I spent a couple days in L.A. last week, and I gotta say, our friends at GQ were onto something when they dubbed it the coolest city on the planet. That’s definitely not how I (nor, presumably, GQ) would’ve described the boot-cut denim capital of North America just a couple years ago, but good things are going on out there these days.
Exhibit A (for me anyway, GQ has its own list here) is the block of La Cienega Boulevard between Melrose and Rosewood, practically around the corner from Urth Caffe, where Vinnie, Drama, and the boys like to lick their wounds after another night of tequila shots and pool parties, but about a million miles away aesthetically. In true L.A. fashion, I stumbled upon the stretch because I couldn’t find a friggin’ cab, and had decided to walk down La Cienega to my intended destination of South Willard. I never made it to Ryan Conder’s smartly edited men’s boutique on 3rd Street (which is well worth a visit next time you’re in town), thanks to an unplanned detour to Pete Arbeleaz’s modern-rustic shop, Craft Workwear. “Guys are starting to get smarter about what they buy, not so fashion driven. They’re starting to understand the significance of quality when you buy something,” said Arbeleaz, who previously worked at Union before opening Craft in July of 2009. “It’s a new concept for men not just in L.A. but a lot of places,” he added. “‘I don’t need to have the cool-looking thing but the thing that’s going to last for 10 years.’” I’d venture to guess most of ‘em had been around a lot longer than 10 years, which bodes pretty well for all you guys who bought their Red Wings from J.Crew or Gilt.
Arbeleaz said he started Craft because “I wanted something that wasn’t quite so fashion driven, that was focused more on quality and craftsmanship and supporting smaller brands and local brands.” It doesn’t get any more local than RTH, which had opened its first-ever store just a few doors up the block less than a week before my visit.
I knew I was in good company when I walked into the place. “I saw you walk by earlier,” said owner Rene Holguin. “I remember because it’s so rare to see a guy around here in hard-soled shoes.” (Okay, so maybe L.A. still has a ways to go in the footwear department.)
Holguin, who’s father once owned the Laramie boot company in El Paso, previously worked for Ralph Lauren and Levi’s, and turned a hobby into a real business with RTH. Everything you see that’s made of leather is his; the clothes are pretty much all Ralph Lauren vintage. All the pieces, from small wallets (which start at less than $40) to roomy tote bags, are made to be used. “They’re actually meant to age,” Holguin said. “The dirt and the wear of every day makes the leather look better.” Who knows, maybe someday Craft will be selling vintage RTH alongside those Red Wings.
A few more photos: