Katie Kay Mead was sitting behind the counter in her Los Feliz boutique, GatherLA, in late summer when two European tourists came in, asking for directions to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The tourists gazed curiously at a taxidermied fawn displayed among her edgy, bohemian wares, nearly all of which were made in L.A. by local designers. Unknowingly, the tourists had stumbled upon a more authentic slice of contemporary L.A. culture, perhaps, than the Walk of Fame.
"Just walk that way for a while, you can't miss it," Mead said, smiling. It was one of the last times she had to give out directions to wayward tourists — she was just about to take GatherLA wholly online in the hope that, like the Walk of Fame, it would go global.
Mead launched GatherLA in 2010 with a singular vision: to present a curated version of the best in cutting-edge Los Angeles fashion. She had a store in downtown, then one in Silver Lake and finally the Los Feliz boutique for about a year before shuttering it in September. The problem with having a bricks-and-mortar store was that she was selling what she considers the best of L.A. primarily to locals. "Also, discovery had moved online," she says.
Now, with a vamped-up GatherLA.com, she and her business partner, social media expert Jenka Gurfinkel, plan to showcase the work of about 50 primarily L.A.-based designers to fashionistas not just locally but beyond the city limits too. "Now, if somebody lives in Omaha they still have the ability to see a curated version of what is currently happening in L.A., neighborhood by neighborhood," she says.
It's the neighborhood-by-neighborhood aspect that makes GatherLA different. Visit the website and you'll see how the hyperlocal site allows shoppers to tap into the spirit and style of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Highland Park, Hollywood or Venice, depending on their taste. "Locally made is my big thing," Mead says. "Nothing mass-produced, nothing made in China."
Where did this obsession with hyperlocal come from? "Punk rock," she says, not skipping a beat. "I got my sense of social responsibility and my do-it-yourself ethos from being in the punk scene."
Mead is a former tour manager for bands, and she's married to Curtis Mead of the now-defunct band Split Lip, one of the founders of emocore. (He proposed to her in the mosh pit at a punk show.)
She is also creative director for two L.A.-based fashion lines, Made for Pearl with the Janis Joplin estate and Belle N. Matisse.
At GatherLA.com, each L.A. neighborhood's idiosyncrasies seem to be reflected in what its local designers have produced. Mead picks up a pretty necklace with a quartz pendant. "This is by Free Bohemia, our line out of Venice — it's ethereal and feminine and yeah, you could wear it to yoga class."
Then she picks up another piece of jewelry, a hollow crucifix pendant meant to be worn upside down, by Echo Park designer Rune. "This is edgier, darker and hedonistic. It says, 'I am going to a Zola Jesus show at the Echo and I will probably go to Taco Zone after.'"
A turban made from jersey knit — one of the biggest sellers — is by downtown designer Venus Turbans. "It's artsy, it's vintage-inspired, yet very contemporary because of the fabric," Mead says. There are even localizations within the localizations. TwelveTwentyEight, with its 24-karat gold-plated fossil necklaces and crystal pendants, evokes the healthy-yet-hung-over glamour of Silver Lake Farmers Market on a Saturday morning, while Shelley Caudhill's distressed black leather ponchos and tank tops blend three Silver Lake fashion subcultures — hippie, hipster and leather daddy.
Even with GatherLA online, Angelenos will be able to see the merchandise in person at monthly pop-up shops.
Mead plans to roll out the Gather concept in other cities, starting with GatherSanFrancisco, slated for the end of 2012.
"There are a lot of wonderful things happening on the Internet, but ... there's not much curated, locally made fashion being presented," she says. "Look for 'L.A.-made fashion' online, and you'll find American Apparel. That's it. And let's face it — there's so much more to L.A. than T-shirts."