July 30, 1995 - From the July, 1995 issue

The Pacific Design Center Entices Fashion to a New Home

The Pacific Design Center (PDC) in West Hollywood has recently made more than clear that it is receptive and eager to house what's left of Los Angeles' fashion industry, which for years has been located in the California Mart in downtown Los Angeles' troubled Garment District. Some predict a real estate struggle between the two marts. The Planning Report presents an interview with Andrew Wolf, president of the PDC, sometimes referred to as "the blue whale", and the force behind the Design Center's evolution as the premier design center on the West Coast and in the emerging Pacific Rim marketplace. 

Andrew Wolf, you have been the guiding force at the Pacific Design Center (PDC) for a year and a half. As the lead person for the PDC, what is your vision for PDC and what are your priority objectives? 

I think that we have a unique management team that has stepped up to look at this wonderful building as a Twentieth Century piece of monumental modern architecture. Coming here was an opportunity for me to be the steward of a building that I greatly respect and to enter a business which I find confused because of the recession. 

Under our new approach, the business of the PDC is the business of design. We have 214 showrooms that stand as a unique statement to what is best in the culture of design. We are very proud of the fact that we have fabric, furniture, textiles, home office, hospitality and hotel products—anything that could create a unique environment. We have excellent relationships with the Pacific part of our name—the Rim. We want Los Angeles to be what it should be—the center of this universe for trends, style, for any kind of statement about what quality design should personify.

Share with us the successes to date of your efforts at PDC.

The first year was the entrepreneurial phase—exploring every square foot of this building to see how it could be economically viable, as well as how it could meet the mandate of the design business.

It is important to know that this building does not exist anywhere else. In every other city, "design" buildings have been diluted with government offices, with Christmas tree ornaments, with uses unrelated to design. We were built from the ground up for design. Every other building has been retrofitted with suspended ceilings; those buildings don't have public spaces, or the long-term perspective of what design should mean to a community.

We recently hosted the KCRW Annual Summerday with 2,500 people. We were also recently part of the Christopher Street West event with the City of West Hollywood, which drew 400,000 people. In so many crazy and illogical but wonderful ways, PDC also serves as the town green, the common meeting ground and the soap box for discourse—it's the most incredible thing I've ever inherited in my life. I want to take all these civic, corporate, and cultural elements and bring them together into a cohesive plan that makes good sense.

In the first year we have explored the look of PDC and we have edited the building, recreating a sparkling environment. This building does not look 20 years old. Second, we looked at an important missing element, which is a first-rate food operation. For me, food is very much a part of the design process. You can't have what we sell and not be concerned about showing it through good design, and that includes food. So in six weeks we will launch a major new addition to the LA restaurant landscape. Our restaurant, Fusion, will be on the plaza level with 200 seats, and will be open until 2:00 a.m. Dining will be as close to the European experience as possible. You can come and enjoy a meal in a setting you won't find anywhere else, adjacent to our galleries and showrooms. Every product in Fusion comes from the PDC. Every booth is a textile firm—the Kravet booth, the Jack Lenor booth, the Schumacher booth. The menu reflects a price point that the community can appreciate.

In September, a cooking school will open at PDC. I feel that with the new lifestyle issues we're all confronting, people are very busy and enjoy a cooking school experience. And when they learn to cook, perhaps they'll frequent one of our 11 kitchen showrooms. This is what I call compatible use marketing and relationship marketing. Everything we do here now is based on our showrooms being enhanced and publicized.

We've also taken the long overdue step of opening PDC to the public. We found that only 10 percent of those that could shop the PDC in a certain income level—over $150,000 per year—have shopped the PDC. That means that 90 percent of our customer base has not come into this building. That is not good, and it doesn't make sense. They don't come because they don't know how to work with a designer. So we created Idea House—a full house on the second floor. It changes once per year. It is a springboard for anyone coming into the building now. Visitors can have a tour of the idea house and at the same time meet a designer-on-call through the concierge service and immediately go shopping at a whole-sale price. No games.

What's next? Give us a glimpse of what to expect in the way of growth.

When the second building was built, it was clear that by the time it came online we would already have all the major showrooms in the world here. With few exceptions, you may get two or three more floors but you're not going to fill four more floors with furniture showrooms. 

We explored every compatible use to make this the most creative, synergistic environment possible, and came up with another "F' word, not furniture—but fashion. 

I also realized from talking to several fashion manufacturers in LA that things were not good for them. Before my arrival, several major fashion companies had made three efforts to move, and they had failed each time—for reasons that had everything to do with real estate and nothing to do with fashion. These people want to develop a market.

