Mondette: small-world intimacy in a big city


They say that if you’re a new arrival, it takes four years to make a life in Los Angeles. How this axiom got started is anyone’s guess. But no matter where the accepted L.A.-ism originated, the fact remains: Getting intimately acquainted with all the hidden corners of this sprawling metropolis might take a lifetime.

Now help has arrived. On the recently launched website Mondette, founder Tasha Nita Adams, 35, and partners Lilliam Rivera, 39, and Christina von Messling, 36, do the heavy lifting for you, offering style-centric CliffsNotes from a local perspective about specific L.A. neighborhoods.

Generally, a trip to a new city, country or even a nearby enclave is more illuminating when guided by a local. (That’s why we rely on Sherpas in Nepal or “Snooki” at the Jersey shore.) Adams has been replicating that insider experience online since she launched Mondette’s “little sib” website Blackburn + Sweetzer in 2007.

At the time, Adams emerged from a master of fine arts program and discovered that online opportunities had overrun the previously print-heavy L.A. journalism world, where she had worked as a senior editor at Angeleno and Movieline magazines and as a freelancer for publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, Los Angeles magazine and Everyday With Rachel Ray. Faced with this new reality, she did a stint as the primary content creator for Variety’s Stylephile blog. Simply sending her content to an editor to upload, Adams never really learned the technical side of blogging until she built her own site, Blackburn + Sweetzer, named for the intersection closest to her home. “I started the blog to expand my professional skill set and I figured I was writing in obscurity,” Adams says. “I didn’t want it to be a diary or a navel-gazing thing. I was living in a great area where there were always new boutiques and restaurants opening and just movement in general, so I wrote about that. Eventually, that expanded to city politics and real estate, but always with a focus on fashion and style.”

A few months later, Adams covered a Rachel Pally runway show at the Sheats-Goldstein Residence, a John Lautner creation where elements of “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “The Big Lebowski” were filmed. The house is owned by billionaire James F. Goldstein, whose wild fashion obsession, refusal to divulge the source of his wealth and propensity for attending about 100 NBA games a year as a “super fan” have made him one of those Los Angeles-specific characters in the vein of Angelyne. Probably because of the Goldstein connection, ESPN and some other unlikely blogs linked to Adams’ post about the event. Suddenly, she saw the viral potential of her pet project. “I realized that you can have this unexpected reach online,” Adams says. “My stories started getting picked up by places that I wouldn’t expect: Curbed, California Apparel News or New York magazine’s Grub Street. Suddenly, you’re not writing in a vacuum.”

Though Adams held jobs at WGSN (Worth Global Style Network) and style website Racked LA, by 2009 she was focusing entirely on her own blog. And people in the neighborhood were starting to notice. Random locals would recognize her on the street and thank her for her contribution to the neighborhood. L.A. designer Corey Lynn Calter asked Adams to be one of the guerilla fashion world types modeling her fall 2009 collection.

Because it was so important to preserve the very local tone, growing Blackburn + Sweetzer presented a challenge. That’s when Adams called on two industry pals, Rivera and Von Messling. As a photographer for British Vogue, Flaunt and Racked LA, among others, Von Messling made an obvious creative director. And Rivera’s print, online and fashion world background (including the launch of Latina and stints at, as West Coast fashion editor for In Touch Weekly and online editor in chief for Modern Luxury Media) made her the perfect editorial director.

Rivera’s home base off Melrose in West Hollywood didn’t hurt either, as the active, small-business-filled area was a sensible second neighborhood in which to focus. Hence, Mondette was born, becoming an umbrella arching over Blackburn + Sweetzer and a new neighborhood, Rosewood + Martel. Now, B + S covers an area defined by West 3rd Street to Melrose Avenue and Robertson Boulevard to La Brea Avenue, and R + M covers Beverly to Santa Monica boulevards and Fairfax Avenue to Larchmont Boulevard (and sometimes beyond when deemed appropriate).

The name “Mondette” — — is a play on the French word for “world,” reflecting Adams’ intention to make L.A. less overwhelming by approaching each area as its own smaller universe. “These are neighborhood blogs from the perspective of someone who has deep roots in the area and really cares,” Adams says. “The goal of Mondette is for each blog to have a unique personality and point of view from someone who actually lives there.”

While voice and particular subject matter may be neighborhood-specific, Mondette’s post categories are uniform and lifted directly from Blackburn + Sweetzer. For instance, on both blogs, a post goes live each morning called “Mondette Notes,” which offers links to newsworthy stories from other sites related to West Hollywood, international fashion, art, style or even just pop-culture-related humor. In other features, the women sometimes aggregate content from other websites or publications, but most of the time posts with titles like “Beauty,” “Sales,” “Shops,” “Brides,” “Real Estates,” “Eats” or “Shuttering” (which refers to local stores and restaurants that are going out of business) are original and often written by Adams, Rivera or Von Messling. For the most part, the women intentionally avoid being mean-spirited or snarky. Instead, the language and the interface are designed to be approachable and user-friendly.

Using their combined experience as a guide, the team strove to build a new site that is clean, easy to read and offers a snapshot of offerings right on the home page. One new element is a “Sales Calendar” that, in addition to the posts and listings, gives readers a simplified at-a-glance glimpse of the whole month’s sale schedule at mostly neighborhood establishments.

At the readers’ request, the threesome will also offer consulting services (detailed on the site) with focuses such as “Retail Compassing,” “Social Media” and “Photography,” which is one way they stay afloat while the website builds readership and buzz. Blackburn + Sweetzer relied on a combination of third-party advertising services, but Mondette is set up for direct-sale advertising. Meanwhile, the women continue to freelance a bit on the side. Seemingly, this team is more equipped than most to navigate this complex online world, but challenges do lie ahead. “If someone can figure out how to really monetize a feed, they should patent it,” Adams says with a sigh.

The women aren’t sure which neighborhood they’ll scour next and, for now, they’re content to take it slow and show loyal B + S readers that they can maintain that beloved local tone with the addition of Rosewood + Martel.

“I’ve had experience trying to cover all of L.A. retail, which is daunting because the city is so big. It reaffirmed for me that the best way to cover L.A. is by neighborhood because you get to know the businesspeople and retailers in your area, who then keep you informed,” Adams says. “Our goal is to cover Los Angeles more and more by neighborhood, maintaining the hyperlocal coverage that makes this vast city manageable and treating each neighborhood like its own little world.”

Today, Blackburn + Sweetzer, Rosewood + Martel. Tomorrow, le Monde!