THE SHOPHOUND ON THE ROAD:
Workwear And Heritage Stores Take Root In L.A. At The Stronghold, Union Made, Civilianaire & RRL
Over the past few years, The Shophound, like everyone else, has seen a curiosity and interest in classic, American workwear and heritage brands blossom into a full-blown mania as once sleepy labels like Red Wing Shoes, Alden, Carhartt and Woolrich have become prized status brands among a certain set. We were interested to see how laid-back Los Angeles with its Goth-y, Rock & Roll tendencies had taken to the trend. It turns out that L.A. is looking more like a city that might be anxiously awaiting its own branches of Hickoree's Floor Two or Freeman's Sporting Club. In the meantime, the West Coast has grown its own practitioners of the trend which are scattered liberally across the sprawling city.
One store we were widely encouraged to visit was the new branch of UNIONMADE (225 26th Street
Santa Monica, pictured at left), a San Francisco import that has opened a satellite location in the Brentwood Country Mart.
Yes, this hipster-inflected store chose one of the city's most suburban-feeling locations for its first foray outside the Bay Area instead of trendier Abbot Kinney in Venice or Third Street. The compact shop is surrounded in quaint shopping center by enough shops familiar to New Yorkers like Calypso, Intermix, Selima and Space NK, that we wouldn't ordinarily go out of our way to stop there, but we have been aware of Unionmade's reputation for a while. Not terribly unlike Steven Alan, the store has a carefully curated roster familiar brands, many of which are either recently revived or about to be. Exclusives are the order of the day including what would come to be the obligatory shelf full of custom styled, limited edition Alden shoes and a special collection by Northern California label Golden Bear. The store's windows betray its fashion insider credibility by being festooned with blown up sketches by Richard Haines, and the air inside is scented with an intoxicating, woodsy, campfire scent from a custom formulated candle by Baxter of California. After our visit, we were ready to take a trip north to San Francisco to check out the original, but we'll have to save that for another trip.
Another store we wouldn't have bothered with in L.A. would be anything from Ralph Lauren, because, after all, don't we have the best of his stores here in New York? He is, not surprisingly, all over L.A., too but it took a couple of walks up and down Melrose Avenue to discover that what we thought was just a disused gas station next to The Improv had been cunningly converted into a RRL store (8150 Melrose Avenue, pictured at right). We have to give the tireless folks at Polo Retail credit for their smart, site specific store design that trades the "Ye Olde Haberdashery" look of the label's SoHo and Bleecker Street flagships for a cooler if no less dusty vintage garage aesthetic.
One of our favorite discoveries on Third Street was the year and a half old CIVILIANAIRE (8312 W. 3rd Street at near Sweetzer Avenue, pictured above, top and at left), a homegrown brand rooted in workwear basics including Japanese selvedge denim jeans and precisely cut khakis in bright, appealing fabrics. There's just enough retro details to make the line appealing without feeling excessively costume-y, and everything is made in California in time tested factories. It is a label that seems conceived for denim specialists, and can be found at Jean Shop and Atrium in New York, but we liked seeing the whole men's men's and women's collections as a retail concept on its own. We could easily see this store replicated in SoHo or the West Village —just sayin'...
Of course, if costume-y is your thing, there's THE STRONGHOLD (1625 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice pictured at right), known for the selvedge denim jeans you might have seen at stores like Odin or Barneys Co-op. This brand, originally started in 1895 had been dormant for 55 years until its meticulous revival in 2004. The nostalgic store now features painstaking reproductions of vintage apparel with ready-made jeans around $295, and made to measure pieces starting at nearly $500. Such dedication doesn't come cheap. The store features other branded apparel and accessories, but will carry no label that wasn't active during during the brand's original early 20th Century run. That still leaves plenty of heritage brands eligible, and the shoe table (pictured at left) is crammed with every possible permutation of workboot and handsewn footwear from the likes of Red Wing, Alden, Wolverine, Russell Moccasin and other, even more obscure brands. Other labels like Filson, Pendleton and Stetson abound. The execution is impressive, even admirable, but, at this point in the heritage craze, it seems like the trend is starting to veer into self-parody (just have a look at The Stronghold's old-time nickelodeon-esque website). Perhaps the style is better taken in smaller doses, with a more eclectic point of view.