Trading Post by Dr. Collectors

Trading Post

126 S. La Brea Ave, LA

I would describe what Dr. Collectors do as a French person’s version of romanticized American Western wear via Japanese design.

I am not qualified to unpack all of that. Those concepts are both problematic and fascinating. Like a well executed television show that is consistently cringy yet you still kinda love it. Like The Office. You just can’t pause to think about it.

No matter my opinions I can solidly say they produce unique items with attention to detail. A lot of it, I must admit, looks super cool, and to be fair, I have had zero contact with the owners or designers and don’t have a true sense of what they are all about. And to continue in fairness, I am no expert on Native American design and the boundaries of certain designs, or items, with their associated meanings, and I know even less about Japan.

But I do know a thing or two about colonialism, appropriation, and how clothing communicates meaning, including, but not limited to, identity.

All of which adds up to me having a lot of questions, no recommendations, and a general hesitance from actual opinion.

Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten

451 N. La Cienega Blvd. LA

Dries Van Noten’s LA location is the global brand’s largest and every inch of it is interesting.

The building itself was once Charlie Chaplin’s dance studio but the current contents are neither colorless nor silent.

Past collections are on display creating a museum like quality which flows into art gallery on through to retailer.

When I came to only gawk, not buy, the people there were not just gracious but truly helpful. Like docents with style.

Album Surf

In my (limited) experience, surf shops trend toward either a shopping mall version of an imagined White California, or a museum centered on a 1950’s shaper sprinkled with global brand clothing items (Quiksilver, Billabong, whatever). Not Album. Album is a functional art gallery.

1709 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA

I’m not good enough to ride any of their art nor am I smart enough to understand the science of how they work, but I know what looks good. Those boards look great.

They have somehow found that sweet spot between a late 80’s T&C Thrilla Gorilla and a prop branded by Prada that no serious surfer would ever be seen on. I don’t know enough real surfers to speak to what “they” think of Album but I do not care.

Its like how I don’t need to know real artists to like Van Gogh or know real musicians to like D’Angelo. I like Album.

Union: kids these days

Union LA

110 South La Brea Ave. Los Angeles

It started as a bunch of counterculture kids in NYC, then they expanded to LA, where Chris Gibbs continues to move forward today.

The racks feature design centered casual and streetwear. They are all unique and all wearable.

Price points are what you would expect of direct from the designer items but if you have the money this place beats every big box out there.

Maxfield: design design design

I was very politely (no snark at all, they were so kind) asked to not take pictures.

8825 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles

I suppose I am in fact, a leopard.

Maxfield is avant-garde in the best possible way. It is full of things I would love on my shelf, my wall, or worn by other people on the street.

But only because I present better as Andy Warhol than as one dressed by him (no snark at all, I would love Andy as a stylist).

Just One Eye: to look at

Pardon the worst comparison ever, but Just One Eye feels to me like someone with taste, and money, opened a flea market.

915 N Sycamore Ave, Los Angeles

This speaks more to my class than anything else, but there are booths, or stalls, each with what appear to be a different vendor, all under one industrial roof.

But in between, or in front, or above, there is art. At flea markets I look for large scale images to paint over (cheaper than buying raw canvas) while at Just One Eye there is art to which I would only aspire.

Virgil Normal: is not

I am not an expert, nor even minimally informed on high fashion, but I would still venture to say that what one finds at Virgil Normal is not that.

4157 Normal Ave, Los Angeles

What it is, is independent, artsy, and the sort of cool that might get picked up by high fashion, yet exists in its own sphere without “them”. I am guessing they are cool with that.

It has the vibe of the sort of Los Angeles that exists on the flip side of the glossy Hollywood coin. The sort of place where hippies gave birth to skateboarders. Artsy but with scraped up knees.

Living in Style: Brian Bent

Brian Bent is not pretending or acting. He is what, and whom, he presents himself to be. And he is great.

