Moped Culture for the LA Times

I wrote this for the LA Times.

It's sunset on a Tuesday and members of L.A.'s biggest moped gang, the Latebirds, have gathered at Choke, a Silver Lake shop, for their weekly ride. They lean against their motorized steeds -- Tomos, Puchs, Motobecanes and Peugeots -- on the sidewalk, brooding, smoking and shooting the breeze, looking cooler than Bob Dylan and his Triumph Bonneville. They are artists, would-be novelists, bike messengers, stylists, a mortician and the intermittently employed; twenty- and thirtysomethings for whom riding and restoring vintage 1970s mopeds has become a lifestyle. Some call them "dirt wizards," but their casual-yet-carefully wrought aesthetic -- raw skinny denim, Vans and mucho plaid -- betrays undeniable hipster leanings.

They're joined by members of other, more recently formed gangs, the LA Tigers, the Woolly Bullies and the HalfWits. Cruising through the hills and canyons of Los Angeles County, 15 to 50 of them at a time, they fall just short of magnificent, thanks to the tinny, high-pitched "waaaa" of their 50cc engines -- a migraine-inducing whine that's less "Easy Rider" than it is "angry chain saw."

"You can't take someone on a moped that seriously," says Steve Acevedo, a member of the LA Tigers. "And we don't take ourselves that seriously. That's the whole point -- it's all about having fun."


I wrote this for the LA Times.

Beverly Johnson was a 21-year-old ingenue sleeping on a mattress on the floor of her midtown Manhattan apartment when she went into the photo studio with legendary photographer Francesco Scavullo 35 years ago this month.

The atmosphere, she remembers, was "magical." "You could kind of feel it in the air during the shoot," says Johnson. "I knew it was going to be a good picture."

But the rising model was stunned when she learned that an image from the session -- of her in a simple, powder blue sweater and a Mona Lisa smile -- would become the cover of Vogue in August 1974, making her the magazine's first black cover model.

Read the rest here.

Fashion Students

I wrote this for the LA Times

Davy Yang, 21, peers at the models sashaying down the Otis College runway in his carefully wrought designs -- an arresting yellow swimsuit that swirls on the hipbone with fabric trailing down the back, and a blue jumpsuit with an eye-catching rust-colored scarf -- garments that took two full semesters of sketching, stitching and adjusting to perfect.

Squinting through a crack in the wall backstage, Yang, a junior in the college's grueling fashion design program, critiques his work, aloof as a master couturier. "I was a little disappointed," he says afterward. In fact, he's always a little disappointed -- such is life in fashion, apparently.

"Every fashion designer is on this pursuit of perfection," says the waifish Yang, who describes his designs -- and his own personality -- as "dramatic." "I don't know if it happens in other fields as well, but I think in fashion you never stop. There's never a point when you're done, and it's perfect."

Read the rest in the LA Times.