A Better Life on Two Wheels
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From the worlds of art, food, film, and fashion — seven icons of LA’s creative scene.
THE ARCHITECT FRANK Lloyd Wright once said, “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” Cruise along the city’s gritty, low-slung streets bathed in its signature late-afternoon honey-dipped glow, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. It’s as if all the beautiful eccentrics and dreamy misfits were guided here by some invisible hand, too wild and unruly to fit into the real world. Perhaps it’s because Los Angeles grew around and in tandem with the film industry, inexorably tied to the business of make-believe and imagination. It’s a city that loves glamour and excess and has little interest in the shackles of history. Indeed it has, time and again, welcomed those wanderers looking to forget their past and reinvent themselves in a metropolis so far west that it kisses the ocean. It’s a place where creatives — chefs, artists, designers, and directors — can come and forge their own path.
As a toast to free spirits everywhere, we speak to those dreamers and drifters fueling the city’s cultural scene, which has come roaring back post-pandemic.
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What started as a friendly gesture at the beginning of the pandemic ended up changing Richard Christiansen’s life. He was pondering how to run his business, the successful creative agency Chandelier Creative, in the face of Covid lockdowns, when the horticulturist who worked on Christiansen’s 7-acre property introduced him to a struggling farmer. Like him, the farmer was unsure about her future as restaurants and hotels shuttered for an undetermined period, so he invited her to sell her produce in the parking lot of his nearby office-cum-bookstore, Owl Bureau. “It was a magic moment, which, at the time, was absolutely terrifying,” Christiansen recalls. “But in hindsight, it all had to fall apart to come back together.” The impromptu farmers’ market was a success, but, more importantly, it touched a chord in Christiansen, who was born in rural Australia and whose parents were farmers. He looked at the hillside gardens that surrounded his 1940s Spanish-style home with fresh eyes, reconsidering how he could best use their harvest. He started making nonperishable items like soap and candles using the herbs and botanicals around him. That has since blossomed into Flamingo Estate, a lifestyle brand that includes personal care products, pantry staples, candles, and produce. “The word that kept coming up again and again was abundance,” he says. “Be that food or friends, it just felt joyful.”
Two years into the brand’s existence, he hopes that it can serve as a reminder that self-care isn’t an indulgence — it’s a foundational part of the human experience. And as the world grows more chaotic, it’s becoming more important. “I keep saying, we have to be the house of radical pleasure,” he says. “Make a great meal, have a good bottle of wine, take a wonderful shower. I wanted to emphasize the idea of self-pleasure.” As Christiansen sees it, Flamingo Estate’s success is a story about reciprocity. “If we can make something that brings people joy, great,” he says. “But if we can create an enterprise that pays people better than they were being paid before? And we’re helping the soil? Then everyone wins.”
There’s a slice of Italy in Pasadena, the picturesque neighborhood just northeast of Los Angeles, and its maestro is Davide Baroncini. It’s from there that the rakish designer oversees Ghiaia Cashmere, a knitwear-heavy line of deceptively simple, elegantly insouciant men’s clothing. “I think the one product that really allows someone to express themselves is knitwear,” he says, while puffing charmingly on a cigar. “No matter what you’re wearing, if I were to hand you a nice sweater, you’d have the sense that you’d want to run some water through your hair and go out for the night.”
Baroncini hails from a Sicilian seaside village and Ghiaia is the word for the small pebbles found on its beaches. He learned his trade under the tutelage of the master of sprezzatura, Brunello Cucinelli. While working for that storied label in New York, he met and fell in love with his wife, Pia, and when she returned back home to Pasadena, he resigned and followed her. As the pandemic hit, he began crafting Ghiaia, which imbues Italian sophistication with the relaxed ethos of Southern California. “A sweater has a real sense of value,” Baroncini says. “And it can change the look of what you’re wearing.” A visit to his shop at the Burlington Arcade in Pasadena is the best way to understand his vision. There, manning the shop, Baroncini is liable to offer guests an espresso, or a cigar and a game of checkers. In the cashmere sweaters, marled cotton cardigans, and chinos, he references traditional menswear muses — sailing, car racing, prep school uniforms, or the military — but subtly so. “It’s not just a passion for clothing I have,” he says. “But for men’s things. And then you develop enough of a sensibility to understand that goes through art, through music, through food.”
‘My work takes place on a planet that’s right next to Earth — it looks like Earth, it smells like Earth, but it moves just a little bit differently.’
