CHROME HEARTS IS TAKING STUDS AND LEATHER TO NEW HEIGHTS ON THE WEST COAST.
Byline: Kristin Young
WEST HOLLYWOOD — Richard Stark is quick to point out the misconceptions some people have about Chrome Hearts, not the least of which is that the maker of luxury accessories, leather and furniture is a glorified clubhouse for a sophisticated gang of bikers.
“I ride motorcycles and I look like this,” said Stark, referring to his usual uniform of leather pants and T-shirt topped off by less-than-coifed curly, shoulder-length hair. “But I’m so far from being a biker company, it’s not even funny. Our prices are comparable to Hermes; how many bikers are wearing it?”
Soon more people will become familiar with Chrome Hearts, which already has a strong Hollywood and music industry following, which includes the likes of Cher, Lou Reed, The Sex Pistols, Eric Clapton, Puff Daddy, Pierce Brosnan, Nicolas Cage and Elton John.
The company will open its first West Coast store in a 3,500-square foot space at 600 North Robertson Boulevard in early September. A soft opening is planned, but no firm date has yet been set, according to Stark, who shares ownership and design duties of the 11-year-old company with his wife, Laurie Lynn Stark.
The first Chrome Hearts store opened about four years ago in New York at 159 East 64th Street. That store is owned and operated by the company.
For the West Coast location, Stark took a different approach, joining forces with Tommy Perse, the owner of Maxfield, the 20-year-old specialty store here known for selling merchandise to the person who has everything. Stark and Perse described the venture as a close collaboration. Perse owns and will operate the store, which Chrome Hearts will supply.
Maxfield, which stocks unique high-end merchandise ranging from vintage Hermes gowns, current collections from American and European designers, and furniture, books and gadgets culled from Perse’s own travels, has been carrying Chrome Hearts for years.
“I love the guy; he’s done a lot for me,” said Stark. “He has been totally tuned into Chrome Hearts from the moment I met him. He saw it and immediately got it.”
Perse is equally enthusiastic and said he didn’t hesitate signing the licensing deal, which gives him the exclusive right to sell Chrome Hearts in the Los Angeles area.
“Several years ago, this guy with long hair who reminded me of myself a while back came into my store and wanted to show me a few things,” said Perse. “So I said, ‘Let’s rock; I like it.’ He made the stuff, and I did the merchandising and marketing of the line. We know who our audience is, and we think we can expand it.”
The range of Chrome Hearts merchandise is relatively vast. It includes sterling silver jewelry from delicate stud earrings to thick, heavy chains, in addition to sunglasses, leather and cashmere apparel for men and women and oversized, gothic-looking, ebony dining room tables and cabinetry.
Everything is handmade from precious metals and gemstones, fine fabrics and exotic woods. About 98 percent of the production is handled through Chrome Hearts’ headquarters on North Citrus Avenue in Hollywood, which features dedicated workshops for metals, leather, woodworking and fabrics. But regardless of how luxurious the collection’s materials may be, the line retains a significant rebellious streak: one particular expletive phrase — “F— You” — shows up repeatedly on sunglasses, T-shirts and logos.
“Richard’s very fussy. I think people judge quality from a traditional point of view, as in quality means gold or platinum,” said Perse, who described the brand as “a fantastic blend of combining [luxurious pieces] with something that is not so very precious,” said Perse. “A leather jacket will last for a 100 years.”
Chrome Hearts sunglasses retail from $475 to $620; sterling silver jewelry ranges from $89 to $200; stretch leather pants go for $3,300, which Perse said he can’t keep in stock at Maxfield; cashmere sweaters sell from $900 to $2,000; leather shirts, jackets and vests range from $3,000 to $9,000; leather boots range from $1,200 to $7,000, with the high-end adorned with silver charms and chains; handbags retail from $500 to $5,000. Big ticket items such as gold or platinum jewelry can reach $15,000 and higher, and a large ebony table was priced at $250,000. Chrome Hearts cabinetry could cost even more, depending on the design and amount of ornamentation, said a spokeswoman.
The Chrome Hearts store is in a prime retail location, directly across the street from Morton’s, a Hollywood lunch and dinner hot spot and a stone’s throw away from Maxfield.
Black iron gates that had been built by the previous owner, who ran a metal shop, surround the property. It has 25-to-35-foot-high ceilings, a courtyard and an outside fireplace. Stark is designing and building the store’s interior, which will incorporate Chrome Hearts cabinetry, sterling silver details and glass.
Perse said finding the location was just good Karma.
“The place had to have some personality to begin with,” said Perse. “It couldn’t just be four white walls. When I came upon this place, I talked to the former owner everyday.”
Stark said the idea of establishing another store came about from a need being felt by both emerging and established brands today — the ability to showcase the Chrome Hearts’ lifestyle and collections in their entirety.
“In order to see it, you need to have stores that really show the range of product we make,” said Stark.
As for Perse owning and operating it, Stark said: “I’m happy. It’s better him than me. He’s been doing it for 25 years. I’ve been doing it for four. I’ve got a long way to catch up with him.”
Stark and Perse were mum about sales projections. “We know how much [business] we do from a 1,000-square-foot boutique in Maxfield. God knows how much we could do in a 3,500-square-foot store,” Perse said. “We have high expectations.”
“I think the product is going to shine,” Perse added. “I think people are mixed up about what Chrome Hearts is all about.”
Los Angeles marks the third Chrome Hearts store, after locations in New York and Tokyo. The Tokyo location, set up as a license partnership with United Arrows, opened last December. Two more stores are set to open in San Francisco and Osaka in the next year or so, according to the Laurie Stark.