Try on an L.A. costume designer's life for size


A few hours spent touring a musty labyrinth of vintage dresses and pants in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley might not seem like a vacation activity, but it was heaven to a handful of visitors on a scorching hot day just before Halloween. 

Forget typical fare such as spotting names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or Instagramming a double-double from fast-food favorite In-N-Out Burger, these women had shelled out $200 for an "experience" incredulously orchestrated by Airbnb: Four hours of face time with "Mad Men" costume designer Janie Bryant, who took them on a pilgrimage to the storage-and-rental behemoth Western Costume Company.  

If you think that price tag equates with an awful lot of hamburgers, let me explain. To anyone who cares about costume design, midcentury attire or the charisma of actor Jon Hamm in a gray suit and skinny tie, Bryant is among the royalty of behind-the-scenes show business. The friendly, impeccably styled brunette with a Southern twang rose to prominence through her famously diligent designs for AMC's period smash, which she parlayed into a book deal, retail partnerships and more than 44,000 Twitter followers - in addition to maintaining her regular gig. (Bryant's recent work is on view in the movie "It.")  

For the tour's 10 participants, spending a morning basking in Bryant's presence, touring where she works, learning her research methods and hearing candid commentary on what stars including January Jones are really like was priceless.  

And it came with personalized styling advice: The tour included vouchers for items from Bryant's 1950s-inspired fashion collection at Unique Village, a nearby boutique.  

"Any chance I can talk about costume design, I'm happy and excited to do that," Bryant said by phone after the event, adding that although "Mad Men" ended production in 2014, it's not uncommon for fans of the show to seek her out to obsess over every single costume worn by every single actor in every single scene, as some of the attendees did on the day of the tour. "I love it that people are still so excited by the show," she said.  

Last November, Airbnb - which famously disrupted the hotel and hospitality industry when it launched in 2008 with the idea that people could make some side cash by renting out their homes - began offering what it calls "experiences" via its Trips program. These are niche adventures in the company's major markets that allow renters to avoid what Trips Vice President Joe Zadeh calls the "cookie-cutter" vacation experience. Instead, he says, Airbnb customers get "an opportunity to connect with the people and places that make a city tick."  

Originally available in 12 major markets, including exotic locales Havana and Seoul, the program expanded quickly. To date, there are more than 3,100 active experiences on the platform across more than 40 cities, 26 countries and six continents, with solo travelers and millennials being the most enthusiastic patrons.  

Some experiences are more glamorous than others - a chance to go shoe-shopping with "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker in Manhattan sold out in a matter of hours - while the company's solid performers are adventures with food or wine themes, such as a sailing trip around Barcelona featuring a complement of tapas. Zadeh said that the most popular experience in Los Angeles is a $25 hike to the Hollywood sign with a combination tour guide and actor.  

"We want to make sure that every experience listed on the platform is magical, handcrafted and powered by local people who open up places and things to do that you wouldn't otherwise be able to do," Zadeh said.  

Recent Airbnb experiences in Los Angeles have included a ballroom-dance class with Kenny Ortega, the famed choreographer and director known for his work on some of Michael Jackson's videos and the "High School Musical" franchise, as well as a tour of the area's comedy scene with local stand-up authority Jake Kroeger.  

For her part, Bryant said that she will participate in another Airbnb experience in the spring, when she launches her second collection at Unique Vintage.  

"Most people don't understand what it is to be a costume designer," Bryant said. But during a blissful morning spent amid rows of costumes for characters past and future and getting fitted for our own Eisenhower-era-inspired party dresses, she gave a crash course.  

- - -  

IF YOU GO 

Airbnb Experiences  

airbnb.com/s/experiences  

These outings and tours are offered in 50 cities worldwide in 14 categories ranging from Social Impact to Technology to Nightlife. They vary in price and duration: A chance to spend three-and-a-half-hour rappelling and climbing through Palm Springs, California's wind towers is $480, while a two-hour yoga class in Havana is $10. Tours are booked through the Airbnb smartphone app or website and are available to all members, local or otherwise. Note that an experience may not be suitable for all travelers; read the descriptions carefully before booking.  

- - -  

Friedlander is a writer based in Los Angeles. Her website is whitneyfriedlander.com. Find her on Twitter: @Loislane79.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Fur and fury at 40,000 feet as more people bring animals on planes

When Marlin Jackson arrived at his row on a Delta flight from Atlanta to San Diego in June, the middle seat was already occupied by a man with a sizable dog on his lap. Jackson squeezed by them to his window seat, and the Labrador mix lunged at his face. The attack lasted about 30 seconds, according to Jackson's attorney, and left him with facial wounds...
Go to the head of the pass with a voucher

You're moving forward, inch by inch, ever closer to your destination. Or are you? Someone in front of you fumbles for lost tickets. Another person's credit card malfunctions. Your precious vacation time is wasted - I call this the Travel Time-Suck - in a line.  In September, my husband and I had an entirely different experience when we visited...
While Yellowstone's staff was furloughed, a snowmobiler got too close to Old Faithful

Tourists on a commercial snowmobile broke park rules by driving too close to Yellowstone National Park's iconic Old Faithful geyser Sunday, park officials confirmed, at a time when most staff was furloughed during the partial government shutdown.  In an interview Monday, park superintendent Dan Wenk said that one of the concession operators that...
Wander Ireland’s northern reaches, see the happiest cities in the US and more

Ireland  Exploring the upper reaches of the Emerald Isle is the gist of the Magnetic North Adventure Tour offered by Vagabond Tours of Ireland. (Vagabond Tours of Ireland)   A lot of Ireland tours visit the same places: Dublin, Cork, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, et al. Vagabond Tours specializes in small-group explorations...
Enjoy a real cold one at these 12 Twin Cities ice bars

What do you get when you combine six 300-pound blocks of frozen water, frigid northern temperatures and a throng of thirsty sports fans bound for the Twin Cities?  Ice bars — a phenomenon that has been around for years but is now gaining major steam — er, frost — thanks to the Super Bowl’s arrival, the growth of artisan...
More Stories