How can Los Angeles, as the Mayor proclaims, be first in manufacturing of fashion, but not even on the chart for buyers visiting the city? This doesn't make sense. It has nothing to do with Riordon. He didn't create this situation, nor did I. Whatever the progression of events, it is now our destiny to join ranks with the top end of the women's apparel movement, and make fashion swing in LA. 

That's why I'm here. I enjoy it, and I'm determined to see them do well. This is our goal. 

We can do fashion shows. We can attract internationally acclaimed speakers and style-makers. This is a humanistic approach to marketing. I can assure you that they would not go downtown. It has nothing to do with the people running downtown; it has everything to do with the location downtown. 

I am tired of trivial discussions about whether this is a war between two buildings or who is stealing what industries. I'm not stealing an industry; I'm providing a home for an industry that needs to do well. We are going to make sure that fashion does well at PDC. 

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We have also opened up the building to many creative pursuits. The AIA has returned to PDC, as have the AIGA and facility managers—just about every professional design trade group is back here where they should be. 

Fashion/clothing manufacturing has always been around and supportive of the downtown mart. Does the move of fashion design to West Hollywood mean that clothing manufacturing must also move?

No, nor does it have to. We are being accused of stratifying a market, but the market is already stratified. 

I have been to the manufacturing plants. They don't depend on a whole­sale showroom being attached to a manufacturer. Furniture manufacturing is very heavily concentrated in south central Los Angeles; many of our products come from manufacturers here in LA. Showrooms are for buyers, for designers and architects; manufacturing is manufacturing. If I were advising downtown LA, I'd say that LA should play to its strengths with the workforce that LA has, and create more manufacturing. 

Don't forget that 20 years ago, when PDC was first opening, high-end design moved out of downtown. The low-and moderate-end furniture still remains at the Los Angeles Mart. Don't forget that the CalMart made the same arguments about stratification 34 years ago when they took tenants from the Chapman Building. 

I read the pleadings in the law suit—and the CalMart made the same argument. I just don't understand this argument, but it doesn't bother me because I know that we're doing the right thing. It's really all about doing business in the right economic climate. 

What is the status of bringing fashion to the PDC? 

By August we hope to make a public announcement that one year from now we will open a handsome new home for wholesale apparel showrooms. We're working with Gensler Associates and Peck/Jones, and have a creative team in place. We're getting a great response—not all from LA, more from New York and Europe. Europeans love Los Angeles, but they haven't seen LA as a place to do business. 

Are you getting support from the City of West Hollywood?

It's a complete partnership. Let's not forget that when we talk about West Hollywood, in addition to the government, we're talking about the major hotels and 123 restaurants. All of those are committed to making this work. It's the most unique public-private partnership on which I've ever worked. In New York it would be nearly impossible to work progressively and responsively with the government. But West Hollywood has made it very easy to fasttrack the construction and help us in every way possible. 

Speak to the perceptual problems you have faced in luring and retaining commerce in the region. Has this been an easy process or a slow, difficult one? 

We have interviewed buyers and buyer services. There used to be several hundred major buyers—now a small group of major buyers predominates. We are trying to create an environment for them and for new buyers from emerging Asian economies, an environment based entirely on efficiency and access to our hotels and restaurants, to bring them back to LA for what should be a very positive experience. That's been diminishing year after year. We're changing that perception.

West Hollywood is all about creativity and design; this is the perfect place to do business in design. 

I have only been involved with the fashion industry for five months, and PDC is moving very quickly. What we are doing is redesigning a building for a restructured industry. This is not heard of in typical real estate terms. 

Lastly, for you the Pacific Design Center , I gather from our discussion, is more than a location or building. Elaborate for our readers on your vision for PDC. 

I don't think you can look at LA without recognizing that the PDC is an architectural icon that has taken on an identity all its own. After the earthquake people called to tell me that they heard that the building had changed colors—as if the building had its own nervous system. They look at PDC as more than a building. When I read the PDC archives from twenty years ago I am amazed at how passionately people were opposed to this building: ''What is that moostrosity?” they said. Think what a void it would be if this blue "thing" wasn't on the landscape of this city. It is as idiosyncratic as Los Angeles, and as eccentric as the City should be. The PDC promotes Los Angeles for its finest attribute—style. 

The PDC is also the gateway to the next century for design. We see ourselves perfectly positioned to partner with the emerging economies of the Pacific Rim and to provide virtual one-stop shopping through online services. It is our time. In 20 years this building will be the centerpiece of design for one-third of the world's population.

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