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‘LA, for me, represented the ultimate freedom.’
Gems in this
Magnus Walker is a legendary entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. a native of Sheffield, UK, his first US venture was a second-hand clothing booth on Venice boardwalk, which he grew into a multi-million dollar brand worn by the likes of Madonna, Bruce Willis and Alice Cooper.
On the back of this success, Magnus founded a highly successful film location company, and was able to build an enviable collection of vintage Porsches — his downtown LA ‘Urban Outlaw’ garage is home to some of the rarest models of the car in the world. We spoke to him about creativity in LA and getting under the hood of the city.
On arriving in America
I came to the USA in 1986 when I was 19 years old, so 32 years ago. In essence, I’m more Americanised than I am English, as three-fifths of my life has been Stateside.
On your first American venture
There are a couple of threads that connect what I’ve done in the past 32 years, which are fashion, entrepreneurial property development and car design. All these things I’m really passionate about but actually had no real education in.
My story really begins on the boardwalk in Venice. As a kid I used to sew heavy metal patches onto my jacket, and I fell into the fashion industry purely by accident, selling old Levi’s on the boardwalk in Venice, which is how I started my own clothing line (Serious Clothing) completely by trial and error. Venice Beach has always had that sort of artisanal vibe going on down there, and that vibe doesn’t really exist anywhere else — the skateboarders, the Schwarzeneggers pumping iron on Muscle Beach, the surf and the whole hippy, Grateful Dead, tarot-card-reading rock’n’roll vibe. So that’s how LA influenced me initially as the first foray into my entrepreneurial spirit.
On finding your niche in LA
America was and still is the land of opportunity, especially Los Angeles. I don’t think my story would have evolved the way it has if I had stayed in Sheffield, England. That’s the great thing about LA, whatever you want to be — whether you want to be a surfer, rockstar, movie star, supermodel, aerospace engineer, car designer, fashion designer, whatever it is — LA has the opportunity and infrastructure to do what you want to do. You can’t really say that about too many other places. LA gives you the opportunity and terrain to follow your dream. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, what you sound like. So LA, for me, represented the ultimate freedom. When I was in England, I used to hear, ‘Cut your hair and get a proper job.’ Thirty-two years later, I haven’t cut my hair and I don’t think I’ve ever really had a proper job. So mine is what I’d call an LA story, as one of thousands if not millions of people who’ve come to LA and found their niche, whatever it may be, and flourished in an environment where inspiration is all around and creativity is nurtured.
On recent travels
A lot of my travel is going to certain events — two weeks ago, I was at a Porsche event in England, then went on to a Porsche event in Oslo, Norway. Not that I’m a Porsche ambassador — this is more people who’ve related to my story and invite me to attend events. I wouldn’t call it travel for work, I’d call it travel for pleasure in my out-of-control hobby.
On how to experience LA’s landscape
In LA, you’ve got ocean, desert and mountains, and you can do it all in one day. It’s that environment of opportunity, diversity and accessibility that are all within 100 miles of each other. You can be in the mountains in the morning, the desert in the afternoon and surfing at sunset. Several years ago, I decided I was going to do this, so I left downtown LA at 6am, and got to Santa Monica at 6:20am, which was my ocean part of the drive. I left Santa Monica at 7am and made it to Palm Springs by 8:30am, so that was the desert portion. I left Palm Springs at 9am and went to Big Bear by 10:30am, which was my mountain portion. I left Big Bear at 11am and made it back to downtown LA by about 12:30. So I’d done 300 miles in basically six hours, and had literally been to the desert, the mountains and the ocean in one morning. I don’t think you can really do that anywhere else. I’ve driven from 70 degree weather in downtown LA to the mountains, which was less than an hour away, and by the time I got up there I was driving in the snow.
On your favorite drives around the globe
My favorite road is the Angeles Crest Highway, which gets up to an elevation of almost 8,000 feet at the San Bernadino Mountain Range. Halfway up there’s this great restaurant called Newcombs Ranch; it’s like the biker hangout.
One of my most memorable drives was crossing the Simpson Desert in Australia. We turned up in ten Porsche Cayennes and the people at the start of it thought we were crazy because most people do it in utes — custom-built Toyota Landcruisers, Defenders or whatever — and it takes them eight days. We did it in two days.
'LA for me represented the ultimate freedom. When I was in England I used to hear 'cut your hair and get a proper job'. 32 years later I haven't cut my hair and I don't think I've ever really had a proper job.'
On creative entrepreneurs
Having an entrepreneurial spirit is what I call being an ‘adaptive swimmer’, and by that I mean you sink or swim. You either learn how to swim or you drown and go home: for me, the concept of going back to England just represented failure. So it was a case of adapting to the environment, having ideas that possibly other people didn’t have at the time, with my second-hand clothing, and just never giving up on the dream. Having some success early on fueled my passion, and six months after setting up a booth on the boardwalk, that had led into wholesale and retail stores on Melrose. There were a lot of cool rock’n’roll retail stores that bought the product I was making. I think that’s how LA influenced me 30 years ago and still, to this day, the city is constantly evolving and inspiration is always around.