Growing up, Janicza Bravo wanted to be an actress. But a professor at her NYU theater program changed her life one day by saying, “I hate to tell you this, but you’re inherently a director.” “It’s because I’m a jerk, naturally,” she says. “I’m bossy, I’m opinionated, and I really want things to go my way.” Bravo has taken that drive and strong-armed her way into Hollywood, directing film and TV projects that are both aesthetically alluring and thematically juicy. A Bravo production has an unmistakable texture: It takes place in a world that feels heightened and elevated from the one we know. This quality is drawn from lessons she absorbed at the beginning of her career when she worked in costume and production design. “There’s a term, ‘kitchen-sink’ theater, which is basically naturalism. I knew I didn’t want that for myself,” she says. “We’re going to spend all this time to build a world just to make it look like the one we already live in? I don’t want to see plastic water bottles in my world! I don’t want modernity; I want to build a kind of romance. My work takes place on a planet that’s right next to Earth — it looks like Earth, it smells like Earth, but it moves just a little bit differently.”
The apotheosis, at this juncture, is likely “Zola,” her 2021 Twitter-thread-turned-film about a heist gone terribly wrong, which feels like equal parts morality play, buddy road trip, and horror show. And yet it’s draped in a gauzy, lush, childlike glaze, a startling contrast from its bleak content. Bravo has applied this luxuriant patina to her other work, including her first feature, “Lemon,” and the feminist series “Mrs. America.” Bravo, a fabulous dresser, has also worked in the fashion world as of late. She recently directed a short film for the Italian label Miu Miu, and created a historically inspired tableau for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” “I like rules or having a framework to work within,” she says. “And in that, finding a way to still express myself.”
“What we tell our staff is: This is our house, and everybody who walks through the door is here to celebrate,” says Liz Johnson, who co-owns LA’s indisputable “It” restaurant, Horses, with her life and business partner, Will Aghajanian. “Whether it’s an older couple or Kylie Jenner, they’re here to have a really good time and we’re here to help them.” With its Yves Klein–blue walls, yellow and red banquettes, wood paneling, and equestrian paintings, Horses is both a throwback and utterly modern. It easily evokes casual eateries in the European tradition and also Angeleno establishments from Hollywood’s Golden Age (Johnson studied old LA restaurant menus as part of her research). “We don’t want it to feel like a set; we want it to feel like someone’s house, and the owner’s still smoking cigarettes in the corner. That transports you,” she adds.
That translates into a distinctly easy, Californian elegance, felt in the laid-back thrum of the dining room any day of the week. Or in the sumptuous menu, which leans on nostalgic go-to options like the Caesar salad, a roast game hen served on fat-soaked bread, smoked salmon lavash, and the burger and fries (plus classic cocktails and decadent desserts). “I think we took our egos out of it and didn’t want to make anything too ‘chef-y,’” says Aghajanian. “I wanted to make a place where I’d want to eat.” The couple recently expanded the space, opening up an alfresco back patio with a wood-fired oven and a pizza-focused menu (though there are a few overlaps from the main dining room). They’re also working on opening a New York steakhouse called Froggy’s in the West Village where the old Chumley’s pub was located. “I grew up in D.C., and there are a lot of steakhouses that had a smoking and nonsmoking section and smelled of cigarettes and pizza crust. I see it like that.” As for Horses, what he’s most proud of is the wide net it has cast. “I love that if you look at the dining room, it’s people from all walks of life. It’s not one type of person; it’s people from every different background. To me, that’s the coolest part.”
During the pandemic, jewelry designer Pamela Love was stuck. “You couldn’t travel, or go to museums, or any of that stuff. But in a weird way, I think it benefited my team and me because we had to find new ways of getting creative,” she says. “It forced me to get weirder, and I think the collections got more interesting as a result.” Many know Love as the ultimate Brooklyn cool girl, a position she cemented when she started making funky, mischievous accessories from her apartment in New York back in 2007. Times have changed. Now she’s an elder stateswoman in the trinket biz and lives in Santa Monica with her partner Brad and newborn son Atticus (on a recent summer afternoon, she was the model of modern motherhood as she conducted an interview while breastfeeding). Certain aspects of her life in that beachside quarter are consistent with the one she left behind in New York — specifically the walkability and the kooky-cool characters that are perfect for people-watching. You can see this in her work of unexpected contrasts: precious gemstones and metals like 14-karat gold and silver crafted into playful baubles like mushrooms, peace signs, daggers, skulls, and eyes.
Recently she added a ceremonial line of engagement and wedding rings, plus a fine jewelry collection. She remains proud that as she’s grown her business, her designs are consistently made in New York and Los Angeles out of recycled and fair-mined materials. And while she shares that it can be difficult to stay true to your voice in our social media age, she says trying to stay inspired is one of the more beautiful parts of her job. “I find it helpful to take a break from looking at everything,” she says. “And countering that with the really good stuff — classic films, literature. Trying to absorb the stuff that’s been around forever. I think that will continue to resonate.”
