LOS ANGELES — In a world filled with disposable fashions, Parabellum cofounders Jason Jones and Mike Feldman are outspoken advocates of durable accessories — and they are taking that advocacy to the street with their brand’s first physical retail location opening Friday in West Hollywood, Calif.
Neighboring Paul Smith on the highly visible corner of Melrose Avenue and Harper Avenue, the 1,100-square-foot store contains the widest breadth of Parabellum merchandise available anywhere, including some 65 styles of belts that are showcased in a belt library on one side of the space. Priced from $125 to $2,800 at retail, Parabellum’s accessories are crafted from American bison leather, military-grade ceramic and Kevlar.
During a tour of the store, which is not too far from an antique shop Jones’ father had on Western Avenue for decades, Feldman said, “I don’t think this is a big step for us. Jason literally grew up in a store. People have been coming to our workshop for years, and they really dig it. They like the hides and the antiques. We just wanted to take that workshop and polish it up a bit.”
The white brick exterior and interior walls of the Parabellum location are vestiges of its previous incarnations as Ever and Civilianaire, but the store is undeniably a Parabellum creation and peppered with the brand’s signature design elements. Steel-and-glass display tables have legs shaped like arrows (Parabellum’s arrow key chains are best-selling items) and 45-degree-angle edges on their tops are reminiscent of a construction technique used in Parabellum’s small leather goods to prevent them from catching on pockets. The outside of the store is emblazoned with shifting Latin sayings — the inaugural saying translates to “united we stand, divided we fall” — and an entrance at a 45-degree-angle, a sign to Jones that the space “was meant for us.”
“We invested more in fixtures and presentation than in rebuilding the space,” explained Feldman, describing the store as encompassing “a sea of glass.” It’s not all glass at the store, though. There’s an eight-foot black bison leather couch with bear-claw feet (Parabellum has miniature versions of the bear-claw feet on select purse styles); a charcoal work depicting a bison by artist Rick Shaefer, and an array of antiques from Jones’ personal stash, notably several obelisk figurines.
“The bulk of this was on my father’s desk when he died. He collected obelisks,” said Jones of the antiques in the store. “They have a personal meaning to us, and the concept of the store was to show who we are. It’s not just about our product.”
The merchandise is presented without barriers, so customers can easily view how each bag, wallet or belt is distinct and touch the textured bison leather. Talking about a bag in the store, Jones explained it was built from 150 pieces and they all came from the same hide for color consistency. Turning to a belt, he revealed how the leather that made it started with material from the bison’s shoulder and went to material from its belly to make it uniquely detailed. “A commercial brand wouldn’t have that kind of individuality,” he said, adding, “The intention is always to make things that last forever.”
The store’s assortment features collaboration merchandise such as Parabellum’s eyewear with Oliver Peoples and furniture with Blackman Cruz, as well as the brand’s women’s styles, which were launched in 2012 and now account for half of its sales.
Difficult parking and infrequent foot traffic plague street retail in Los Angeles, but Feldman and Jones don’t foresee those issues affecting Parabellum’s Melrose Avenue location too much. “There is a nail salon next door, and there’s a parade of pretty ladies,” laughed Jones. Reformation, Vivienne Westwood, Decades and Original Penguin are nearby as well.
Feldman feels the West Hollywood portion of Melrose Avenue is experiencing a retail comeback. “All you have to do is drive down the street to see a lot of places trading hands,” he said. “It was really hot and then other neighborhoods popped up — Venice and downtown — and that diminished the strength of West Hollywood. Those other places aren’t going away, but this section of Melrose is seeing a resurgence because L.A. is getting bigger and better and maturing.”
Industry sources estimated that fashion brands along the stretch of Melrose Avenue where Parabellum’s store is located regularly generate $1,000 in annual sales per square foot. That figure would mean Parabellum could anticipate yearly sales of $1.1 million. Declining to put a number on the brand’s sales expectations for the store, Feldman said, “Our goals are not specific, but more holistic.”
Next year, Feldman said Parabellum might consider a New York store. The company has already received a stamp of approval from the New York fashion community in the form of being named one of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists last year. With that recognition, Feldman said the fashion industry’s “eyes were on us,” an atypical experience for a Los Angeles brand. “People forget about L.A.,” he said, not that he’s complaining about Parabellum’s Los Angeles headquarters. “Here we have room to really hone our style, and be what we want to be,” said Feldman.
Feldman and Jones are glad to be venturing into retail in the city where Parabellum and Jones were born. (Feldman is originally from Detroit.) “We’ve been all over the world so many times, and it’s exciting to be in our hometown and accessible here,” said Feldman. “There are people with really sharp design sense here and cultured tastes, and we can connect with them on a local level here.”