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.

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.

209 Mare : appropriate clothing for nice places near the water.

Federico appeared on our Zoom call wearing a light blue terrycloth robe with a black shawl lapel. Behind him were two paintings, one a recreation of a Dali mural, and the other a loosely rendered Basquiat-esque  image, possibly a skull but in light blue and orange. He speaks English with the sort of accent that is hard to place and often pauses between ideas as if he is mentally translating through three other languages in order to pick the right word. He is exactly what one would imagine the models in a 209 Mare ad would be. Cosmopolitan.

Federico was born in Bogotá but spent time growing up in Hamburg, then, when his family moved to London, he shipped off to a sports oriented boarding school in Florida. To play golf. From there it was on to University in Atlanta, a job in D.C. and finally an MBA in Spain.

After graduating business school Federico found himself in Chile, as one does, and while there he attended lunch at a beautiful beach house. He described the scene as a beautifully set table, in a wonderful place, but there they all were sitting at lunch in sloppy wet t-shirts. It just didn’t fit the environment. That is until a guest arrived at the meal wearing one of the resort’s bathrobes. It made more sense. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave Federico an idea.

That is how one starts a luxury brand based solely on resort wear made from toweling material. If you cruise the catalog you find blazers with shawl lapels, or notched. With piping along the edges or not, contrast lapel, double breasted, monogrammed- or not. Federico was looking to make functional beach or poolside clothing appropriate for fine dining. Or just stuff that helped you look nice in a nice place that might also be proximate to sand and water. It was simple cream single button notched lapel, no monogram, that fist caught my eye. I’m not afraid to admit I love it. But I don’t frequent posh places nor am I big on crested pockets, and my skepticism surrounding those who do, is in large part why I reached out to Federico. I wanted to know if what I was seeing was something dreamt up by Instagram branding hacks or maybe someone who lived in a world different than mine. I’m glad I did.

Dude checks out.

That is how I would say it. From my conversation with Federico, I think he would say something a little classier with no hint of snark. I found him absolutely lacking in snark or snottiness of any kind. He’s better than me in that way. He was more than happy to talk about his clothes, his brand, his business model, as well as art, travel, sports and food. He told me that the Monaco Grand Prix is indeed as cool as it looks whether you are a Formula 1 fan or not. He also admitted that, just like the rest of us, He found Formula 1 mostly through Netflix. I appreciated that.

I also appreciate the Paradiso long sleeved polo he makes in vanilla or navy blue. I imagine I would look much less kooky wearing that among the longboarding hippies at San Onofre or among the Doheny regulars… but I am a kook and would 100% rock that cream colored Solenzara blazer.

But oh, yes, there is also the name. 209 Mare.

Mare is Italian for ocean or sea. People in Monaco would probably know that. I did not. What they might not know, but I do now, is that 209 is a reference to the date September 20th. That is the day Federico fell from a 3rd story balcony in Spain, through a glass ceiling, landing in a paved parking lot- and lived. He described it as miraculous (despite his not being religious) and a date that for him, merits remembering. For me it paints a scene out of a James Bond film where the hero is at a fancy party filled with Spectre agents plotting to destroy the world, a fistfight ensues, and as Bond goes over the railing his descent stalls into slow motion flailing, Adele starts singing, and a large text reading 209 Mare is imposed over the screen. Once the song is over and the opening sequence credits close, our hero simply picks himself up off the pavement, brushes dust off his terrycloth blazer, then walks calmly onto a yacht headed that sails off into the night. Perhaps I’m a bit irreverent but, but then again so is wearing Kambuku print swim shorts under a double breasted terrycloth blazer with white piping.

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.

The New York Fashion Geek

Reg will say that knowing what looks good and what is cool has simply been part of his life since birth. He means it. I think he’s right.

Who he is, where he was, and when, built a foundation of classic rules with an authentic streak of Hip-Hop freshness. That is where he started. Now he’s in Brooklyn (New Yorker for life) and the 80’s are over (for now), so why should I, or you, care?

Because he does.

Because he still looks at everything, pays attention, and talks to everyone. He casually dropped the name of GQ’s current editor and referenced an article in Rake so I am inclined to believe him when he claims he keeps the entire magazine business afloat. I found him through his podcast. Or rather, his podcast found me when he interviewed Marcel from X of Pentacles. Chris Cox tipped me on to Marcel’s work some time ago and I started following him. The interwebs suggested I go listen to a podcast with Marcel as a guest and I fell face-first down the podcast rabbit hole wherein I started following Reg. Reg talks to everyone.

He even spoke to me.

Knowing what looks good is a matter of opinion. Knowing how to create, or style oneself, into a particular look is a matter of training.

This is to say we all have our opinions, and who am I, or you, to say whose is wrong or right, but, and this can be a big butt (wink), there are some things that can be learned or taught to help a person achieve particular looks. If that is what one wants.

You can hire Reginald Ferguson to go through your closet for some help figuring out what looks good, or he can take you to a tailor, but what you get would be more than just his opinion. He will give instructions, principles, generational wisdom, and also some opinion. All of which has value. He is in the business of passing down what was given to him, combined with what he has learned along the way.

