In Los Angeles' Arts District, Al's General Store showcases tomorrow's new designers
On Hewitt Street, at the corner of Traction Avenue, the Arts District's main street, Al's General Store brings together Elwood, Lorraine and Best Regards.
Three emerging brands, all connected, in their own way, to vintage fashion and bringing a new freshness to the Arts District’s fashion scene. Historically the land of artists since the 70s, a hotspot for Los Angeles' punk and rock communities, then an epicenter for new art galleries in the early 2010s, the Arts District then underwent spectacular real estate and retail development, which came to a slowdown with Covid.
Three years after the end of the pandemic, and the closure of numerous boutiques such as Phillip Lim, Guerilla Atelier, Hammer & Spear gallery, Al's General Store could mark the new fashion dynamic of a neighborhood that already boasts Dover Street Market and Departamento. FashionNetwork.com spoke to Colin T. McCarthy, founder and creative director of Al's General Store.
FNW: With Al's Bar, Al's General Store has opened in a historic location. How did that come about?
Colin T. McCarthy: Al's General store is located within a building built in 1905, owned by Mark Verge. Here was Al's Bar, a very popular punk club from 1979 to 1999, next door to the American Hotel, a unique youth hostel in the Arts District. Al's Bar was a legend of the Arts District. Nirvana did its first show here outside of Seattle. Slash of Guns 'N' Roses did his first professional gig. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beck played here.
FNW: How did you get involved with Al General's Store?
C.T.M: I'm originally from Colorado. After ten years in New York, notably at Balthazar restaurant, I moved to Los Angeles and took over part of ownership of former Prize of Venice on Abbot Kinney before moving it to Lincoln Boulevard in Venice. After it closed, I left to help reopen a restaurant in Santa Monica. Mark Verge was also the owner of the Santa Monica restaurant which was our first project together. He gave me the opportunity to take over the space where we first tried to develop the Rogue brand before creating Rogue Collective, a concept bringing together creative and emerging brands, now united under the name of Al's General Store.
FNW: How does Al's General Store work?
C.T.M.: Al's General Store is a set of partnerships forged with other brands to bring their showroom experience. Fashion brands sign for a lease and I help them to curate their entire footprint. Instead of rooms turning over to different brands, what I would rather see is us together incubating other smaller fashion or interior design or skincare brands within this space. We want continuing adding layers of creativity. Today, the shopping experience provided by Elwood, Lorraine and Best Regards is phenomenal.
FNW: So fashion brands still need physical retail?
C.T.M: I think the strongest, smartest way to first establish yourself is online. Scaling digitally is the path of least resistance, generally speaking. Brands like Elwood are great examples of who I personally think is doing it best. There comes a time though where that digital experience can be prohibitive which is where unique, in-person experiences like the one they've created at Al's become interesting. They can act as a physical touch point for an existing online experience, and opportunity for new and repeat clients to touch and feel the product in-person, sometimes for the first time, before becoming lifelong online customers.
FNW: How has the Arts District evolved since Covid?
C.T.M: 2017 was a great year. Design boutique Hammer & Spear was there. Carl Louisville, the founder of Guerilla Atelier, now part of Westfield Century mall, was the Arts District's fashion figurehead. Guerilla was the first store in the Arts District to offer exclusive designer goods usually found only on the Westside. The demand was there, and other brands followed such as Shinola, Dover Street Market, and Phillip Lim. Business in the Arts District was incredible in 2018. 2019 was a terrible year, nothing but development. It felt like we were in a construction zone, with many residential building projects coming out of the ground. Then, at the beginning of January 2020, business boomed again. And Covid arrived.
FNW: What's the current trend?
C.T.M: After Covid, a new era is dawning, more focused on restaurants than on retail and fashion. New restaurants like Yunomi and soon Butcher's Daughters in the new Free Market Arts District Los Angeles are opening their doors. Some buildings have been empty for a number of years, and real estate speculation is on the rise. The price of real estate has reached such high levels that it limits the number of businesses willing to venture in, but the attention is still very strong. Dior has long been interested in a space to develop its new projects. One day, major global brands may take over our space. It's up to us to imagine what will happen between today and tomorrow.
FNW: Could you replicate this concept elsewhere?
C.T.M: Anything is possible, but first we want to keep exploring what we can do in this 3,000-square-foot space. There's a lot to do. We all have other projects on the side and everyone is very happy to be here today.
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