POM Magazine

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POM Magazine

When I think of Los Angeles, I think of the movies, Hollywood and showbiz. After my interview with Camilla Lonis I now have a very different picture of Los Angeles. Camilla Lonis has lived in Los Angeles for several years. She works in LA, in an art gallery called Subliminal, owned by the graphic artist, Shepard Fairey, she designs for the OBEY Clothing brand and is also Studio Number One’s, design director. Camilla’s keyword for Los Angeles is culture. Car culture, tattoo culture, street culture, music culture, imported culture; those palm trees were not originally part of the LA street scene. In this article Camilla explains what makes Los Angeles so special.

By Klaartje Til

Los Angeles makes me think of glitz, glamour, Hollywood, showbiz and celebrities. Is that really the case?
If you live here, it is almost impossible not to meet famous people. The glitzy glamour Hollywood Hills lifestyle is definitely Los Angeles. LA has many neighbourhoods and they all are different. Together they form Los Angeles. Echo Park and Silver Lake, for example, are areas where you see people walking down the street, dressed entirely in ‘70s outfits. That is their daily outfit. If you drive a little further, you would arrive in a neighbourhood with a lot of Mexican culture.

What else do you notice about the influence of Mexico in Los Angeles?
LA is close to the Mexican border, you’ll be in Mexico in no time, it is a beautiful country. The Mexican border is also a place where people who try to enter the USA illegally, are arrested and detained in prison. However, LA has programs that help people who are illegal here. They have no papers, no social security number, but they can get health care. They can also, for example, get their driver’s licence here in LA.

Where do you think this solidarity comes from?
People with a Mexican background are the majority of the population in LA. If the city is not supportive of them, it will malfunction.

What is the reputation of Los Angeles both in and outside of California?
A city where everyone is dressed in yoga outfits and everyone has star power. Everyone is super arrogant and there is zero culture. People who are here on holiday visit the famous sights. They go to Hollywood Boulevard to visit the Walk of Fame, where there are also a lot of tramps. They see the big contrast between rich and poor. That can be confronting. They visit Beverly Hills and see excessive luxury and visit Rodeo Drive with its intense brand presence. However, these are not the things that make LA.

And what makes LA? How can I find out, if I visit Los Angeles?
You have to go all the way down Sunset Boulevard. It’s a very long street that runs through different neighbourhoods. You start at the beach and head for Hollywood. After you have passed the Hollywood Walk of Fame you’ll arrive in Los Feliz, which is a calmer neighbourhood. After Los Feliz, you enter the hipster areas Silver Lake, and Echo Park, and continue driving to get to downtown LA. If you drive on Sunset Boulevard, you will see all the areas that make up LA. I sometimes drive on that street just for fun because it’s beautiful. You should also visit East LA. It is the oldest part of Los Angeles with a lot of Mexican culture. South LA is very different too. It’s a vast area, not at all touristy and full of culture. Of course the beach is important in Los Angeles. I love Malibu with its beaches. It is also a great place for hiking.

A lot of rappers sing about Malibu beach don’t they?
You know, once you live here you discover that every part of LA is being rapped about (laughs).

Why is rap so big in LA?
Many famous rappers grew up here. Maybe it has to do with the LA gang culture. These gangs are  not just a few groups of people hanging around, having fun. They operate in their own way and there are certain rules for that. It’s a different way of growing up. It’s a bit rougher and perhaps you therefore feel more creativity and freedom, and the need to express yourself. In LA, that often happens with rap and graffiti.

Is Los Angeles a culinary city?
The food culture is very good, but you need to know where to go. There is an infinite number of  fantastic Mexican restaurants. Food trucks are an important part of the food culture here. On Friday and Saturday nights you see a lot of food trucks, sometimes even cocktail trucks, in streets where a lot of restaurants are located. Then you walk down the street and get a food-fill here, a taco there, and a cocktail from one of the trucks. It’s all very relaxed. But there are also extremes. LA has many super chic restaurants. They serve smaller portions and are beautifully decorated.

What do you call a typical LA person?
An Angelino and an Angelina. You have to have balls to be one. Whether you’re an LA native or you come to live here, you have to stand up. Of course, that’s in every big city. But this city is vaster, so you need to make yourself at home. If you don’t stand firmly you won’t find your way in LA. Even if you are born and raised here, you still have to fight for what you believe in. Angelinos and Angelinas have been through a lot, they are not afraid of anything. The atmosphere in LA is electric, there is so much to do and so much happening here.

