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‘You’ll be well rewarded by not taking LA at face value.’

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Feature by Michael Canning

Fredericus L'Ami — or, as the name of his instagram page hints, ‘they call me fred’ — was born in Holland and raised in New Zealand. Having worked in Amsterdam, London and Sydney, the designer has settled in Los Angeles, where he and his wife share a studio.

Known for a love of tactile design and delivering an experience that engages more than just the one sense, Fred tackles branding with an innovative and European approach. We caught up with him to chat about life in LA's design community, favorite neighborhoods, and the art of tipping.


On where you’re from

I think of myself as a New Zealander — a Kiwi. Even though I’ve landed here via a bunch of places, New Zealand’s still home.

On where you’re living

Los Angeles, California, in an area known as WEHO, or West Hollywood. It has a high walkability score — first time I’d heard that — meaning we can access cafés, bars and convenience stores on foot!

On first moving abroad

Anyone who grows up in New Zealand is told stories, often via relatives or friends who’ve lived abroad. There’s a long history of well-traveled Kiwis.
 Growing up in a Dutch family meant my upbringing was different to most of my friends. I always knew that I wanted to experience life back in The Netherlands. When I studied design, I found that many of the designers whose work I admired were actually my kinfolk.

On moving to LA

It’s a huge adjustment. We moved from Sydney, Australia, where we were living by the beach in the small seaside suburb of Bronte — looking back on it, things were simple. Life here requires a lot of travel and even though we’re only seven miles (10km) from the ocean, you have to drive — you couldn’t get by without a car.

‘The good, the bad and the ugly run side by side, and you feel like people come here with hope — which is stimulating.’

On having a Kiwi accent

I have a New Zealand accent, which has always been a benefit. People are charmed by it — it opens doors! That helps when you’re new to an unfamiliar city.

On the best part of living abroad

The best part is the new relationships you make. People are more willing to try things in a new city, at least that’s my experience. There’s a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ and that opens people up to doing things differently.

I sometimes work with other Aussies or Kiwis (often people I don’t know very well, if at all), artists, writers, actors and photographers, and we collaborate on projects. We try new things, alternate ways of working, which can lead to unexpected inspiring results!

Los Angeles is an interesting and ever-changing place, there’s so much diversity at every level. The good, the bad and the ugly run side by side, and you feel like people come here with hope — which is stimulating.

Brand identity for LA based design practice, South Society

On discovering LA

LA has so many hidden gems; you’ll be well rewarded by not taking the city at face value (which can be ugly) and digging a little deeper. LA will most definitely surprise you.

We rented a large apartment, which meant I could set up a studio which I share with my wife Emily (the founder of ritual and aromatherapy brand Bodha). I dread the thought of commuting in LA. My cultural observations are limited to my client relationships, which have been great for the most part, although I will stress the importance of a good contract as America is a very litigious country and people tend to do things differently, especially when there’s a dispute.

On LA’s design community

There’s less of a design community than other cities I’ve lived in but I think it’s probably more to do with the geography. If someone announces an event, the first thing you do is look to see where it’s happening — if it’s on the other side of town, you’re less likely to attend.

Certainly, there are great studios like Rapt, who are doing a great job of curating inspiring events at their LA studio in Culver City, and the newly opened Neuehouse is fast becoming a hub for creative folk.

I’ve actually found myself attending more gallery openings. The art scene in LA has erupted in recent years and there’s an endless schedule of events across the city.

‘I will stress the importance of a good contract, as America is a very litigious country and people tend to do things differently, especially when there’s a dispute.’

It’s funny, when we landed, we decided to move to West Hollywood. My wife Emily’s best friend from New Zealand was living there and we thought that would be cool to be close by (as we didn’t really know anyone here). Turns out that most newbies start their LA life in West Hollywood before moving to another part of the city. There’s A LOT of talk about where you live in LA. There’s a lot of East vs West, and it’ll kill a conversation sometimes! We like West Hollywood because it’s fairly central — you can be almost anywhere in about 30 minutes.

On hidden costs

Tipping and healthcare. The tipping really adds up, and for a long time we were tipping on everything — but you don’t have to. Over-the-counter purchases don’t require a tip, whereas sit-down service does. Health insurance, on the other hand, is a whole other thing, and you quickly realise just how good we’ve got it back home.

On something unique to LA that is inspiring

LA has great signage — there’s literally type everywhere, and in various stages of decay. The color palette’s pretty interesting too. People aren’t afraid to use color, which I like. It tends to be washed out mostly, but that could have something to do with the sun — it’s relentless!

On current projects

I’ve just finished a packaging project for ill.i Optics (Will.i.am’s eyewear brand). I’m also working with two US-based coffee brands at opposite ends of the market. One is a boutique LA roaster about to make their debut, the other is a rather large, well-established outfit looking to do something different. I’m also helping a New Zealand paint company called Drikolor establish themselves in the USA.

Branding for the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA)

On a recent collaboration

I’m very excited about my current collaboration with Hardhat Design (they’re old friends based in New York). We’ve been trying to find a suitable project for some time and have finally started working together last month (hush, hush).

On something to do when you arrive

Airbnb a bunch of places in different parts of the city to figure out which ’hood you want to live in — they’re all SO different. Reach out to people and make friends.

On something you wish you’d been told

We love food, so Jonathan Gold’s 101 best restaurant list was a great discovery.

On neighborhoods

I think where we live is pretty good, considering; it’s handy for most things, and you can walk to a bunch of stuff. Other faves include. Silver Lake (Eastside) and Manhattan Beach (Westside), although people will tell you that you have to pick.

Brand design and packaging for Hopt Soda

On good coffee

The coffee scene has changed hugely these past 12 months, so I like to mix it up. In West Hollywood, I’d hit up Coffee Coffee on Fairfax, or Cofax Coffee in the Fairfax Village — they have a donut intern. Stop in for an ice cold Nitrous Coffee at Alfred Coffee, Melrose Place, or Blue Bottle Coffee on Beverly is a staple. 

On where to get inspired

A dawn surf at El Porto (Manhattan Beach) is a great way to kick-start the creative process. If I have time, a spontaneous road trip always works, otherwise there’s a seemingly endless schedule of art shows across the city.

On good galleries

M+B, Regen Projects and Matthew Marks Gallery are all local favorites.

On visas

We won Green Cards through the diversity lottery — I’d start there.
 There’s no way to get around the paperwork. Unfortunately the US loves complexity and there’s no quick way round it — a good lawyer wouldn’t go amiss, but be prepared to spend a few dollars.

On getting away for the weekend

Be prepared to explore. We often head west via the Pacific Coast Highway toward Big Sur. Ansel Adams’ Yosemite is about five hours north of here; Mexico’s just a few hours south of here, or simply head east — the desert is full of surprises.

On spending your first $500 in LA

My first exciting purchase was a wetsuit, to deal with the cold Pacific currents in Southern California.


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