In 1961, back in the days of Gidget and the Endless Summer, a seamstress named Carrie Birdwell Mann started making and selling swimshorts at her Orange County home. More than 50 years later the company is still in O.C. making pretty much the same thing, and for the most part- only that one thing.
We call them boardshorts. The world knows about boardshorts thanks to Old Navy and Target, but surfers know about boardshorts largely thanks to Birdwell. Mrs. Mann invented the shorts specifically for them.
Not to take away from what Quiksilver, O’neill, or any other surf brand have accomplished, but when it comes to boardshorts, Birdwell is what all of them are trying to be.
Like any responsible adult, the folks at the factory were a little leary of me when I showed up asking questions. But once they determined that, as they put it, “wasn’t up to any weird @*!!” they were more than happy to show me around.The family sold off the business, or as the current owners say “entrusted” them in 2014. Since then, a couple things have changed, while some other significant things have not.
For instance, they started using actual patters.While this may have removed some whimsy from the whole purchasing experience, it did make predicting if the shorts were going to fit a little more reliable.
They also updated the van.And by updated I mean they painted it not fixed the engine, which is why I found it parked comfortably in the factory parking lot.
What they didn’t change were the people working the floor. They have remarkably low turnover and most of the folks sewing the shorts today, are the same folks who sewed them ten years ago.
This might be in part an explanation for what else hasn’t changed, which is that these shorts are nearly bomb proof. I think these shorts are what the authorities use to identify the victims of shark attacks since the shorts are what always survive.
*I said that not them*
It is interesting that in our modern world of fast fashion and quarterly shareholder returns, there can exist a company and brand that survives without attempting to broaden offerings in order to capture market share or lowering quality to widen the margin and spur more turns.
They didn’t do that and they are still right there.
Like I said before, I don’t surf.
But if taking steps past big box mass retail is a sign- I might be on my way.
I am afraid of neither cliché nor dumpster. I may be a little bit afraid of going all Johnny Utah and trying to teach myself how to ride a cliché in Red Hot Chili Pepper infested waters, so I settle for sitting on the couch and painting what should otherwise be a sporting good.
I found it in a dumpster. I saw it as a low rent project that would allow me the tools to learn my next sporting hobby. I had dreams of riding waves and floating just out beyond the break.
Two years later I have ridden very little beyond a sofa and sadly, I float a bit too easily in the pool.
Then I got an idea.
It is still rideable. At least in theory.
I have described my mother as the most practical woman alive. She has never wasted her time with whining, complaining, or materialistic foolishness.I describe her that way because it is true. But do not get her wrong, despite having married a mountain man, she herself is an artist.
She does not bring up artist’s names or offer nasally critiques using words like philistine or vulgarian. She doesn’t try to critique anything at all really- that would be silly. She is not silly.
What she would do is be the valedictorian of her high school but not attend the graduation.While her husband spent time fly fishing on the Provo River she was volunteering as a docent in a museum.
This amuses me because docent is probably the most high-brow word she has ever used.
Legend has it that the only time she didn’t get an A in college was in pottery. And that was only because the professor refused to give an A to anyone who wasn’t a fine art major. Mom was in education. Because when you start college after having already had six children, going into education is practical.
But inside that practical person, that education major about to become an elementary school teacher, is and was my mom. My mom, the 18 year old who hopped on a ship to Europe so she could marry a soldier working as a linguist in Germany. The young woman who spent her honeymoon touring Europe visiting art museums and castle galleries. The young woman who when she chooses a car, picks a yellow convertible MG Roadster.
The woman, who once retired and living in one of the most rural places imaginable, builds a structure that on the outside looks like a one story Lincoln log wood shop, but on the inside, is a studio fashioned to look like you have stepped inside Mondrian’s “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow”.
My father has never been hip. I have not asked him if he was ever cool, but I’m guessing he would happily agree with me. Hip isn’t high on his priority list.
Growing up with him I never saw him doing the cool things, saying cool words, or even paying attention to anyone everyone else said was cool. We lived in a place that we all knew wasn’t cool (Utah) and while in this backwater we didn’t even do the only thing people did there that was considered cool (ski).
Imagine my surprise when years later I began seeing the cool kids of the coolest place (Brooklyn) doing things I used to see my dad do. I was, and to some extent still am, confounded. To make matters worse, The cool kids were not just doing things my dad did but they were for the most part doing it poorly.
Not everyone (Hollister Hovey does taxidermy right) but I saw dudes buying axes who have never, nor will ever, chop wood. I was confused.
I had been away from my Dad’s home for longer than I thought and was struck by the volume and variety of objects in his home that meant something to me, and even more struck that the quality of his collection was even better than I remembered.
His collection of Native American rugs were not purchased but rather they were either inherited or bartered. I remember artisans from New Mexico and Arizona who didn’t speak Spanish or English weaving rugs that would make any Urban Outfitter designers swoon.
