A classic example of Los Angeles movie-theater architecture from the early days of cinema, the Vista on Sunset Boulevard in Los Feliz is a landmark. Built in 1923, it has been a part of the LA urban landscape for nearly a century, from the silent-film era through to the recent “La La Land,” which can be seen promotoed on the theater marquee.
When the late legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the 1963 film classic “Cleopatra” in 1963, she unlikely never imagined that her likeness would appear as street art on a now hip stretch of Faifax Avenue in Hollywood. But so it is.
Film immortalizes. Street art, though usually ephemeral, has the power to do so, too, when photographed, now more than ever in the hyper image-capturing world thanks to the billions of us and our default digital habits via iPhones, Instagram and other social media.
This wheat-pasted artwork of Taylor will fade, be torn away or scraped off and disappear. But it has indelibly left itself in the memories of its viewers everywhere it appears whether on the streets of LA or as images saved across the global strata of devices and the cloud.
The artwork is signed by “Van” (no relation to the Van of this blog) and was put up on the window of an emptied retail space that has already been on the receiving end of the graffiti-tagging ritual that descends upon storefronts when a tenant leaves. The neighborhood is neither gritty nor overrun with graffiti, but given its hipster retail quotient (“HRQ”), it has become a home for an above-average volume of street art and, with it, the camptrail of graffiti art and sticker-bombed spaces.
This is due to an unusual confluence of Los Angeles geography, landmarks and neighboring institutions that draws an ideal demographic and market for style-centric retail and street art. At least a half-dozen shops catering to serious sneakerheads and street style sartorialists line both sides of Fairfax Avenue in a short segment between Melrose and Oakwood avenues. These include Crooks and Castles, Diamond Supply, Supreme and Hall of Fame.
The strip is also home to the legenday Canter’s Deli, a long-time late-night hangout for bands and entertainment industry types. Fairfax High School is here, too, where on school days thousands of students traffick in and out of the area.
At one end of the stretch is Melrose itself, one of LA’s most-established and fashionable shopping destinations for designer clothing, high-end and street. At the other end is CBS Television City, and a little further south, Farmers Market and the Grove. For those selling premium, limited edition Nikes and Addidas and complimenting these with hoodies and caps, the neighborhood became an epicenter for a market eager to buy their wares.
As for Elizabeth Taylor and Van’s artwork, she in her glorious, braided Cleopatra hairstyle looks fittingly contemporary. If women (or a dude, for that matter) walked out of the Supreme store with that hair and make-up, it would seem perfectly normal, just another of the myriad styles either intentionally or unwittingly drawing on and referencing pop cultural influences of the recent aughts and late Twentieth Century. Late 1970s disco culture tapped into the chic of the Egytpian-via-Hollywood braids look. It was part of a pornstar’s circa-early-1980’s look in the movie “Boogie Nights.”
For much of her early and middle career, Taylor was a beauty and style icon. She was also the subject of one of the world’s foremost and most famous artists of the post-modern pop-art era, Andy Warhol. Until her passing, she was Hollywood royalty, at the apex of the “A” list before if was even called that, relevant at a distance even long after she was no longer appearing in blockbuster movies and away from the limelight.
In a way then, Taylor is exactly right where she should be immortalized as street art.
The logo for Intelligentsia Coffee’s “Black Cat” Espresso is the head of a black cat. It’s a bold and literal graphic with class and style, rendered so that the cat’s head is seen from a 3/4-angle, giving it some visual dimensionality.
Intelligentsia has put the Black Cat logo on some of the various cups and saucers it uses at its various architecturally-inspired cafes. Transferring the branding across these is a straightforward 1:1 application of the literal logo. Sometimes, whether you’re drinking Black Cat espresso or not, you get your coffee served in one of these Black Cat-branded cups, and these look pretty cool.
But Intelligentsia has also created some variations of the logo and occasionally, if you’re lucky, you’ll get your coffee served in a black ceramic cup and saucer, where the Black Cat logo is rendered in a lightened gold hue. It’s elegant its knocked-out contrast to the black ceramic.
When you get your cappucino served with this black cup and saucer set, it’s kind of special. The black and gold add another layer of smart sophistication and a dash of mystique to the brand. That the cat is in gold instead of black is a deft touch that, for those familiar with the usual logo presentation, may be seen as an aesthetically clever and playful twist on a familiar and already likeable and strong visual cue.
