Coast ex-pats tout the Golden State.

Los Angeles was on the top of the agenda as the Design Leadership Network, representing more than 300 of the nation’s top designers, wrapped up its three-day annual summit with a pair of panels exploring the city’s culture and style.

A spirited discussion on the burgeoning L.A. design scene and the growing rivalry between the two coasts was led by The Hollywood Reporter’s contributing culture editor, Degen Pener, who interviewed L.A.-based designers Adam Blackman and David Cruz of Blackman Cruz, Gerard O'Brien of Reform Gallery and fashion designer Johnson Hartig of Libertine.

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“There is a sense of opportunity that you can move from New York and open a shop on La Cienega and become the California design guy in two years. I couldn’t have moved to New York in Soho, focusing on New York furniture and have what I’ve done here in Los Angeles,” Blackman, a New York transplant, told the gathering in a ballroom at the Beverly Four Seasons. With its 9000-foot showroom in Hollywood, Blackman Cruz represents 10 designers, including Jane Hallworth and Lika Moore, who contribute to their “curated collection of intriguing objects and design.”

The discussion often referenced was last May’s New York Times article on that city’s creative brain-drain due to low standards of living at high cost. Former East Coasters like Lena Dunham and techno pioneer Moby were named, as well as quintessential New Yorker Fran Lebowitz who noted, “L.A. is better than it used to be. New York is worse than it used to be.”

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What L.A. used to be was a lot of wide-open space, as LACMA director and CEO Michael Govan illustrated in an earlier panel discussion using a 1928 photo of the intersection at Wilshire and Fairfax: It depicted a landing field surrounded by a barren landscape. Eight years later the boom had begun, and by the time the 1950s rolled around, designers like Charles Eames and architects like Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra helped form the basis of a burgeoning scene that was the subject of LACMA’s 2011 show called California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way.

“I tried to travel this exhibition when we were organizing it, and every museum said, 'What’s California design?'” laughed Govan. “After the exhibition we had requests around the world to take this show.”

Reform Gallery’s Gerard O’Brien summed it up best when he described L.A. as the wild West, where anyone could do anything they want, adding to the notion that New York is a place where one goes to make it, while L.A. is where one goes to make things. Other L.A.-based artists like Frank Gehry have credited the factionalism of the New York Five (a group of leading architects) in the mid-'50s for his decision to settle in L.A., a space were he could experiment freely away from the prying eyes of the establishment. Artists like Ed Moses, James Turrell and Chris Burden have similarly credited the “wild West” attitude of L.A. for their own creative development.

Plus, the lifestyle’s better.

“I was living in a crappy little apartment off of Times Square,” recalls Blackman. “Moved out to Venice and I’m a block from the beach, bikinis and the windows open out, and I was like, my god, I’m home!”