What he presents, is a hot-rodding rockabilly surfer circa 1968, or maybe 1953, I can’t pin down exactly when. You can find images of him all over the internet riding a checkered surfboard while wearing a striped shirt and captain’s cap, ya know, like the one Thurston Howell III wore on Gilligan’s Island.

The pics look great. But what is even better, is that on any given day you can easily run into Brian out in the lineup at Doheny or San Onofre, and he will look exactly like he does in those photos, and he will ride that log for all its worth. He can surf.

When he is done he will haul that log into the parking lot, load it onto a homemade hot rod, and head home to paint.

His paintings are what first caught my attention.

People have been paying attention to his art for decades. He is not new. His work is a loose mix of what appears to be fashion illustration, shapes, and storytelling. He renders spindly stylized characters like you might imagine would exist if Jack Skellington targeted the world of Gidget. He made a splash back in the 80’s when he was designing the interiors of the Becker surf shops and his work was eventually picked up by galleries. He has been and still is, producing.

Producing as in continually creating. Making. All sorts of stuff.

I met Brian as he and his wife were headed from the beach back to their car. I was (still am) just some soggy kook in a wetsuit hollering “Hey Brian” and they stopped and graciously listened as I told Brian I loved his art. He was gracious. They were nice.

Then last weekend he opened up his home for a “garage sale” and Mrs. Hammas and I went to check it out. The Bents were exactly as they appeared at the beach, super gracious, and their home is the best representation of a stylized life I have ever seen. They execute a designed life to perfection.

In front of their modest sized house is a teal, tailfinned car with anchors painted on the cab, then three steel home-made hot rods, and of course all the vehicles are outfitted to carry a surf board. In the garage are tools upon tools and a quiver of hand painted longboards next to a pile of banged up single tailed skateboards.

The house is a collection of mid-mod vignettes made up of furniture, instruments, and art. Skatalites played on a record player, easy going people not wearing shoes milled about the kitchen, and the Bents appeared sincerely happy we were there. They showed us around, shared a bit about their life, and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.

And I was. Thanks to them.

This comfort came largely from the Bent’s authenticity. The 60’s, or 40’s for that matter, are long gone and most of us do not dress or design a life like the Bent’s so it might be natural to assume they might be a little… weird. Or act eccentric. But they don’t. They are, again, normal. In the best possible way. In the way that makes a person a real person rather than a performance. In a way that makes Brian a master of style rather than a relic.

Brian is not living in the past, he is living in style.

And I didn’t even get to his music.

Al’s Attire, I should have known and so should you.

This guy makes basketball shoes. As in he takes basketballs, cuts them up, and makes them into shoes. These aint Nike they are Spalding couture. He does the same thing with baseball mitts- turns them into purses. He is designer, tailor, and a brand all of his own making.

I didn’t know about AL before I wandered into his shop. I was just window shopping, sort of strolling along San Francisco’s North Shore neighborhood and it was just the next door in a row of others, I had just gone ga ga over cheese in a spot across the street, so I was already in a good mood. I stepped inside and was struck by what I found.

Let me state clearly that my not knowing about Al’s before I got there was a personal deficiency. I have since learned that not only is he not new, but he has been a front running outfitter for the cool kids since I was a child. When I struck up a conversation with him I recognized the sort of approachability and openness that I have found in so many other true leaders in their field. The ones who no longer need to prove themselves to anyone. The ones who have shown their worth to all who matter long ago and are still doing what they do, but out of love for their craft- not chasing status. Those people are always happy to talk with anyone, even those like me who have absolutely nothing to offer, if you are talking about the work.

Al’s stuff felt new. Not new like fast fashion plastic and tin foil from Forever 21, but new like ideas. New, like a digitized camouflage suit jacket , which would never be my thing, but kept me transfixed when I saw it on his hanger. I will not venture to say that he is the first one to make a camo jacket, but he did it in a way that felt right, not like a gimmick.

That is his magic. He does new odd ball stuff sans gimmick. Sans social media marketing department. Sans pretention.

But with a double dose of creativity and cool.