LOS ANGELES — High fashion in the northernmost neighborhoods of North Hollywood, where mutts bark incessantly and departing planes from nearby Bob Hope Airport rattle windows, is beyond a contradiction in terms. Unless, that is, you count the four designers behind the rock-inspired men’s line Elmer Ave, who on a recent summer night were buzzing around the confines of their ramshackle NoHo headquarters in sartorial overdrive. “Welcome to haute couture,” Elmer Ave co-founder Jonny Day said to a few invited guests. “Beer?”
The evening’s mission: Screenprint as many blazer and tuxedo jacket pieces as possible for the label’s upcoming spring 2008 production line, on exhibit at Pool this week in Las Vegas. For the job, Day and his compadres—Collin Pulsipher, Ward Robinson and Sean Murphy—used a jury-rigged screenprinting table lined with scraps of Vogue articles and near-vintage Playboy spreads (“That’s for morale, really,” Murphy, 33, explained).
Printing fat, drippy pinstripes onto English wool isn’t always precise. Around 10 p.m., Murphy shot a look of vague concern at Day over a sleeve sporting a streak that has veered slightly off its intended path.
“It’s okay,” Day replied. “That’s the beauty of it. Perfection is not what we’re going for. It’s still a kick-ass jacket.”
Not long ago, only the rich and infamous had access to Elmer Ave, which, for its custom line, takes vintage pieces, hand-paints them and sells them privately for between $1,200 and $5,000 a pop. Tommy Lee has been seen misbehaving around L.A. with the brand’s street-sign logo printed on his left sleeve. So have Dave Navarro, Marilyn Manson and will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. But with a production line now entering its second season, Elmer Ave is looking to expand its reach to the masses, or at least to guys who are just like them: rooted in masculinity, yet besotted by mascara.
“We’re going a little more dandy this time around,” Day, also 33, said of the new line. “We wanted it to be something accessible, but still extremely fitted. In some ways the quality is better than our custom line. I love the freedom of a jacket that fits the way you want it to, which can be very difficult with custom vintage pieces.”
For spring, the group has created three tuxedo jackets and three two-button blazers, with graphics ranging from the envelope-pushing to the envelop-incinerating. Simple, red-and-gray pinstripes traverse the slender “Eiffel” blazer, for example, while “The Duke” tuxedo jacket features an elaborate Elmer Ave coat of arms screenprinted on the back, accessorized with sleeve pendants and custom gold crest buttons. Cut, sewn and embellished all in L.A., the jackets are made of either a wool/poly blend or a wool/silk blend with a crisp, poly/taffeta interior lining. Soft ink is used on each piece, saturating the fabric with rich color without creating a starchy hand. “It’s really for the guy who is going out for a night on the town and needs to kick it up a notch,” Murphy said.
Production jackets and blazers retail from $430 to $880—still a high price point for Elmer Ave fans who may live gig-to-gig. For those who still want a piece of the collection, spring 2008 includes two new tuxedo shirts and two button-front shirts with engraved buttons, subtle screenprinted graphics and gold-plated or sterling silver cufflinks (retail prices range from $290 to $430). A collection of military and outlaw-motif T’s will also be offered from $85 to $110. Bottoms, ties and cravats are tentatively planned for future seasons.
Founded in 2002, Elmer Ave is the second apparel line for Day and Murphy, who launched the skate brand Afroman Productions in 1997 while attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Clearly, the duo didn’t fit into Provo’s conservative scene. In 1999, they moved to a North Hollywood ranch house at 5664 Elmer Avenue, also known as “The Compound,” which now features a rusted-out school bus, a tree house that designer Ward Robinson calls home, an attic “apartment” where Collin Pulsipher lodges, and a rotating tenant pool of artists, musicians and motorcycle mechanics. “Tonight’s scene is nothing. It’s quiet,” Day said while on a screenprinting break. “You should be here for one of our BB-gun fights.”
Elmer Ave’s ready-to-wear line will be available at Bill Hallman Boutique in Atlanta, Friction in Dallas, Bonnie & Clyde’s in Chicago and LEO in Miami Beach. Day said he also has his sights set on expanding to specialty stores in Dubai, London and Stockholm, among other cities.
Conspicuously missing from the retail mix, of course, is L.A. Though Day and colleagues have given glimpses of the line at Compound fashion shows and a recent party at Les Deux in Hollywood, L.A. still leaves something to be desired when it comes to selling the production line, Day said. “It’s not as though there are no good shops here, we’re just not always stoked by what we see. We always do better by creating our own scene.”