I’ll start with what he was given.

He is a Black New Yorker. This is important.

Why is it important?

First it is important because he claims New York. Claims it hard. Some people were born and raised in a place, and he was indeed born and raised in New York, but it is another thing to stay. And to claim it. And to rep it. Reg is a New Yorker. You don’t have to ask, he will tell you, It’s in the name. We could possibly argue about the relevance of race, I’m comfortable with that discussion, but social constructs aside, being Black in America teaches a person some things, including what it is like to bear extra scrutiny or judgement on one’s appearance. This is a simple experiential fact and what Reginald will tell you is, that he had some very good teachers in how to navigate this world. He was brought up by Black professionals who knew the importance of presenting one’s self with an awareness of how others will see you. His grandmother was a seamstress. She worked around bankers and lawyers, that kind of New York and it was in large part up to her to make them look good. She passed along what she learned to Reg. Grandpa was a church man who did the same. These are the people who taught him to shop, about fit, coordination, about fashion. And he learned.

Reg had sage teachers at home, that is important, but he also came of age as part of Hip-Hop’s first generation, in the birthplace of fly- the Bronx.

The Bronx! This is the place that gave the world Slick Rick, Kool Herc, and Melle Mel. Those people gave us Fat Joe and Swizz Beats… and Reg.

So what we have here, is a kid who was taught the basic rules of classic menswear since birth coming of age in the hey-day and heartland of hip-hop. He is the balanced hybrid of… no I’ll stop myself right there. He is only balanced because he is a touch extreme in two directions. He is a staunch advocate of his two week rotation of suits, because good quality clothes last longer with a little resting time between wearings, but 14 suits is a few more than a modest arsenal. Then he also has an Imelda Marcos sized appreciation for sneakers. Being a sneakerhead isn’t all that unique these days, but maybe it is a bit much for someone who calms to be suited and booted at least 5 days a week and he does not forward the Jimmy Fallonesque ‘suits with tennis shoes’ look. He is no philistine. In the end Reg is balanced in the same way a 49-51  split senate is bipartisan, but unlike the partisans he somehow sits at both poles. So no matter where you sit on the spectrum, he’s more out there than you, or less out there, in both directions. More street. More boardroom. He is more of all those things and he works hard with those who don’t know, to know more, and do better.

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.

The Reckless Eyeball

This is Matt Ingram.

In 1951 Matt Ingram drove his old car to a neighbor’s house to see about borrowing a trailer. The neighbor didn’t answer the door, so Ingram went and looked out in the field to see if the neighbor was there, but all he saw were some kids. So, he left and borrowed a trailer from someone else.

Matt spent 2 years in jail for looking at those kids.

Well, really for looking at one kid. Willa Jean Boswell, a 17 year old girl saw Ingram driving on the road and was frightened when he looked at her. She ran to the field, told her brothers, who told their dad, who told the police, and they arrested Ingram for assault with intent to rape.

That’s it. No other relevant details. No one contested or offered that there was more to the story. The entire court accepted that Matt, who had not been in, or caused, any trouble previously, never got closer to Willa Mae than 75 feet. He never spoke a word to her, never even made any sudden or aggressive movements, just a look, and the jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 2 years on the chain gang.

A series of appeals and a whole lotta pressure from… the Soviet Union, eventually brought his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court where his conviction was overturned.

That process took around two years… which Matt spent in jail.

For a look.

Or maybe rather, because he had a look.

Mr. Ingram wasn’t trying to have a look, he was just doing his thing. He was working and being himself- which is in some way the root of what makes that look “a look”. There is some form of innate coolness. Not posing. Not trying. Just being. All business.

Thing is, Ingram’s look wasn’t all that unique. He was by all accounts- normal.

For a Black man.

At that time all sorts of other folks, who were in fact trying, worked this look. In fact, that look was being imitated and replicated all over movie screens and billboards because there was, and still is, something in there, that is undeniably cool.

But cool is only safe for some.

And if that cool is innate, the sort that just is, then what do you do if you are Black? In order to be safe should someone not be themself? Tone it down? Tuck it in? Reel it back? Take what others imitate and monetize and push it down to make white people feel safe? To a lot of people, those who just wanted to get on with life, the answer was “yes”.

It was the sort of thing that when white folks do it, they are popular and get to be in movies but when Black people do it…

It was just after Ingram’s case was won, and received worldwide media attention, that a group of White men decided not to take their case to court when a Black kid named Emmet Till was accused of having that same look.

We have, in so many ways, come a long way. That was 70 years ago. So many people have marched, and worked, and changed since then.

But then I think about backwards hats and hoodies and I have to wonder.

And man, when I look at old pictures of Matt Ingram,

I can still see that cool. Plain as day.

Intent vs. Impact

When a system, or representatives of a system, attempt to explain away the racial component of the killing of Asian people because of the ‘words’ of a white killer, despite the evidence and consequences of the the killer’s actions, we are witnessing the systematic shift from white privilege up to white supremacy.

If a person enters a place primarily inhabited by Asians, and then kills several people there, the impact of the death and destruction is born primarily by that Asian community. The stated intentions of the perpetrator do not change who bears that impact.