All this further supports the larger Intelligentsia Coffee brand and reinforces the company’s reputation for great design and well-defined sense of style, whether expressed in the architectural design of its cafes or the form factor of its ceramic mugs or the high-graphical aesthetic of its coffee packaging and t-shirts.
This decorative installation artwork at the Converse concept store in Santa Monica, in Los Angeles, is a spooky and clever visual conceit. At a distance and without the context of the store, the viewer would likely be unable to perceive that the artwork is comprised of hundreds of Converse sneakers in various monochromatic shades. Up close, the viewer might fail to perceive that the composition of the sneakers forms a creepy human skull-like image. It’s briliant, if a little dark, but edgy and totally “on brand” for the fashion shoe company.
Last weekend, we stumbled upon this throw pillow with the words “Locals Only” embroidered on it at the Mollusk Surf Shop in Silver Lake in Los Angeles. The pillow is a funny, cute mash-up of old-school, cliched surf-culture sentiment and a folksy, homespun style more fitting in grandma’s living room than a surfer fort at Lunada Bay. It’s not the kind of item that the average surf shop would stock, but then Mollusk is not an average surf shop and Silver Lake is not your average surf shop locale. It’s not a laidback seaside surf haven. That there’s even a surf shop in Silver Lake at all is an anomaly.
Mollusk originated in San Francisco where it made a name for itself that traveled far beyond the Bay Area. It established a style and a reputation for great taste. And for selling interesting, quality surfboards from shapers who made their boards by hand and were influenced by retro designs. Whether it was a shortboard, longboard for a 1970s-inspired “mid-length” board with a single fin, by and large many of these surfboard makers themselves appreciated design and style and their aesthetic tastes were reflected in their boards. (And, by the way, yes, we surf and we enjoy nerding out on this stuff.)
Then Mollusk opened up branches in LA. One is in Venice, LA’s infamous and gritty (if now largely gentrified) beach town. It’s not a mecca of great surfing nor great waves. In fact, the surf at Venice Beach sucks most of the time. But it is a block from the beach and central for the greater LA metro area, and it’s a hub for a creative surfer community. Surfers still paddle out into the waves at the Venice breakwater most days in spite of the poor surf conditions.
Then there’s Silver Lake. It doesn’t have Venice’s location or vibe, but there’s a niche demographic overlap. SLake is home to a class of fashionable creative types (music, film, art, advertising, design), both the moneyed kind and the less-moneyed aspiring kind, and it’s a magnet for a generation of hipsters, some of whom surf or pretend to. Mollusk is right at home here and yet it’s also totally legit, albeit with those ironic, stylish “Locals Only” throw pillows strategically placed in the store.
“Locals Only” has come a long way. It was the kind of thing that one often encountered back in the ’70s and ’80s in the form of crudley spray-painted graffiti near remote or hardcore surf spots along Pacific Coast Highway or at a handlulf of certain “localised” beaches in the string of seaside communities up and down the California coast or in Hawaii. It was a warning to outsiders, one tinged with menace, not to surf that beach … or else. This localism was the harder-edged face of surf culture. So to see those words rendered on the kind of soft, cuddly pillow you might cozy up to on a sofa while sipping a cup of tea and savoring the prose of a Maya Angelou novel, well, it’s funny and brilliant. Its trick is how it both deflates the inherent threat and danger associated with those words while in another way making those words even scarier.
The Parisian clothing and retail brand A.P.C. recently opened a shop in Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Like may of this French fashion label’s stores, whether it’s in Tokyo, Paris or New York, this new LA outpost has its own distinct interior design aesthetic, different from all the other A.P.C. stores, yet inscrutably “on brand” in its warm minimalism.
A.P.C. stores embrace the constraints and quirks of the space they occupy and subtly absorb the character of the surrounding neighborhoods they’re in. At the Silver Lake store, the tiered shelving system is the foremost feature of the space. It’s a piece of architecture in and of itself within the shop space, built in smack in the center of the store and easily eating up much of the architectural footprint. Customers can walk through it.
The plain distilled earthiness of the wood suggests a casual, clean organic aesthetic in sync with the Southern California “canyon spirit” style, but the thin bars of LED lights augment this with a restrained hint of the Hollywood glamor. All in all, it sweetly aligns with the the clothing brand’s style of fashion.