Every industry has its rivalry—Adidas vs. Nike, Lakers vs. Clippers, Drake vs. Meek Mill. For founding members of the American streetwear scene, however, the rivalry is slightly larger-scale: Los Angeles vs. New York City.
Although loyalists of each coast scramble to stake a claim as streetwear’s originator, the title may never be awarded—but they both have pretty solid arguments. Not long after Shawn Stussy started selling logo T-shirts out of his car along Los Angeles beaches, New York-bred gangsta rap popularized workwear and oversized silhouettes like no one had seen before. Brands like Stüssy and X-Girl in Los Angeles introduced the scarcity-fueled drop model that’s now a streetwear standard, but it was New York City’s Supreme that transformed it into a line-around-the-block art form.
As the streetwear subculture evolved alongside its influences in the hip hop and skate communities, distinct aesthetics formed around each coastal mecca—Los Angeles amplified comfort with athletic-inspired graphics and sportswear, while New York flipped utilitarian classics like camouflage, work boots, and cargo pants.
As the ‘00s came and went, the internet started to dissolve subcultural roots that once defined streetwear. The if-you-know-you-know camaraderie of Los Angeles and New York brands was converted into capital for customers around the world, while other cities like Chicago and Miami cropped up as incubators for emerging designers. Inspiration was no longer confined to location—in today’s social media landscape, any and all creative reference can be unlocked with a few taps.
As digital consumption continues to dissolve geographic borders, does the divide between Los Angeles and New York City still exist beyond hometown pride? Three designers, hailing from each side of the bicoastal binary, weighed in on what it means to be inspired by their city—or if it inspires them at all.
Travis Egedy’s journey with Alien Body tells a tale of two intertwined New York subcultures: music and fashion. Egedy moved to Brooklyn in 2012, almost a decade after launching his music career under the pseudonym Pictureplane. After first experimenting with streetwear-inspired T-shirts for his band, a 2013 collaboration with the NYC-based brand Mishka pushed Egedy’s relationship with fashion from the merch table to a concrete career path.
Alien Body’s selection is unapologetically macabre—resulting in a cross-section of JFK’s assasination, an “Electric Chair Repair” vest, and Viewer Discretion T-shirt, to name a few. Although Egedy himself is a transplant, Alien Body was born in Brooklyn, and the designer cites New York’s boom bap-era hip hop as inspiration. “It's got a very distinct feel and flavor. Huge hoodies, baggy pants with Timberlands, puffy jackets, beanies,” Egedy said. “It's a very cold, street vibe...just a very New York feeling.”
Alien Body’s early growth was fueled by the same communal cross-pollination as Egedy’s music experience, as he toted his growing inventory to weekend pop-ups and independent mini-malls across Brooklyn. “I was always inspired by and working within that realm of very DIY, community-based stuff. That's where I come from in music, everything is a collective experience,” Egedy said. “There were a lot of other brands like me, we were all working together and being inspired by each other.”
Despite Alien Body’s roots in New York, Egedy also named Los Angeles as inspiration, and strives to keep the brand as genreless as his discography. The musician-designer identifies as an outsider to the fashion industry bubble, a vantage point he’s more than happy to keep. “I don't have to play by any of those rules,” Egedy said. “Alien Body is really whatever I want it to be. I try to just come up with my own ideas, keep on my own path, and stay ahead of the curve.”
In the classrooms of California State San Bernardino, an hour’s drive from central Los Angeles, Shawn Joseph used his Entrepreneurship curriculum to transform a childhood of playing sports and shopping Fairfax into a full-blown brand. By the time Joseph graduated in 2017, Quarterfinal (a.k.a. QTFL) was a well-established player in the city’s roster of young labels.
Quarterfinal’s core collection reflects both Joseph’s own basketball experience and Los Angeles’ long standing marriage of sports and streetwear—Lakers, Kings, and Dodgers merch remain some of the most iconic symbols of ‘90s West Coast rap. Aside from a staple selection of basketball shorts, varsity-printed logos, and Kobe Bryant T-shirts, Quarterfinal boasts workwear silhouettes in experimental finishes from holographic to heat-sensitive.
Joseph doesn’t hesitate to credit his Los Angeles upbringing as a driving force. Browsing the racks of LA’s now-iconic Fairfax district—when stores like Stüssy and The Hundreds were still relatively unknown to those outside the scene—inspired the designer to transform his vision into clothing. “People view LA fashion as so grand. But if you’re from here, it’s just normal,” said Joseph. “I think LA brands do well because for people who can’t physically travel here, buying a shirt that’s made in LA and has this persona is like buying a piece of something that you can’t touch.”
Los Angeles has no shortage of hungry hypebeasts and streetwear dealers, and Joseph says it’s the city’s competition that keeps it alive. “Because there are so many brands here and it’s so competitive, I feel like the pieces that really make it are different,” said the designer. “The competition just breeds good clothing.” That competition is reflected in every aspect of Quarterfinal’s DNA—from the slogan “Pushing Limits,” to the fact that Joseph quoted LA legend Nipsey Hussle mid-explanation, to the brand name itself.
“Even if you do reach a goal, you’re never done,” said Joseph. “We’re always pushing, trying to do something new. That’s the culture I’m trying to create, that’s the idea behind the name.”
For EYECRAVE founder David Melendez, the rewards of Los Angeles lie within its abundance of creative resources. While pursuing a photography career in Minneapolis and failing to find clothes that matched his budding aesthetic, Melendez started making his own. The first iterations of EYECRAVE’s patchwork denim and crystallized prints began to take hold—but the designer knew if he really wanted to commit, he’d need to place himself in the exposure and support system of Los Angeles. As the resources and opportunities multiplied, so did the unexpected pockets of inspiration.
“LA was a huge factor in the development of my brand. The amount of resources here are endless, as long as you're willing to look,” said Melendez. “I'm constantly inspired just by stepping into a new fabric store, and finding a fabric that I never thought I wanted until I was holding and feeling it in my hand.”
Although EYECRAVE has aesthetic roots in the ‘00s—think bedazzled crosses, bandana print, and remixed wifebeaters—it evolves and shifts with the designer himself. The intangible boundaries of EYECRAVE’s look is entirely intentional, and entirely at home within Los Angeles’ community of experimental fashion fans and newcomer brands. “LA is really just people doing and wearing whatever they want, which is the meaning of EYECRAVE,” said Melendez.
Like his fellow designers, Melendez noted a lack of individuality within modern streetwear, and pointed to social media as the culprit. However, he keeps Los Angeles on a pedestal thanks to the resources and competition that catapulted his creativity. “I strongly believe you can make it from anywhere you are as long as you're willing to put in the work,” he said. “But I do know I would not have developed as much, as or as fast, if I did not live in LA.”