By  on November 12, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — Rvca, one of surf/skate’s hottest art-driven brands, opened its first branded store last week in the countercultural cradle of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.

The 4,300-square-foot flagship occupies a corner storefront in an early 20th-century Victorian building at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets. In contrast to the space’s previous occupant, Gap, Rvca’s interior is decidedly vamp, with black columns, dark exposed ceilings and brick walls. Black velvet–curtained dressing rooms feature large, black enamel, gilded mirrors.

Merchandise—mostly men’s sportswear, with a corner reserved for its developing women’s business—is shown on tables and garment racks.

Window displays were designed by L.A.-based folk artist Claire Rojas, and pro-skateboarder and painter Ed Templeton, whose artwork graces Rvca T-shirts that retail for $25 to $40.

The district’s eight-block commercial strip on Haight Street is an eclectic mix of vintage clothing stores, skate shops and independent specialty boutiques like Villains, a Haight-Ashbury institution that boasts three doors in the neighborhood.

“The culture here really promotes the subculture we’re a part of,” the Rvca vice-president of retail, Chris Carey, told DNR last week in an interview at the new store, which includes a gallery featuring artists from Rvca’s Artist Network Program.

Carey said Rvca (pronounced Roo-kah) chose San Francisco for its inaugural store because of northern California’s surf/skate heritage. The label’s founder, P.M. Tenore, is also a native.

The store’s modus operandi, Carey explained, was to build business by making ties with like-minded artists, musicians and action-sport athletes. As part of this cross-marketing initiative, Rvca publishes a quarterly magazine reporting on cutting-edge arts and culture, along with Rvca-curated art books. It also sponsors skateboarding and surfing teams.

With 40 employees, the Costa Mesa, Calif.–based company sells its T-shirts, hoodies, denim and flannel button-front shirts in 1,000 U.S. specialty stores in 12 countries.

Other stores are planned, with locations in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and Sydney as likely target markets.

In the two weeks before its grand opening, Carey said customers of a wide age range stopped by, including comedian and San Franciscan Robin Williams, who bought two knit caps and a large silver belt buckle with clasping hands.

Carey also recalled another Rvca fan who traveled from Sacramento an hour away in search of a particular $79 flannel buttondown shirt. “We were sold out of his size,” said Carey, who was so impressed by the teenager’s fashion mission that he gave the customer a free hoodie sweatshirt. “He said he was now switching over from Volcom,” Carey said with a laugh.

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