LOS ANGELES — The problem with endangered creatures is that by the time you notice they’re in trouble, it’s probably too late to get them back. The same can probably be said of subcultures. Beautiful or colorful, abnormal and strange, largely unnoticed but distinct, members of subcultures consume, create, hustle and express themselves in radically different ways from the larger, dull mass of humanity, which makes them both fugitive and special. It also tends to sound the death knell.
This thought came to mind last week in Venice, where Dior Men took over a major crossroads in the trendy Los Angeles beach district that for decades symbolized skate and surf culture to highlight stage its menswear fashion show. Etienne Russo, the mastermind behind production house Villa Eugénie, painted the street blue and created a 30ft fabric wave backdrop for the event – a one night stunt, or 10 minutes if you don’t factor in an hour-long wait for the action to begin, months of preparation, and any extras necessary for the big bosses at Dior to realize the brand needed a therapeutic infusion.
A California intravenous drip was prescribed. This took the form of designer Eli Russell Linnetz of the ERL label. A Zelig fashion world, Mr. Linnetz grew up at the beach. Although he studied film, Mr. Linnetz appeared in Kanye West’s design studio and made videos for Teyana Taylor; was Lady Gaga’s personal photographer; dress up ASAP Rocky; is a finalist for the prestigious LVMH prize; and is a quirky ubiquitous presence in the realms of style.
However, the Venice he would have known as a child was very different from the city of today. While Abbott Kinney Boulevard (“AK” to locals), the city’s main commercial thoroughfare, was then a motley stretch of dive bars and mom-and-pop shops, it’s now a slick stretch of high-end retail stores. range, chic restaurants and expensive wines. bars. Yes, you still see surfers in wetsuits riding bikes with short boards under their arms and locals dressed in motley outfits of tie-dye, fleece, Birkenstocks and checkerboard Vans. But the skate-rat-surf-hippie vibe that once defined the place has been largely supplanted by the cashmere-hooded chic of the brothers who have transformed Venice into one of the West Coast’s premier tech hubs.
A defining element of the surf and skate cultures was that, for those involved in these pursuits, day jobs were a way to pay the bills so you could do what you loved. (Ask any Southern California entrepreneur whose crew disappears when the surf is up.) The way people dressed for these sports was improvisational, unconscious, and driven largely by appearance. practicality and economy. One of the pioneers of surfing was hotelier Sean MacPherson’s mother, Janet, who, in the days when wetsuits weren’t commonplace, scavenged cashmere sweaters from Goodwill to insulate her from the freezing Pacific. . It’s the vibe Kim Jones, the creative director of Dior Men, was presumably looking for when he brought in Mr. Linnetz as a collaborator.
And while the partnership produced things that were certainly intriguing in terms of style, palette, embellishment and proportion – sweeping sweatpants, bejeweled and oversized shorts, beaded fisherman sweaters, wave-cut heathered hoodies, mini trainers so big, it looked like the wearers had forgotten to take them out of the box – the result left a viewer glum
Forget the obligatory quilted silk-satin suits in Dior’s signature dove-grey (and said to have been inspired by Gianfranco Ferré’s time at the brand), the essence of the show was simply the tiny sequined, shoulder-worn, inspired satchels by the skater keychain wallets, sure to make cash registers sing the world over.
Meanwhile, many local subcultures have been marginalized to the point of extinction. Venice, like much of Southern California, is no longer a place where anyone can live comfortably on the fringes. A fashion journal is not a natural place to point out the extremes of the state’s homelessness problem or even necessarily to note the ubiquity of LA’s tent camps and the fact that people are reduced to sleep under bus shelters or highway overpasses.
Yet, on his way to the Dior Men show, this reviewer passed a typical sight – a man wandering the pavement, dragging a blanket worn over his head as if he were a defeated warrior. The final look for the Dior Men show happened to be a model wearing a lush cape and trailing what looked like a blanket.
The visual echo was surely unconscious on Mr. Linnetz’s part. At least I hope that was the case.