Dennis Calvero, owner of the streetwear brand Crooks & Castles, stood in the middle of his 4,000-square-foot flagship store on Fairfax Avenue and, with a sly grin, nodded and looked at his clothing empire.
A customized bluish-gray Mercedes-Benz station wagon sat just inside the store’s entrance. Snapback hats, belts and socks waited inside custom-made walnut cabinets. Customers sifted through jeans, shorts and graphic T-shirts.
He stepped outside and looked at the other streetwear stores quickly joining the landscape.
Along North Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, once home to Jewish delicatessens, butcher shops and thrift stores, a new fashion and cultural revolution is underway.
Lining two blocks on North Fairfax – south of Melrose Avenue and north of The Grove – popular streetwear brands Crooks & Castles, Supreme, Flight Club, Hall of Fame, The Hundreds and Diamond Supply Co. have set up boutiques.
Supreme got here first, in 2004. Others followed, and a couple of years ago Fairfax became streetwear central.
Young men and women walk around, decked out in crisp caps, ironed printed T-shirts, slim-fit pants and new basketball shoes. Like Melrose Avenue, it’s common to see mainstream celebrities here.
“This is the spot for streetwear,” said Nick McCall, a 19-year-old from Las Vegas carrying $300 in goods. “We have (streetwear) stores in Vegas, but it’s not like this.”
Once a cult following, streetwear has become an annual multibillion-dollar industry, said Bill Nosal, vice president of young men’s clothing at Magic Marketplace, a premier biannual trade show. Streetwear is a fusion and an evolution of skate, surf, hip-hop, urban and high couture fashion.
There was a time, decades ago, when people were pigeonholed into a set of clothing, Nosal said. Surfers and skaters would only wear Stussy or Quiksilver. Those into urban fashion wore Fubu and Rocawear.
But the internet and the social-media explosion, Nosal figures, means young adults see new fashions from around the world … quickly.
“All of these cultures have merged,” Nosal said. “Now you see kids in the street who have a far more broad spectrum of what they are wearing. … It’s like music. The kids are grabbing their style from so many different influences and it’s constantly evolving.”
Aaron Levant is the founder of Agenda, a streetwear trade show. He said having a row of stores along Fairfax Avenue has spurred the popularity of streetwear: “Like Melrose and La Brea, these shopping districts allow consumers to interact, engage and experience what the streetwear brand is all about.”
On Memorial Day weekend, Shay Sanchez, on his way home from performing in Arizona, stopped off to shop at Fairfax.
The 24-year-old Bay Area rapper, wearing a White Sox cap, Nike Air Jordans and a backpack that sprouts wings, said streetwear isn’t defined by what you wear so much as the attitude – or swagger – one carries when wearing the clothing.
“It just has to pop,” Sanchez said. “It’s whatever catches someone’s attention, head-turning and flashy. And I like being the center of attention.”
To be that center of attention, you’ll have to shell out some money. Streetwear doesn’t run cheap. A plain T-shirt with a small Crooks & Castles name on the tag can cost $30. Supreme sells tank tops for $60. Basketball shoes retail $100 to $200, but rare or limited edition ones from Nike’s Air Jordan brand that sell out quickly can easily cost $450 to $1,200 at Flight Club.
This stretch of Fairfax Avenue became the streetwear capital through a combination of rising rent and redevelopment, said Jacqueline Canter, a manager at Canter’s Deli and chairwoman of the Fairfax Business Association of Los Angeles.
The Fairfax Avenue area has historically been a gateway to Jewish immigrants and once boasted the largest population of Jews in Los Angeles, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.
Canter, the 54-year-old granddaughter of the founder of the famed deli, on North Fairfax since 1948, remembers walking around the block and hearing Yiddish music blasting from music stores and seeing Jewish women come out of Leader Beauty Shop with their hair in a bouffant.
“It’s a different vibe now,” she said. “Instead of seeing senior citizens and hearing Yiddish music, I see a younger crowd, hipsters and hear rap music.”
In 1997, Canter was a board member of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative Fairfax Village when it received a $300,000 grant from the city to improve the Fairfax District. New street lights, a crosswalk and decorative concrete sidewalks went in.
A developer began purchasing buildings around the same time, then quickly boosted the rent, pushing out many mom-and-pop Jewish shops that had been there for decades, she said.
Canter doesn’t mind mingling with the youth culture: “As long as we respect each other and get along.”
Calvero, the co-founder of Crooks & Castles, said the first office for his clothing company was on Fairfax, a block away from his store now.
When Crooks started becoming popular, he opened a storefront on Melrose, then moved it a couple of years later to Sunset Boulevard.
But seeing other streetwear brands line the old block, Calvero said he always wanted to come back to Fairfax. When the National Council of Jewish Women’s thrift shop closed, Calvero grabbed the lease and opened there last year.
“This is where we wanted to be,” he said. “This is where we belong. We’re home.”
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