Over the past ten years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time and money on our shared interest in premium denim, heritage brands and workwear… or, as Tony Soprano might say, “this thing of ours.” (And like organized crime, there are certain things that only seem to make sense in this world—“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” = ”Forget the superior technology of the zipper and let’s all wrestle with a button fly!”) But it’s not since joining the team here at Heddels that I’ve been able to meet the makers, pick the brains of the influencers, and generally experience the industry as more than equal parts observer and consumer.
Last month I officially lost my amateur status by attending Inspiration LA, the “Annual Vintage Clothing & Americana Fashion World Gathering,” presented by the legendary fashion author and impresario, Rin Tanaka (see our coverage of last year’s event here, and look forward to more coverage soon). In case you’re wondering what it’s like when a bunch of Denim Heads get together, here’s the skinny.
For starters, I felt very underdressed. Granted, by Southern California standards, I was almost in formal wear (shorts, Vans, and a t-shirt), but to attend this event a great many—dare I say a majority?—came ready for cosplay, decked out in full vintage garb…cowpokes, gentleman greasers, and ladies outfitted in bangs-to-pumps Betty Page.
The vintage clothing boom was (or so I thought) at its zenith back when I was in college, a time known to historians as the late 1980s. But I’d never seen so many folks who either seized an opportunity to wear the choicest bits of their collection and/or celebrate the fact they dress like that all the time. Either way, I’m a firm believer in choosing your own adventure, so more power to them.
(Though by the end of the afternoon, the costumey nature of many fellow attendees had me feeling like I’d landed at a cousin of the Renaissance Fair, strolling lute players and flagons of mead swapped for piped in rockabilly and single origin coffee.)
I’d heard “chatter” that this year’s Inspiration was much less attended than events past, but it seemed like a pretty full house to me (and the increase to a $20 cover didn’t seem unreasonable, though decades in NYC and now LA has likely made me immune to sticker shock).
Of all the booths and businesses throughout the sizeable convention center-like space, I would estimate that half were high end vintage clothing/accessory dealers (think $500 Hawaiian shirts from the post-war period and $10k+ pairs of mine-found denim from the early 1900s), and half were new businesses showcasing their brand of clothing and accessories (think PF Flyers and a drool worthy selection of Lewis Leathers).
The vintage dealer booths were certainly interesting (it’s impossible to not be impressed by the cream of the crop of anything), but I wasn’t there to shop. Or spend a car payment on an old belt. Instead, I focused on those looking to gain exposure for their new takes on vintage-inspired looks, and there were some truly exciting offerings. (Bonus: a nicer, more gregarious group of people you’ll not find anywhere.)
It was fun getting to catch up with Matt Brodrick of Freenote Cloth to discuss an upcoming heavy new release of theirs. My professed love of the Freenote line has been well documented on this site, and my admiration and respect largely flows from the fact that Matt and his partner/brother Andrew innovate through fit, finishings and details that genuinely add value. It’s not extraneous flash and hype, just a line of well-made, high quality wardrobe staples that are increasingly becoming an endangered species in menswear. (I know you’ve read about it, but their new Portola Taper is really worth seeking out.)
Unlike most trade shows I’ve been to, there was a decidedly casual, approachable atmosphere to Inspiration. And there are no big corporate facades to hide behind, but there were big overalls.
As more and more brands fall away, unable to compete or simply survive, those who are managing to stick around understand that we are a different breed of customer — one that finds the story and subtext behind a product and brand is at least as important as the more tangible elements.
Companies like Freenote are a small business by any reasonable standard, but contextually they stood out as being a sturdy pillar of the community (much like The Stronghold with their aforementioned Lewis Leathers). But what I found especially exciting and encouraging were the new (at least to me) businesses that are even smaller, catering to a sub niche (maybe even a sub sub niche) and much more driven (I suspect) by passion than profit (though I don’t imagine anyone would mind making a few dollars along the way).
In no particular order, I was really impressed by the bandanas and pins at Odds and Sods, the stunning silver of Good Art, the flat caps of Monsivais & Co., the chain stitched patches and duds of Dixon Rand, and the sensibility driving the Cannonball Collective with their Torn & Frayed denim repair kit. I promise you’ll see more on each of these companies (and others) along with the mavericks that started them right here in the near future.
Besides getting to see old friends and satisfy my professional curiosity, Inspiration was, in a word, fun! I didn’t want to meet everyone (Danny Zuko and Betty Boop, I’m looking at you) and I certainly didn’t want to buy or write about everything I saw, but I find it nourishing to be around others who enthusiastically share my interests and choose to live lives centered around individual expression.
I’ve never been to Comic-Con, but from what I hear it’s not all that different, which is true when there’s a meeting of any tribe, save for occasional spandex. And even though none of us (please don’t make me eat my words) would wear a t-shirt accusing Han of shooting first, I guess we’re as kooky as anyone. Is the guy with the 50s motorcycling cap teetering on his giant noggin a nut? Yes, but he’s our nut, and we’re all in this together.