Musings on the Coast: Brits Fall for Paradise

By Michael Ray.

My girlfriend Kim Bowen was born in London and went to St. Martins College of Art and Design, the Harvard of England’s artistic community.   From there, she became a writer/critic for London’s fashion press and a regular at The Blitz, which was like NYC’s Club 54 where the young and cool thought they were reinventing society. It did not last long there either, but it was a heady ride.  Thence there was a stint as fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar Australia, then an on-off-on again permanent move to Los Angeles, where she became a “costume designer.”

A “costume designer” can be a lot of things, but for Kim it means “dressing” people: designing what they wear, having it made and fitting them for TV commercials, music videos and sometimes movies.  It sounds glamorous but is not.   It means catering to a lot of big egos and showing up for shoots at dawn in places no one wants to visit.

It also means she knows a lot of fashion, movie and music types who live all over the world.   To them, Laguna Beach is a distant dream that exists only in the TV series “The OC.”   It is not real.

Kim moved to Laguna about 15 months ago because after visiting.  She deemed it paradise and because it was best for her two small kids.   So she commutes to L.A. for work and tempts her far-flung friends to visit.

The friends come only with great reluctance. They harbor the usual stereotypes about what lies behind the Orange Curtain.  Many think California itself is The Wasteland.

But most are so delightfully eccentric they are worth the hassle.   One British friend, Nicky Butler, markets costume jewelry on HSN-TV.   He designs and manufactures it in India, where he spends three months a year.   He divides the rest of the year in his other homes in L.A., Miami, and London.  For him to make it to Laguna took three tries.   He can navigate around the world, but the drive from L.A. was too much; GPS just added to the clutter in his brain.

When he finally did arrive, he expressed the normal amazement at Laguna’s beauty.   Then he asked the question all Kim’s out-of-town friends ask: doesn’t she feel out of touch? Doesn’t she need the Big City for the energy and creative spark? Was she planning early retirement?  They cannot fathom it.

There is another story, though.  After just one day and night in Laguna, Nicky liked it so much he now wants to have a home here too.  He would join our growing British enclave.  It seems Laguna serves as an outpost for expat Brit artistic types, the ones who work in film, fashion and the creative world.   Most come for a long weekend at the Montage, Surf n Sand or the Ritz Carlton, love it and end up moving here.

Kim meets them in stores, where she recognizes their accents and strikes up conversations.  Through them, she meets other Brits.  She is meeting a lot. I know this because (stereotype alert) they all drink tea and Kim constantly has late afternoon cups with her newfound friends.   Their usual conversation is the sorry state of British politics or the absurdity of the royal family, especially Princess Kate who is too perfect to be real.   Note this does not stop them from staying up all night to watch British royal events, like the Queen’s recent Golden Jubilee, which they say they disdain. They’ll take offense if you do the same. It is their Queen, not yours.

The town, though, is ours.


Michael Ray grew up in CdM and now lives in Laguna Beach.  He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.

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