A Daya on La Brea – LA’s Denim Strip
For 21 years, I lived in New York City, and while I relocated as far away as geographically possible (and not a moment too soon), I will say that there was a lot I liked about living there (Sacco Pizza, I’m looking at you). Even more than the food joints, it’s the neighborhoods they were in that I miss most. As a newish resident of Los Angeles, I’m hardly the first to recognize that LA has neighborhoods that serve as little more than ways for realtors to declare why one apartment should rent for twice as much as another that’s a block away. (“Well, that’s in Venice. However, if you’re willing to look in Mar Vista…”) Where my new home is a conglomeration of suburbs, my old was a series of distinct neighborhoods with truly individual sensibilities. (Use the comments section to tell me otherwise—you’ll find no one happier to be wrong than I.)
Other than some field trips for food (Osteria La Buca’s homemade pasta, I’m looking at you), and occasional assignments for this very site, I’ve largely been in L.A. as I was in New York City—a Westsider–where Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Marina Del Rey kinda’ sorta’ all blend together into one big sandy place to buy fish tacos washed down with trendy IPAs (not that I’m complaining—some of my best friends are trendy IPAs). So I was thrilled for the opportunity to venture into the unknown east to a stretch of La Brea Avenue that, what do you know, has the quality of a real live neighborhood!
Now to be clear, we’re talking about La Brea between Beverly and 4th Streetish, so let’s not get too carried away over a few blocks. However, for those who appreciate denim, workwear and heritage duds, this stretch is a definite destination…worthy of parking your car and—gasp!—walking a bit. However, if that most unLA of activities gets you tired and hungry, you’ll have to rest on the plane ride back to Manhattan to find a decent slice of pizza. Before you head for LAX, here are a few places worth a peek inside.
7161 Beverly Blvd.
This is one of those (as I’ve come to find out) quintessentially L.A. places that looks not so much like a cool store as it does a place set-dressed to look like a cool store in a movie. Nicely done. Mister Freedom incorporates their own signature pieces, from tasteful Hawaiians (if there can be such a thing) and their own denim, with a beautifully curated selection of vintage offerings, and it all comes together to create a shopping experience that rewards those with high limit credit cards in their Tanner Goods wallets.
Cool and quality don’t come cheap, and this place has loads of both. You’ll likely not encounter “regulars” in this place, as the space is gawk-worthy and tourists are understandably drawn to it.
144 La Brea Ave.
There are stores on this piece of La Brea not discussed in this piece (American Rag, 150 La Brea = Cluttered Nightmare) not just because they don’t carry the selection of goods we’ve come to appreciate, but also because they offer even less in terms of atmosphere. Self Edge, however, has an almost Zen-like calm about it, with plenty of space to stroll through as you contemplate existence and, more importantly, whether or not you really need another pair of Sugar Canes. (Of course you do.)
With their signature armoire of jeans anchoring the bottom floor, there are two levels to this space with racks of selvedge–Japanese and otherwise–imported chambray shirts and horsehide motorcycle jackets, as well as tables of caps, tees, books, a mess o’ PF Flyers and a cabinet of curiosities with rings and various EDC that are hard to resist. So don’t. This “district” on La Brea has just started coming in to its own, and Self Edge was a pioneer on the block. As a result, you can expect to see those who look (and dress) like they’ve shopped here for years, because they have.
175 La Brea Ave.
What drew me into this place was the music, wildly audible from the street. They do have their own branded denim, only one style in raw, though I can’t speak to its provenance. They also had a bunch of vintage concert t-shirts, and I say if they can get someone to shell out $300 for a severely faded Fleetwood Mac number in size medium, more power to them. I especially like the men’s jewelry they offered and nearly picked up a vintage sterling silver and turquoise ring for $180, as it easily would sell for twice that anywhere else.
Kelly Cole has an…idiosyncratic approach to merchandising—the creepy doll on display certainly set a specific tone. It was in keeping with the music I mentioned earlier—at first I imagined it was the kind of noise metal that would be playing inside the mind of an evil genius planning to summon Hellish demons to bring about the apocalypse, but the more I heard I decided it was the kind of noise metal that would be playing inside the mind of an eviler genius planning to summon more Hellish demons to destroy the evil genius planning to summon Hellish demons to bring about the apocalypse. I was the only one in the store.
177 La Brea
This was perhaps the most charming stop of the afternoon, as I was left feeling I’d found a tiny cave filled with bohemian wonders that I’d never see anywhere else (except maybe Johnny Depp’s closet). It’s tiny, bringing back cramped memories of my NYC studio “apartment,” and every inch of space is used to display a spectacular assortment of vintage Hawaiian/resort shirts, indigo dyed clothing of all varieties (come to find out much of it done by hand in the French couple owner’s backyard), Japanese boro accessories, scarves (to keep the 85-degree chill off your neck) and southwestern jewelry cooler-though-pricier than at the doomy Kelly Cole.
I could have lingered in this bazaar setting all afternoon, but there was a significant incense storm front rolling in that drove me curbside (along with creeping claustrophobia), but I will definitely be back. All the men shopping here looked like professional soccer players, and the women looked like the kind that love professional soccer players.
153 La Brea Ave.
This place was my last stop of the day, not counting Wirsthaus (345 La Brea Ave), a beer garden worth the trip alone if you’re into giant pretzels, German brews, and drinking out of a glass boot. I liked General Quarters more than any other store on my spree, not just because Blair the owner gave me the VIP treatment way before he knew I was there writing a piece for Heddels, but because this is our “Gap.” From head to toe, it’s one-stop-shopping to outfit yourself in a multitude of brands that best represent the current state of raw denim, heritage workwear and accessories.
Tellason, Rogue Territory, Filson, Tanner Goods and lots more brands stock the shelves, but the thing that really caught my eye was Blair’s personally designed line of limited edition Mexican Biker Rings, chunky hunks of brass and silver featuring vintage imagery like scorpions, diving helmets, a skull and crossbones and more. (Had I not been chaperoned by my girlfriend, I likely would have walked out with one for each finger.) Blair was in the know. In addition to being friendly with just about everyone in every store on the avenue (he was the one who told me about the home dyers at Trading Post), he also told me that this was the most densely Jewish neighborhood in all of Los Angeles. Suddenly, all the men and women in traditional dress and old signs in Hebrew made sense, and I felt a lot closer to my haunts on NYC’s lower east side (I’d do a lot for some Katz’s pastrami right now).
Blair shared all this on his way to showing me his new barbershop, Gloss-O (137 La Brea Ave), a few doors down. In a perfect world, I’ll have a rundown of that place in a future piece. Until then, I now feel like La Brea is a home away from my adopted beachside home.
Next time I head to this part of town, maybe I’ll have worked up enough courage to poke my head in pop star Drake’s gleaming, signless store, OVO (130 La Brea Ave). Through the windows, it looked like there were more painfully cool employees than items of clothing for sale. And everything had a big creepy owl logo. Crazy kids…