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How Streetwear-Heavy La Brea Avenue Became a High-End Fairfax

American Rag's denim bar may be legendary, but the future—at least when it comes to La Brea Avenue—is in its shoe department. Step into the pioneering boutique's LA flagship and you might almost miss a sleek display showcasing Puma's latest collab with Stampd, which just so happens to be the newest kid on the block.


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It's not the first time American Rag has stocked the avant-garde streetwear label founded by Colorado-born, San Diego-bred (and now LA-based) designer Chris Stamp. Three years ago, the legendary retailer championed the brand as its first brick-and-mortar stockist, offering a handmade surfboard and a limited-edition Rolex alongside exclusive apparel. (This was before GQ's official nod.) It's no big surprise, then, that Stamp would move into familiar territory for his label's first flagship.

Twelve stories above Hollywood Boulevard on a cool April night, Stamp sits in the penthouse suite of the historic Roosevelt Hotel, where his Puma 2.0launch party is about to kick off. Later, pals like Thomas Pentz (aka Grammy-winning beat maker Diplo), model Karrueche Tran, and Vampire Diaries star Kat Graham will swing by to congratulate the designer, who's fresh off unveiling his boutique on S La Brea Avenue.


Stampd's New Store on La Brea Is As Sleek and Cool As We All Hoped

LA-based Stampd took over a second-floor acting studio for its first brick-and-mortar boutique.

Photo: Stampd

"I was looking on Abbot Kinney, but it was a little too beach directional; I also looked at Melrose Place," Stamp says. "But La Brea—there's a lot of energy going on on that block. It's somewhere I've been going to ever since I initially moved to LA: Union, the Stüssy store way back in the day, and even American Rag."

"There's a lot of energy going on on that block. It's somewhere I've been going to ever since I initially moved to LA."

Like its streetwear-filled sister Fairfax—where Diamond Bakery has been serving kosher bread and cakes since the '60s, long before Diamond Supply Co. opened its doors, points out Alec Banks at The Hundreds—La Brea comes from the same Orthodox Jewish roots. Over time, Yiddish businesses were swapped out with gentile clothing stores and trendy eateries.

"La Brea Avenue, once a monotonous mishmash of carpet stores, car lots, and film processing labs, has been reborn," the LA Times reported back in 1991. American Rag was just six years old (back then, the retailer still operated three other specialty stores on the street), and much like Abbot Kinney's OG bohemians after the GQ-heralded boom, La Brea residents feared its beloved thoroughfare's "Melrose-ation."

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South La Brea Avenue below First Street is home Union, Stüssy, Undefeated, and & Still, seen here in May 2009.

Google Street View

It wasn't until 1992 when Eddie Cruz opened the combo boutique Stüssy Union that La Brea's streetwear scene was born, notes Complex. Now two separate storefronts, back then Stüssy's game-changing California skatewear lived under the same roof as NYC-bred Union's fresh blend of cult-favorite labels, like Japan's Comme des Garçons.

A decade later, Cruz linked up with James Bond to open sneakerhead institution Undefeated (or UNDFTD) next door. Bond, a former music video art director known for being lens-shy, told Hype Beast that he and Cruz "took a sneaker store and made it an environment that you weren't used to seeing—so we took what was California lifestyle, [...] turned it inside out, and put it inside of a store."

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UNDFTD devotees queue up on "Grey Friday" in 2010 for the lifestyle brand's Converse Poorman Weapon capsule collection.

John Pangilinan

"In the early 2000s, no one had even heard of Fairfax, unless you're talking about Canter's," reminisces The Hundreds's Peter Yeh. "But everyone was knee-deep on La Brea. This is where Undefeated first hung up its sign, where Union imported the illest from Japan, and where you could get Stüssy's graphic T-shirts dumb and cheap at American Rag."

Two years ago, UNDFTD jumped over to the street's District La Brea side into a space double its original size. Tapping into the brand's street cred, Nike took over UNDFTD 1.0 for its Air Max pop-up shop last month.

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Union, Stüssy, Undefeated's former space, and & Still in April 2016.

