Fabric Shopping In Los Angeles

I spent the last week in the Fashion District of Los Angeles, centered at 9th and Maple, but sprawling out in every direction.

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On the street level are tiny shops 12 feet wide, 15 feet deep filled with roll after roll of stacked fabric that spills out onto the sidewalk. You can walk inside down a narrow aisle, just wide enough for your shoulders, and peer into the hundreds of rolls on either side.

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I shop by passing my hands over the ones within reach to feel for the right weight and texture.

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It’s hard to ignore the astonishing sequins since the whole point here is daywear. I turn my back with some regret on a magenta floral satin because you can see its cold polyester shine and know exactly how sweaty it is to wear.

When something looks right, I ask the price, and a young man wades into the stacks to get to the fabric in question, 2 feet in from the front, with still more behind. More discussion. How many yards? 10% cheaper if you take more, 20% if you take all. Then a few more suggestions from the owner and another 10 minutes of admiring, but refusing. On to the next store. This goes on for 2 days, 20 stores, or more. Eye bleedingly intense.

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And that’s just the fabrics. Let’s not forget the trims and finishings, or the specialty jobbers.

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Some types of fabrics show up over and over again.

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Lots of special occasion because there are lots of prom gowns and bridesmaids getting sewn by women in this city. This district is the kingdom of makers, and these moms and aunties know what makes a good party dress.

That may be the most exhilarating thing about this trip, to be somewhere where all of the people around me make things. All of the businesses around me make or support the making of clothes. All of the people around me do some version of what I do, something that is an anachronism, nearly quaint. The habitat has shrunk, and the dressmaker, pattern maker, and tailor are nearly extinct. But not here, and we are all out hunting.

These trips are thrilling because it’s an amazing view of a still vibrant industry. Its survival and success in spite of the brutal race to the bottom of offshore manufacturing is proof of more than grit, its proof that these skills are still necessary. Ask any designer who can’t get a new design patterned or sewn without a trip to LA or New York, and who can’t get a new line produced without the volume and capital to manage a manufacturer overseas. This stuff is still vital, and maybe, now that people have started to think about the how of their possessions, more immediate, personal, and real.

One thought on “Fabric Shopping In Los Angeles”

  1. Lovely & delicious Dorothy!!!
    Makes me want to be there with you. When I worked there I was taken to some other great (!) fabric stores a long ride from the center of town. They had some unbelievable vintage (’50s). I found a 2 layer organza, pink on one side, grey on the other. Sandwiched beween the 2 layers were dyed-to-match short feathers in the same pink & grey. I threw out the design I had & made a simple circle skirt. Fabulous.

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