On where you find inspiration in LA
For me, living downtown for 25 years, the area has a lot of history from the ’20s. All the old movie theatres on Broadway, it was a sort of gilded area — the prime time of Hollywood, so to speak. So downtown LA arts district is one of my favorite places, and walking a lot downtown, because it’s easier than driving. Venice Beach is one of my favourites; there’s so much inspiration down there. Hollywood for its uniqueness — on Hollywood Boulevard, people are still turning up to this day with the dream that hasn’t changed in 100 years. Pasadena is a great place to check out; a lot of culture and experience there. LA has a very cool art scene and museum scene which is emerging. There are sub-cultures everywhere, car culture is everywhere. Bob’s Big Boy on a Friday night in Van Nuys is like a ’50s diner that’s an awesome place to go. Then obviously infamous places like Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard, which are better known but to me still really inspiring.
On first moving to the the arts district
The clothing company became pretty successful to the point where, in 2000, I bought an old former industrial building in the arts district, which today has become the epicentre of what’s cool and happening in the art world, production world and real estate world. When I bought that building, it was leap of faith — people thought we were crazy — but almost 20 years later, we’re right in the middle of everything that’s happening.
On how downtown LA is evolving
I’ve lived in the arts district since 1994, so I’ve been here almost 25 years. Almost half my life I’ve lived in Downtown LA, in this area called the arts district. It’s gone through several phases of gentrification. The arts district was really a former light-industrial warehouse area where it had light manufacturing and warehouse import-export stuff. Cool old buildings like the building I bought from 1902, with high ceilings, wood beams — loft conversions type of thing. What’s happening now is this final wave of the arts district almost becoming gentrified. You’ve got Warner Brothers, publishing and music moving into the arts district; you’ve got Spotify taking over 100,000 square feet, about 100 yards from where I’m at; Soho House opening a hotel down the road; and every major production company wanting to be in this little neighborhood, purely because it’s becoming mega trendy. So this is the final icing on the cake, and that means the neighborhood’s evolving, becoming more densely populated. Property value has gone up about 20 times what we paid for it almost 20 years ago.
'In LA you've got ocean, desert and mountains and you can do it all in one day. It's that environment of opportunity, diversity and accessibility that are all within 100 miles of each other'
On your film location business
I call the car-related thing an out-of-control hobby. What’s paid the bills after the clothing company is my film location business, which was housed in an old 1902, 26,000 foot brick building, which we rent out to production companies for commercial filming. So that was another thing that I sort of fell into, which would never have happened anywhere else but LA. We bought a building in 2000; in 2001, there was an article in The LA Times about loft gentrification. We were a featured loft, and a couple of weeks later we got a phone call from a location company asking if we’d be interested in renting the loft out for a music video, which was for Missy Elliott. We’ve been able to turn this part-time filming thing into a full-time business.
On an exciting drive recently
One of the most exciting drives I’ve had was actually earlier this year in Australia. It was a Porsche Cayenne expedition, which drove from Brisbane to Perth, and I drove the first two-thirds of it across the desert. We were also in Sydney and I was surprised how hilly Sydney is — it reminded me of San Francisco, the harbor and water, and it sprawls a bit like LA. Sydney, I really like. If San Francisco and LA had a baby, it would be Sydney.
On your driving style
Spirited, in one word. No two drives are ever the same — it’s all about the journey. Sometimes you want to go pedal to the metal, other times it’s a semi-cruise, being at one with the environment or setting yourself little challenges. Driving, for me, is almost therapeutic. It’s almost like meditation, where nothing else seems to matter because most of the time when you’re in the hills the phone doesn’t ring because there’s no reception. So the phone goes on airplane mode, there’s no distractions. I use the word freedom quite a bit.
On driving on opposite sides of the road in UK and USA
I never owned a car in England or had a driver’s licence. That all happened in America. But a couple of years ago, ironically, I shipped a right-hand car from Sydney to LA, a right-hand drive ’75 Turbo Porsche. It’s always kind of strange, driving a right-hand car in LA. Porsche only made 17 right-hand drive Turbos in the world in 1975. This one was a German car, delivered to the UK, but went to Australia in ’76-’77, and 40-odd years later is now in LA.
On good food in downtown LA
I spend a lot of time at this restaurant called Zinc café, which is right next-door to my building. Pizzanista is a punk-rock pizza place on East 7th St that’s super cool — I like going there. Little Tokyo has some great sushi ramen noodle places, and is probably the sneaker capital of LA if you’re into limited run Fukijama Nike sneakers.
On the road ahead
Life evolves for me in chapters of ten years. The clothing company had a great run for ten years, the film location stuff has had a great run for about ten years. I don’t really have a crystal ball as to what’s happening next, but I go a lot on gut feeling, I’m always about following my gut in what personally feels right at the time and makes me happy, and timing is also important.
On window seat or aisle
Window seat is generally my preference. I also always carry on, so I tend to travel light. I’m probably only in LA one weekend a month these days.
On LA in one word