Undefeated 112 1/2 also hosted Drake's first OVO pop-up last year. At $40 for a logo tee and $138 for a white zip-up track jacket, the brand's price tags are a dollar sign or two below that of American Rag's, where basic tees and tanks by cult-fave labels like The Great and T by Alexander Wang will cost you a Benjamin.

OVO's pricing seems more fitting a mile and a half away on Fairfax, where Diamond Supply Co.'s logo shirts and snapbacks range from $30 to $40 and hooded pullovers fall under $100. Same goes for streetwear superstar Supreme, which—if you manage to score a front spot in its notorious lines ahead of a Thursday drop—goes for $40 for a hat and $128 for a crewneck sweater.

Instead, the Canadian rapper snubbed the legendary streetwear stretch and opened his first permanent Stateside outpost a few doors north of First Street on La Brea.


Photos: Inside Drake's Very First Stateside Streetwear Shop on La Brea

Drake's first OVO shop in the US landed on La Brea last December.

Drizzy and Stampd aren't the only ones ditching Fairfax Avenue. Down on La Brea's 400 block, Lucy Akin opened a brick-and-mortar space for her two-year-old e-boutique, Shop Super Street. There, pieces by cult-cool labels like Isabel Marant and Rodarte mingle with skate decks by Palace and apparel from streetwear icons Huf and Stüssy.

Like Stampd's Chris Stamp, Akin also eyed Fairfax and celeb-frequented Melrose before settling on La Brea.

"I went to Supreme all the time, I'd always visit my guys at the [Odd Future] store," she says. "[But] there's not a whole lot of women's clothing on Fairfax [and] I realized that it wouldn't be the right fit for us." The very first space she considered on Melrose was "[too] high-end," she continues.

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Supreme superfans outside of the brand's Fairfax flagship. Even Google captured the brand's notoriously super-long lines on more than one occasion.

Galfrats

Name-checking Japan-inspired menswear shop Union a few blocks up ("they've got great streetwear brands—Palace, Brain Dead, and Gosha Rubchinskiy, which is my favorite"), Akin says that Fairfax's vibe is decidedly more "'local street', whereas La Brea is more imported. All of our brands are from around the world, [they're] not just [from] LA."

Pointing out that La Brea was once dominated by furniture stores and interior decorating studios, Akin says the street has seen a steady but molasses-like change.


Shop Super Street

Shop Super Street owner Lucy Akin opened a brick-and-mortar for her online store on La Brea in September 2015.

Photo: Shop Super Street

Retail real estate firm Madison Marquette, which bought the former Continental Graphics building in late 2008, began its major revamp in 2010. Its development, District La Brea, spans 80,000 square feet across 11 buildings between First and Second Streets. Today, the capsule is home to cool retailer Steven Alan, LA eyewear designer Garrett Leight, and digital menswear brand Bonobos, to name a few, and its retail spaces are "100% leased," says senior project manager Brandt Leitz.

Lest today's La Breans worry about a corporate takeover on their street à la Abbot Kinney, Leitz says it won't happen—at least, not on his watch or on his block.

"Early on [brands] were looking for space in high-density areas in LA, but it didn't fit in with our vision of where we saw the block going as a fashion-forward destination," he says. Big-box retailers like CVS and Ross approached his company as La Brea's profile rose, and Leitz says the company turned down their offers.

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Leitz declined to divulge rents; however, LA Times wrote in '91 that a spot at the corner of La Brea and Third Street was commanding $3.50 per square foot. In comparison and factoring in inflation, today's rents on Melrose Place—€”where Shop Super Street's Lucy Akin and designer Chris Stamp considered opening—€”range from $12 to $15 per square foot, as luxury retail realtor Jay Luchs of Newmark Grubb Wright Frank told us last year.

Leitz says Madison Marquette sees La Brea Avenue becoming "one of the next great streets to shop on in Los Angeles like Abbot Kinney, Melrose, and what Robertson will be again." He adds that a major new player will join District La Brea's lineup this October.

"I can't say who it is yet, but it's a large brand doing their first retail store ever," reveals Leitz. The future of La Brea has arrived, indeed.