The antlers on the wall were shot and mounted by either my father or one of his friends. The lattice throne was brought back from Berlin back in the 60’s, kachinas and baskets from off the reservation, and Michelangelo’s Moses from Italy.
Dad spent hours sitting in the same room as the television completely ignoring whatever was on. He was engraving on tusks of mastodon or walrus, powder horns (either cow or buffalo), and now he even has wild boar tusks. A ship carved into an imitation whale tooth makes sense, but looking at it now, the plains warrior scrimshawed onto a walrus tusk-not so much. It didn’t seem odd to me when he did it back in the 80’s.
While Dad’s flintlock normally hangs on the wall of his living room, it has also shot an elk.
Wandering the loft I touched the objects and experienced tactile nostalgia. I remember the times years ago when those things were part of my environment, and like all things in youth I took them for granted. Now that I am older than Dad was when he created or collected these things, I recognize their value independent of my memories but mostly appreciate them through my appreciation of him.
I look up to him and strangely enough I look up to his things.
His things represent experiences, places, and all the various aspects of him. They are him. They are him so much that as long as he lives he does not collect things as much as he earns them. For instance the the objects from Samoa do not come from my youth but from his old age.
He tells me the staff and fan were gifts. They are symbols or talismans representing speech giving, talking, or pontificating. If you have met my father this makes sense. I don’t need to know anything about Samoa or her traditions to believe my Dad. Not because I trust his expertise in this South Pacific nation, but rather I know for a fact that were he to ever earn anything, it would be for talking.
I appreciate things that are earned. Especially things with a good story. That stick is inherently both.
Those things are cool. They are real in so many ways. They have not only aesthetic value-which I’m glad people are recently appreciating-but more so they meaning. Not a fad. Not an a crafted image. No irony.
You can’t have a collection this cool without some it it rubbing off on you. Or maybe its more likely that the objects got some of the cool as it rubbed off from him.
Maybe he was cool all along, just not hip.
I do not regret living without blizzards, but I do miss sledding down the Rocky Steps.
Stick with me for a minute on this one. Textiles influence our surroundings much more than most folks realize. Picnics, bedspreads, beach towels, tablecloths, throw blankets, rugs, drapery, etc. They can come to dominate an aesthetic without even trying, or despite whatever else is going on. For instance, you could have a sleek lined modern bedroom, but if you add an Incredible Hulk bedspread, all you have is an Incredible Hulk bedroom. See what I mean?
I like Persian rugs just fine but would prefer to personally collect them from Persia. I have never been there. I have however been to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and California. Not that they are similar places or produce similar products, but replace the image of an office floor draped in Persian rugs with Navajo textiles and that is what I want. Earth tones, hand made, meaningful designs in a western theme in line with my upbringing.
They may not be manufactured but crafted.
Manufacture away with some navy and white striped lightweight sheet-tablecloth-cloth-whatever. I could use large, lightweight (linen would be perfect), navy and white striped bolts of cloth. A day at the beach is great, but a day at the beach where the hodge-podge beach towels are replaced with classic nautical colors just moved up a few notches. It would work the same on summer canopies or sandy picnics. Just remember, thick, navy and white stripes.
Add to the list the basic red and white checked linen tablecloth or picnic blanket. This one is for grassy fields as opposed to sandy dunes but pretty much the same as above. Classic, clean, adds to the occasion rather than detracts.
It does in fact get cold in California. Even if it doesn’t, I do intend to go to cold places occasionally. There is no better answer to cold than the classy and historic Hudson Bay blanket. In my mind this blanket recall French fur trappers and Iroquois. Neither of those are very West Coast but I refuse to completely assimilate. I like the clean lines and simple colors.
Picture your clean line modernist bedroom with the Hulk bedspread, then replace those sheets with the Hudson Bay blanket. Ta-Da! Your modern sleekness is still there but now you have added some warmth and history, which is no simple task with modernism. Hence the power of the Hudson Bay blanket.
It is a running joke in my home that all I ever say, or the thing I am most likely to say at any give time is, “I have no where to sit down,” spoken in an exasperated voice. This is due to everyone else in my home using every flat surface available, including chairs and sofas, as a desk or shelf.
Sometimes when a guy comes home from work (where he ironically spends all day sitting at a desk) all he wants is to sit down and relax for a moment without having to compete with backpacks, craft projects, and children for seating space.
For Christmas this year, I want my own portable chair.
Campaign chairs are not meant for the living room but rather are supposed to help create a living room when one is out and about… on a campaign.
There are plenty of options in travel and/or camp chairs, but I am not interested in a primary or camo colored nylon contraption you pick up at CVS, I have those already. They work fine but don’t look fine.
