Friday, January 28, 2011

The Best Vintage...and Vintage Inspired Design: Inspiration!

So this is a story about how I began collecting leather jackets.  The truth is in the early 1990s vintage was only a concept to me not a way to make a living.  I lived right next to Kensington Market one of the biggest vintage meccas in the world but I only saw the stores there as a source of cool old clothing that I could afford.  I had never even thought of Japan or fashion and had embarked on adventures in t-shirt printing and other "hobbies" dabbling in design.  It wasn't until an acquaintance explained to me that the "Japanese" paid a lot of money for certain items of clothing that my eyes began to open regarding the
value of design and historical clothing.
Fast forward 5 years...I had been selling amazing leather jackets to everybody.  At this time the internet and the Farley Auction, and Ebay had hooked me up with dealers in Los Angeles.  By the late 90s I had been buying and selling with and to cool vintage nuts that I had never met or spoken with on the phone.   To shorten it up a bit..during this time a young Japanese photographer moved to L.A. and started expressing an interest in photographing vintage clothing and surfers.  This guy got to know all the best and greatest vintage collectors and dealers in America and Japan.  This guy through his camera bridged the entire Pacific ocean with beautiful photography of the best of the best of everybody's collections.  This guy was Rin Tanaka!
Rin was a huge catalyst for vintage clothing crazies everywhere.  No one had seriously catalogued vintage clothing outside of Japan in English.  Sure if you were smart you could get great images from magazines like  the Farley guide to Boon magazine ...but until Free and Easy magazine came out, and finally Motorcycle Jackets: A Century of Leather Design the real power and scope of what I was buying and selling had not gelled.

Rin's beautiful photography and access to all the best dealers re-contextualized what we were doing for a living on a day to day basis.  It suddenly dawned on me that the secret deals back and forth between guys in Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo were really part of a giant global underground Cabal of loose vintage connections that were shaping the entire fashion industry.  When I ordered Motorcycle Jackets: A Century of Design and cracked open the spine for the first time my eyes grew wide with excitement.  All the best, hottest most inspiring leather jackets I had ever seen and not seen were between the hard covers of that book.  And even better than that many

of the jackets were ones that I sold!  It gave me instant legitimacy and a feeling that I was participating in something greater than just buying and selling schmata.  I felt like I emerged from the shadows in one nanosecond of big bang!  Jackets that I held in my hands, these garments I sold were suddenly in a book, and a beautiful book,  I would have never thought!  I vowed that I would own one of every single jacket that was in that book.  I have almost achieved that goal and more.  I even bought back some of the jackets that were photographed.  Everybody in the vintage business contributed to the creation of Rins work but Rin changed the shape of the vintage business.  And now he has organized the greatest meeting of vintage bloggers, dealers, collectors and conspirators on the planet in L.A.

I had the privilege of attending the first Inspiration Show at Barker Hanger last year.  I hooked up with old friends, dealers, customers and even some of my nemeses!  If I had a recommendation for anybody who loves beautiful clothing it would be to attend the upcoming Inspiration show on the Queen Mary II in a couple of weeks and be part of the experience!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Designing Pieces: Zip Stevenson...Belt and Boot Compadre

Many years ago I met my good friend and creative ideas partner Rob Medellin over the internet.  Back in the 1990s the vintage business was a bit of a mystery.  Many of the characters who were the "secret" creative forces behind the mainstream fashion scene were on the low down spread out across L.A., Toronto and far away places like Boise, and Seattle.  Robert showed up at my door in Chinatown with his good friend and mystery man Zip Stevenson.  I had never met Zip and it was the beginning of a long relationship.  Zip is the master of vintage belts and boots.  When I met him in the early 1990s he was also the king of vintage denim repair.  If you had a pair of jeans that needed fixing or rebuilding Zip was the man.  Many many years have passed since those prime days of my youth.  I was in my mid twenties then.  Zip has become one of the pillars of the vintage design community.  He owns and operates two of the premier vintage inspired brands on the planet...Hollywood Trading Company and Stevenson Overall Company.  These jackets are a few of his many creations.  And as I have an insane appetite for old design and vintage I have respect for anybody who would take on this challenge!

Zip sent me this pic of him and the Governator, Arnold wearing one of Zips vintage of course I had to play guess the vintage jacket!  Its a 60s Beck jacket!  You can always tell by the simple classic double rider cut and the oxidized aluminum zipper.

I am always honoured when people send me pictures of their creations before they are out in the world for sale.  Zip created this beautiful and crazy patched motorcycle jacket covered in vintage patches.  I was blown away by the amount of work involved in creating these works.  This one was up on ebay and sold for over 2000.00 second hand.  Like my own struggles to make perfect jackets...the devil is in the details.  I was really impressed with the extra details and labelling that comes with this cool racing patch jacket.  The bonus of the small runs of these special items is the very uniqueness of each piece.  Every owner has their own one of a kind jacket and with only a couple of dozen made you never have to worry about seeing your pal wearing the same jacket at da club!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Design Pieces: The Cool People Who Know

Donwan Harrell
There have been interesting transitions that have happened over the years in the vintage clothing business.   I started in used clothing in 1993.  I was employment challenged when a friend approached me asking me if I knew where we could find used 501 jeans.  I found him a couple of hundred pairs and a business was born.  He and I parted ways after 5 years but we learned about the business as we went.  We learned by selling to other dealers, we learned from selling online at Farley's auction, and we learned from our earliest and largest Japanese customer Daytona!

Those were amazing days when there were few people in the vintage clothing business and a huge supply of used clothing here in Toronto.  We could not work fast enough to keep up with demand, and not a day went buy where we didn't find rare and interesting vintage.  We barely knew what we were doing.  Needless to say things don't stay the same for ever.  With the rise of the internet and the creation of ebay,
our rudimentary knowledge of the collectibles market popularized and became more accessible.
 Like all business' change was motivated by economics.  I had to keep learning about new areas of vintage.  Rarer and harder to come by items became key to my survival over younger more eager pickers.  At some point my business changed from supplying cool stores in NYC, LA and Japan to hunting down rare and unique pieces clothing for designers.  In fact my desire to start making leather jackets was motivated by a 1920s jacket I sold to Spencer Birch at RRL back in the day that then became the front page showpiece on the Ralph Lauren site.  I thought...hey I can do this!  As vintage stores declined and the supply of vintage became harder to come by, designers increasingly became far more important for my survival.  I have the privilege of getting to know and work with some of the most successful and talented

 people in the fashion and design world.  It is inspirational to me that such amazing people who make clothing that is worn globally would spend any time with a micro company like myself nevermind engage me for my expertise.

Last month on of fashion's giants Donwan Harrell came by for a visit.  DW is one of the top designers at NIKE and owner of many global lines of clothing including PRPS jeans.  Very very cool.  We hung out, looked at design pieces, spoke about his love of vintage muscle cars and did a little business.  The absolute best part for me was the kudos DW gave my new designs and leather jackets!  I couldn't ask for better "props" than that!  I was floored when he ordered one.

It is simply amazing to me that after years of working away in this quiet corner of Canada, how global the fashion business has become and how the internet has completely revolutionized the way I communicate and meet people in my business!  These are pictures from my office, and from the PRPS collection and store.  The cafe racer is a post war Buco horsehide jacket with custom paint from a Motorcycle dealership. Check out that "nouveau Appalachian" denim style.