It sounds electric, passionate, motivated and uninhibited.
People are definitely uninhibited. And if you want to achieve something in LA, you have to work really hard. There is a lot of competition. People come to LA from all over America and the rest of the world. It’s a mix of people who all want to make something of themselves. You have to be career focused and even then not everyone succeeds. Some people don’t make it.

How can you tell that someone is from LA?
By the respect for the culture that already exists here. It’s the way people treat each other here. I notice that people who have just arrived in LA, talk differently to tramps and the homeless. They have less respect for the fact that people could be armed. Angelinos and Angelinas respect the fact that there is a culture in which commanding respect is important. It results in very nuanced behaviour that people show to each other out of respect.

Designer in Los Angeles-Camilla Lonis

Camilla Lonis lives in Los Angeles where she works for graffiti artist, Shepard Fairey. She designs for the OBEY Clothing fashion brand, and is the design director of Studio Number One. Camilla talked to Klaartje Til about her life in Los Angeles and explains why she loves Los Angeles so much.

Camilla how did you end up in Los Angeles?
After I graduated from art school in Rotterdam, I worked for several years as a freelance designer in the Netherlands. At some point I started receiving more and more assignments from agencies abroad; especially from agencies in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. So I decided to visit those cities. I assumed that I wouldn’t find LA that exciting. But once I got there, I quickly changed my mind.

Why did you assume that Los Angeles wouldn’t be so exciting?
San Francisco seemed more interesting to me. There is a hippie culture, the people are more relaxed, there is beautiful nature. I had a certain image of LA, a flat city with a lot of palm trees, hot weather and people with attitude. But that wasn’t the case at all. However, it is true that LA is a city where you need a car. It’s hard to get anywhere without a car or driving license. As soon as I drove through LA, the way I thought about the city changed. It’s not one city but thirty towns that form Los Angeles. That was a surprise to me.

What made you stay in Los Angeles?
Art and my work as designer. A few months after I moved to Los Angeles I met Shepard Fairey by accident. He is a successful American street artist. He hired me to work as design director for his art gallery, Subliminal.

Shepard Fairey is a big name in the contemporary art scene. How was it to be hired by him to work for him?
It felt bizarre. I read about him in art books when I was still at art school. I admired him enormously and a few years later I was sitting at the table with him. In no time I started to work for him. Shepard is the creative director of Obey Giant and Subliminal, and I work directly for him. I am often called to help choose between one design or another, for a poster he is working on. He always looks and listens very carefully to what is happening around him. He is open to other opinions and his art has a positive influence. That inspires me.

You also design for OBEY Clothing. What is the typical LA look?
That depends very much on the neighbourhood. In Echo Park people dress super casual: vintage jeans of good quality, but old, with a clean T-shirt, blank with a single, small graphic design. Don’t try too hard, that’s not cool. Actually, you can’t dress as “a LA person”. There are so many cultures so there isn’t one LA look.

And to which culture do you belong?
In everyday life I work in Echo Park. I am an artist and I listen to punk and metal music. Street art influences my work. But I also go out in Beverly Hills and then I wear fancy clothing. When I go to a party in West Hollywood I dress cooler. That’s what I like about this city, there are so many different cultures.

You work in the design world. Is design important in Los Angeles?
Design and art is important for the city. There is much to see, so much to do. A lot of museums have free entrance. The art scene is young. Graffiti art is important, very visible and an important form of expression in LA. If you look at Shepard Fairey’s work, you’ll notice that he has made countless murals. They often became a movement. Because I do a lot of graphic design for local projects at Studio Number One, I often see my posters, banners and murals in LA. At some point I became the creator of the LA culture. That’s a serious responsibility. It means that I have to create with respect for the people who are actually from here, the LA natives.

What is the biggest adjustment you had to make, when you arrived to live in LA?
I had to get used to the way people drive here. They drive like crazy and then there are also these eight-lane highways in the city. But if you love the city, you want to be in every neighbourhood, so then you have to drive. The city is a grid and I can get everywhere very quickly via the road network, no matter how far a location is. The highways are built in such a way that you are suddenly at your destination. Los Angeles is easy to access as long as you have a car. And as long as you drive outside the rush hour (laughs).

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