LOS ANGELES — We’re sitting in plastic chairs around a podium that reads Malibu Rehab Center, surrounded by beautiful clothes, skateboards, surfboards and oh, yes, a $2 million Ferrari F40.
It’s a group session led by Alan Sutcliffe and Jeff Skene, founders and owners of Local Authority. The Malibu brand, founded in 2014, has built a following among celebrities and those with impeccable taste for a little bit of attitude served with a focus on details and craftsmanship. The brand grew up at Maxfield, but counts 80 accounts of tastemaker retailers. In October, it soft-launched the Local Authority footwear, spearheaded by footwear design director Mike McGlaflin, who was most recently working with Zegna, and before that, Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent. Footwear’s global launch is slated for Dec. 13.
The soft launch that exclusively brought the shoes to Maxfield, the brand’s first account, came with a now-concluded pop-up in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s main store on Melrose. The space, designed to serve as a reflection of the brand’s various facets, featured vignettes such as a nod to rock concerts with a section of a wall covered in show fliers, an homage to Rodeo Drive, skateboarding and then the reference to rehab. The last was a slight wink to something a little more dark, candied with a bit of humor, and encased in the kind of quality an Italian zipper or Benberg-lined custom jackets starting at $1,300 can speak to.
Local Authority’s DNA is in painstakingly reworked vintage, which provided the backbone for everything else. It turned heads with the success of a single graphic T-shirt, the F–ked Up Friends Club design, that got onto Gigi Hadid and then Kendall Jenner, David Beckham and others. And it’s, as it sounds, a nod to the two’s own group of friends, some of whom have seen rehab, divorces and bankruptcies.
“It kind of became something that went international and it was a huge success,” Sutcliffe said. “The product really resonates with a lot of people that grew up in Malibu or Los Angeles as a whole. I think they appreciate the humor of it and it appeals to them.”
“We implement a lot of social criticism into our graphics,” Skene said. “In a way, we like to take things that are either supericonic or controversial subjects and display them out in the open in a way that’s fun and has a positive turn on it. It’s looking at life and not taking it too seriously.”
The actual product they do take very seriously. The brand, even with the successes of the graphic T-shirts, has returned to its roots in custom vintage to remind the market of that starting point, in addition to the expansion into footwear with a slip-on, high-top and low-top ranging from $495 to $695.
Footwear’s been a process and no shortcuts were taken, McGlaflin pointed out. Local Authority footwear wasn’t about taking an existing silhouette and stamping the brand’s logo on it.
“It’s a big mountain for brands to climb,” McGlaflin said. “Many brands wait a while before they get into footwear, especially if they’re going to source their own leathers. This is Italian made. They’re shipped over painstakingly from Italy and they’re created in Italy.”
It’s that tightly controlled sourcing and distribution that’s helped build brand equity. Local Authority remained exclusive to Maxfield’s Malibu store for nearly a year before broadening that out. It’s now at retailers such as Selfridges, Montaigne Market and Jeffrey New York.
Certainly, it doesn’t hurt that Sutcliffe works at Maxfield in addition to L.A. brand Chrome Hearts, or that Skene is employed at Volcom. However, mentioning those names takes away from the work the two put into building the business one account at a time.
“It doesn’t matter, whether I have a history with a company or anything else,” Sutcliffe said. “The bottom line is things have to succeed at retail. Otherwise, it’s not going to stay around.”
Their approach has been more slow-cooker than broiler on their growth, subsisting off an initial $2,000 each in start-up capital and never taking an outside dollar.
“When you start a brand, there are some who get so sucked into taking out a loan and getting an investor and look to bring on somebody that you think is way more experienced than you,” Sutcliffe said. “But ultimately there’s nothing like actually just going out there and building something from nothing and going through the journey. No one’s giving any of that knowledge away; you’ve got to earn it. But after doing it for years, it’s good to have an understanding of all those aspects.”
Keeping the ownership pool tightly controlled between Skene and Sutcliffe has helped.
“That’s what made it fun for us,” Skene said. “It allowed us to do a lot of handmade things and find original vintage pieces we reworked. Keeping it tight initially allowed us to debut it the way we wanted.”
“It’s been about keeping it tight and trying to get a core identity for the brand so people understand what it is about when they look at the web site or when they look at the clothes, they know what we’re doing,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s not for everybody, but that’s OK, because as soon as you try to start being for everybody, that’s when it gets messed up.”
Part of that DNA has been a careful shying away from most opportunities to generate buzz around themselves. The founders are adamant the product carry the brand rather than their personalities or personal lives. They’ve largely steered away from talking about themselves and are generally not as keen to do interviews where the focus is on them.
Unlike some of the outsized personalities and rock stars that have been born out of the worlds of fashion or the broader business landscape, they are uninterested in creating cult followings around themselves. Neither are on social media — an endearing quality at a time when followers have become a metric for all manner of a person or company’s worth. Well, Sutcliffe has a private account but it doesn’t even include his real surname.
“I don’t think I’m findable. I have an Instagram account; I have about 25 followers,” Sutcliffe said.
“I’m like a ghost,” said Skene, who has no presence on any social media platform. “Modern society has a way of creating characters. It’s just interesting. I think being in Malibu we’re away from that hustle and bustle. I guess we’ve just always spoken through the product.”
What’s next for the product?
“The new Local Authority tuxedo,” Sutcliffe said wryly. He’s joking.
“Bringing on Hedi Slimane,” McGlaflin offered.
“Get Karl Lagerfeld involved,” Sutcliffe said, before turning serious again. “Obviously, the footwear is major for us and something that we worked on for a long time. We went to Italy over a year ago to start working on it and developing it.”
There are also planned collaborations with French sunglasses designer Thierry Lasry. They’re also looking to produce cashmere in Europe, something they’ve done successfully in the U.S. in the past.
“So there’s this America-Los Angeles-Italian kind of connection,” Sutcliffe said, “and then we have Ferrari here. No collab.” Yet.