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'You have to curate your life here, tailor-cut the city to your lifestyle; that is what LA is made for — I love that.'
Gems in this
Stefan Siegel has a lust for adventure that has taken him from being a pilot in the Italian navy, to an investment banker on Wall Street and now, founder of Not Just a Label – the leading global platform for independent fashion designers in more than 150 countries.
Exposure to new cultures and ideas through travel has been a constant source of inspiration and collaboration in Stefan’s creative journey. We sat down to discuss the intersection of travel, creativity and culture, why it’s important to “taste” life, and his personal Travel Playbook of favorite places to spend time in Los Angeles.
On an idyllic — and unusual — Italian upbringing
I grew up in South Tyrol, on the border with Switzerland and Austria. It's a landscape of just mountains there, so I was able to be very active and outdoorsy, always in nature, doing interesting things. As a kid, my dream was to become a fighter pilot, so at the age of 15, I joined the Italian Naval College and learned how to fly a plane. By the age of 19, I had served on aircraft carriers and learned how to sail, parachute, and fly planes.
'I was fortunate enough to start traveling the world when I was 20 — that was probably a sign of what was to come. I wanted to keep on going and taste life.'
On moving to Los Angeles
I moved to LA in 2016, my kind of Brexit since I left London after nine long years. LA it's a city that is hard to understand for most people. You come here with dreams, and then you're on your own — it's the most individualistic city on the planet. Everyone is a freelancer, nobody has a 9-5 job, there's no city center, and you are the master of your own destiny — every single day.
On your relationship with the city
People in LA live in parallel worlds, all in the same city. People move here and suddenly struggle with that because you have to curate your life here, tailor-cut it to your needs, and then get up every day and see where it takes you by sunset — I love that kind of freedom and opportunity; for others, it just means uncertainty. The one thing I show visitors is the chic-ness of old Hollywood, the architecture from the 50 and 60s, paired with the crisp blue-skied sunrises, the sunsets, and the golden hours. It's a very special place.
On your first experience in fashion
After my time in the military, I decided to study business in Vienna. I was scouted by a modeling agency while working in a retail store and was fortunate enough that the job allowed me to start traveling the world when I was only 20. That was probably a sign of what was to come. I wanted to keep on going and taste life. Fashion was always part of my DNA; as you know, Northern Italy is home to 40% of all luxury fashion manufacturing — I grew up driving with my mom to Armani, Prada, and many more factories to buy samples.
On creating Not Just A Label
It took me six long years to get my MBA in Business; by then, I had pretty much seen and worked on five continents and done every creative job, from DJ'ing to doing shifts in a bar. It was time for a serious job, and I was hired by an investment bank; my first stop was Zurich for two years, then New York and London. Somewhere in between, I had a scary car accident and started wondering what I was doing with my life, running around in a suit and getting drunk on weekends. At work, my job was to identify emerging brands for our investors, and I spotted a gap in the market: there was not a single digital platform out there allowing up-and-coming brands to showcase their collections. A business plan draft came first, then the urge to combine my business and creative skills, and that is how Not Just A Label was created.
On the importance of spotlighting emerging designers
It's not only about giving these incredible artists a chance — the implications of nurturing independent creatives are huge: the fashion industry is one of the most pollutive industries in the world. Fast fashion dominates; people buy garments for $10 on Shein or Revolve. In fashion today, a handful of conglomerates own 95% of all fashion brands, and that's extremely restrictive. The system is set up so that few new people can come in, and they want to change that. The music industry also had to adapt; 20 years ago, you listened to what the radio was playing — now you get to discover musicians from everywhere. Why are we not doing that in fashion? Every time somebody buys a design on Not Just A Label, 70% of the money goes directly into the pockets of the designers who made them, whereas if you buy a design from a store, the designer nets only about 10% to 20%. We now even allow designers to sell items on a made-to-order basis, allowing the makers to provide a custom-made service — without having to pre-produce hundreds of pieces that might sit around in a warehouse.
On showing friends around Los Angeles for the day
I still fly planes, not fighter planes but a little four-seater, but that's the best way to show off the city. Taking off from Santa Monica, heading West along the coast up to Malibu around sunset, then over the Hollywood Hills towards Bel Air and Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, and then a long approach over West Hollywood into Santa Monica at sunset — it doesn't get much better than that.
'I moved to LA in 2016 … Everyone is a freelancer, nobody has a 9-5 job, and you are the master of your own destiny here.'
On hotspots for creative culture in LA
Young creatives stick to Silverlake, Echo Park, and South Pasadena. Hollywood itself is seeing a renaissance; forget West Hollywood and Venice for now; instead, check out Studio City in the Valley and head to Malibu's beaches and mountains for a dose of nature and wildlife.
On experiencing Hollywood’s glamor
Well, you could grab dinner at Musso & Frank, then head over to Chateau Marmont. Or stick to my favorite bar, The Tower Bar at Sunset Tower Hotel. Fine dining at Jar, breakfast at the Polo Lounge, and poolside hangouts at the Roosevelt — the options are endless.
On Southern California’s natural beauty
Where to start? Malibu of course. Then head up to the mountains, Los Padres via Ojai, or hike up ten thousand feet to Mount Baldy. Experience the old surf vibes in Ventura or San Clemente and poolside cocktails in Palm Springs before you go stargazing in Joshua Tree or Borrego Springs.
'In fashion, the system is set up so that no new people can come in, and that’s what we want to change.'
On hidden gems in LA
My favorite Thai restaurant, because it's next to a surf beach, is called Cholada — a little beach shack, and they have some of the best Thai food in LA besides Jitlada in Hollywood. Another hidden gem that I love is called Dan Tana's — an old-school Hollywood Italian restaurant.
On a recommended place to shop
My favorite is Trading Post on South La Brea Avenue. Probably the best denim designer in town; that whole area around their store is up-and-coming and definitely worth checking out.
On a song that best represents LA to you
Jim James’s song Here in Spirit.
On a window or an aisle seat
Always window; I'm a pilot and need to ensure the pilot in the front is doing a good job.
On Los Angeles in one word
They call it the city of stars, and that is exactly what it is. It's where dreams come true, and dreams get shattered. The choice is yours — every single day.