“I guess I have a bit of career ADHD,” says Alex Tieghi-Walker, owner of the Echo Park–based art-gallery-meets-curio-shop Tiwa Select, where he sells a hodgepodge of unique, interesting furniture pieces, and which also happens to double as his home. “When I started a few years ago, it united all the things I love doing: commissioning photographers, interfacing with artists, organizing meals to celebrate the shows. It’s about creating a world.” Tieghi-Walker got his start as an art and design writer in London before ending up in Northern California. All the while, he was collecting curious, charming objects for his house in Berkeley. Whenever he had people over for a dinner party — which was often — he would hear the same refrain: “What is this, a gallery?” He started selling antiques but eventually switched to working directly with contemporary craftspeople, acting as a dealer and connecting them with potential clients. That led to his current amorphous enterprise. Tieghi-Walker is attracted to work that fits in the slow design movement. But really he just loves to see the hand of the artisan in the final product, as he explains: “Something where even materials feel considered, and that is rooted in traditional craft.”
Recent shows included knobby stools by Vince Skelly made from trees felled during a powerful storm, Dana Arbib’s tinted glass vases and vessels made in Murano, Italy, and textile art from Megumi Shauna Arai. “The line between design and craft is so blurry because I love things that have a functional element. I’m a very pragmatic person,” he says. “I guess I’m attracted to work that is carefully considered and connected to nature.” One throughline that Tieghi-Walker sees is hosting — he hosts people to see the work, artists to show it, and dinner parties to celebrate the meeting of the two. “Alongside my other interests, food has always been running parallel — even though I’ve never wanted to work in food,” he says, before adding, “Well, never say never!”
Gia Coppola may hail from an outsize Hollywood dynasty (her grandfather is Francis Ford and her aunt is Sofia), but the filmmaker and photographer is building an oeuvre that’s all her own — meditative, quirky, and searching. Take “Palo Alto,” her 2013 feature film debut, a languid story about the liminal period between adolescence and young adulthood set in an upper-class Silicon Valley neighborhood. “You know, people label teenagers as these silly little frivolous things,” she says of the characters in that film. “But, in fact, they wear their hearts on their sleeves and are so full of love and emotion.” Compare that with her bombastic follow-up, “Mainstream” from 2020 — a hyperspeed satire of social media stardom starring Andrew Garfield. The two films serve as striking contrasts, proof of her ambition as a director and screenwriter. “There’s always a bit of a reaction, like, well, I’ve lived in one world and one tone for so long and now I want to counter it and do the complete opposite,” she says. Still, she admits to gravitating toward stories about outsiders looking for connection in an increasingly isolating world. Her next project is another swerve, a documentary called “Superfans: Screaming. Crying. Throwing Up.” which focuses on the fervid fandoms that develop around musical acts. “It’s about why we label superfans of boy bands as hysterical when, in fact, it’s unadulterated joy. It’s really just pure and sweet. It gets a negative connotation because it’s typically female or queer, but we’re looking at the amazing impact fans can have on mainstream culture and how they shape the way we interact with social media, the internet, and even politics.”
Throughout all this, Coppola has cemented her reputation as a creative polymath, be it as a photographer (including for Esquire and Vogue Brazil), a model (for the brand Rodarte), or when applying her directorial skills to music videos for Carly Rae Jepsen, Blood Orange, and a short for Gucci. “I like to collaborate,” she says. “And I like to be put in a box and then see how I can win my own battles and push creative boundaries in those spaces.” All in all, she’s the prototype for a new generation of Hollywood multihyphenates — smart, stylish, and just a little aloof. In a way, she feels like she could only exist in LA, something even she admits. “I went to college in upstate New York and I tried the city for a year, but I just didn’t feel creative there,” she said. “Something about the light — it’s almost like I couldn’t see. I need California, just to be at ease. I’m very inspired by the history of Los Angeles. I like that space. I need that vastness and nature to feel like I can see and think.”
Styling by Mindy Le Brock, Photographed at Flamingo Estate in Los Angeles
Max Berlinger is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for GQ, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Pursuits, Men’s Health, and many other publications. He covers the intersection of fashion, lifestyle, culture, and technology.
Shaniqwa Jarvis is an artist known for combining a modern fashion aesthetic with sensitive and emotional portraiture. She captures a wide variety of subjects realistically, vividly, and with a deep sparkling optimism.
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