How strange it is that we venture out into nature with hopes of appreciating its beauty, yet once we arrive in said beauty we vomit out the contents of our camp trailer in a large mismatched pile of trash called “camp”. I think we could do better.
I like the idea of the leather and wood tripod. I like the idea that I could quickly fold it flat and slide it into the side-strap of my backpack. I could haul it up to the top of Angel’s Landing or to the beach bonfire and with little effort find a place to rest my weary bones and spoil the wonder of my surroundings.
You see, I think there is room in the great out doors for both TR’s “Strenuous life” and the finer things. I’m not really going for the whole TR imperialist have a bunch of servants pack in my personal library and caviar, though I appreciate the aesthetic of that time but rather I think I picked this idea up from American Indians of the great plains. They were not camping per se, they were living.
I spent a large amount of my formative years living in a tee-pee. We called it camping but it wasn’t the same thing as the REI crews with their springbar tents and Bunsen burner camp stoves. We had nice sleeping mats, good chairs, a giant stove inside our “tent.” We were outdoors to enjoy the outdoors, not punish ourselves in some sort of nature flagellation.
I advocate the same in our modern world.
There is no law dictating that quick drying, lightweight, nylon and aluminum must be ugly… but most of it is and it would be nice to have somewhere to sit, in the midst of outdoor beauty, without spoiling the view with our presence.
Not just any sort of tomahawk and definitely not one of those modern “tactical” tomahawks. I want a northern plains or as it is called in this case, a Sioux pipe axe.
I have wanted one since I was a kid. Yes, since I was somewhere around five years old I wanted that hawk with the pipe bowl on the poll, preferably with a weeping heart cut out of the blade. I have wanted one since I was five which is when I most likely first saw one.
I was and am no stranger to tomahawks. These early American weapon/tools were strangely enough a regular part of my youth. I had a regular throwing hawk and could regularly stick a bulls eye from 8 paces. Always 8 paces. I tried 12 once but you have to really throw it from that far whereas at 8 paces you just sort of set the thing in rotation and the weight of the axe head does all the work. I always had access to a throwing hawk, but I never got one of those fancy ones.
I don’t throw those sorts of things much these days. About the only thing I might throw would be a disc in my lower back, but none-the-less I want that stylish weapon for the wall of the study I will one day have. On a peg toward the corner will hang a long barreled flintlock with a possibles bag and powder horn slung over the stalk. hanging from the sash of the bag will be that beautiful colonial era styled pipe tomahawk.
And then if I want to upgrade to whole other level, I’ll lean one of these bad boys in the corner.
Why is it that horrible tools of war and gore can be so stylistically designed? Man, of which I am one, are strange animals indeed.
I love design and style. I love the clean lines and angles of mid century modernism, but I now have a greater appreciation of how hard mid mod is to pull off without looking like an outdated gas station.
I think maybe it is because this particular aesthetic only works if the clean lines are accentuating other stuff that is equally cool. You have to go all in. Otherwise those clean lines just look like half baked, half finished, cheap construction.
I learned all of this while growing up in 1980’s suburbia but I realized it in Palm Springs.
So the above is the Edris house built in 1954. I like it. Well done Mr. Architect. I drove past it but did not go inside as someone lives there and they don’t know how awesome I am and consequentially did not invite me into their living room. A loss on both our parts.
I have no idea who owns this house, when it was built, or anything other than that the triangular roof stretching down to the ground, coupled with the straight horizontal wings works for me. It also makes me dislike the standard mailbox standing at the curb. Come on mailbox, your address is THAT and all you got is this? Disappointing.
Now this place is nice but maybe not all that remarkable till you realize it was built in 1936. Back then people drove big giant Buicks, wore fedoras sans-irony, and George Jetson hadn’t been born yet. Still, someone I’ve never met lives there now so we kept on driving.
And right about here, about the time we just drive past another place that is probably cool, I realized mid century modern isn’t all that hot when the later half of said century was spent recreating the mid part with no attention to style but solely because of speed and cost. That stuff is everywhere. There is a word for it I won’t use, but I will say it is done half-way and that ruins everything.
For instance Elvis used to live in this house. Him and Priscilla spent their honeymoon here. But they don’t live here now and since those days the 1970’s happened and consequentially this place feels kind of “meh”.
This place looks great. The orange chairs are a perfect place to sit while wearing white linen pants and a fitted pink button down. But maybe not a great place to have a sink full of dirty dishes or an overstuffed sofa.
I didn’t get to sit in the chairs and my own apartment has a sink filled with dishes and driving around in the heat I didn’t really feel anything. I was never immersed and this style doesn’t work if you only skim the surface.
Not sure I’ll head back out there without a real good reason… like maybe a dinner party with a dress code. at the end of the day, the below was the most interesting thing in town. Sadly, everyone there thought kava was a word for coffee.