As the Beverly Center’s longest-running tenants, Sara and Michael Moldovan appear to have cracked the code for retail success. “If you don’t change, you die,” says Michael, who, with his wife, opened the doors to the cultish multi-brand clothing boutique Traffic Los Angeles inside the shopping center 34 years ago.
It’s a philosophy that has served the pioneering retail couple well as they built a reputation for their selection of statement-making pieces from under-the-radar as well as established designers. Their approach has also earned the store a devoted fan base in the entertainment industry — from Bruce Springsteen and Jennifer Lopez to, more recently, Cardi B and John Legend.
Today, that Moldovan mind-set continues to propel the duo to the forefront of Los Angeles fashion, as seen by the July unveiling of their futuristic Tom Dixon-designed, 6,000-square-foot space inside the shopping mall, which recently emerged from a $500-million facelift. The boutique stocks the latest in high-end fashion and streetwear-inspired brands for men and women such as Balmain blazers, Ih Nom Uh Nit tees, Play by Commes des Garçons sneakers and winter-ready puffers by Juun.J.
“Fashion is in our guts,” says Michael, a former molecular biologist and musician who met Sara, fresh out of high school, in New York in 1971. A wedding and two children later, the couple decamped for the West Coast to pursue their shared passion for clothes. In 1977, they debuted their first shop, No Problem, selling denim, T-shirts and accessories on Hollywood Boulevard.
Five years later, the couple opened Traffic Los Angeles — its moniker was inspired in part by the English rock band — on the same stretch, and the store stocked then-emerging European labels such as Diesel, Taverniti and Naf Naf. (The Hollywood location closed in 1985.)
“Fashion is like wine tasting,” Sara says of the couple’s knack for tapping into what’s cool and current — something that’s instantly apparent. “Instead of developing your taste buds, it’s all about your eye.”
However, predicting fashion trends isn’t their only strong suit. When the tony Beverly Center, complete with outdoor escalators and the first stateside Hard Rock Cafe, flung open its doors in 1982, the Moldovans had a clear vision of the future of shopping. “Hollywood Boulevard was already going down,” says Michael, who spent the next two years trying to land a coveted space in the shopping center that was quickly altering the city’s retail landscape.
“The Beverly Center opening in L.A. was the biggest thing that ever happened,” he says. “It was crazy.”
In 1984, the Moldovans secured the mall’s last open spot by the escalators on the sixth floor (where they remained for more than three decades until the extensive renovations began). Within two years of opening at the Beverly Center, Traffic Los Angeles leased a second space in the mall, leading to the creation of separate men’s and women’s stores.
By putting a focus on high-end fashion mixed with streetwear-inspired brands — Traffic Los Angeles was also among the first on the West Coast to carry labels such as Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen and Off-White — both boutiques drew a steady stream of customers over the years. This was as Robertson Boulevard emerged as a competing retail hot spot with the 2000 opening of the old Kitson store, Michael says.
A handpicked selection of one-off items also made Traffic Los Angeles a trusted source for stylists, costume designers and celebrities in search of showpieces. Remember singer Taylor Hicks? Well, the “American Idol” winner donned a purple velvet Dolce & Gabbana blazer for his final performance on the show in 2006.
“The next day, we got 20 calls saying, ‘We want this jacket,’” says Michael, who promptly reached out to representatives for the Italian fashion house. “[They said], ‘I’m sorry. You were the only guys in the whole world who bought that.’”
In 2013, Traffic brought its trademark rock ’n’ roll sensibility to Texas with two boutiques inside the Joule hotel in Dallas.
At its new, expanded location on the sixth floor of the revamped Beverly Center, Traffic Los Angeles has gone back to its roots with men’s and women’s collections reunited under one roof once again. The Moldovans tapped Dixon’s London-based Design Research Studio to put a fresh spin on some of the original design elements from their first space inside the mall. Concrete walls and whitewashed floors received a modern update, along with signature industrial touches from the designer, including globe pendant lamps, corrugated leather-covered walls and a reflective stainless-steel ceiling.