Rhude Maxfield

LOS ANGELES Rhude has made its way into Maxfield’s Melrose Avenue pop-up space, peddling a pharmaceutical-themed shop mixed with ready-to-wear exclusives.

“It’s my take on Andy Warhol,” said founder Rhuigi Villaseñor of the space’s design. “It’s very Warholian of me to attack on the specific topic of consumerism and how it’s parallel to clothes. It’s the same way we get a high from drugs through clothes, but I’m not promoting drugs in that way.”

It’s all a little bit dark and subversive luxury for the dissident — with a big pocketbook.

A suited-up security guard stands at the entrance to the store where Hawaiian T-shirts with special graphics, such as “Falling for You” retails for $525. A Chargers-inspired bomber jacket is $2,000. Online, T-shirts retail for $216, sweatshirts $459 and even a pair of 100 percent cotton ring-spun socks are $55.

The line is sold at specialty boutiques and other retailers such as Union, Patron of the New, American Rag, RSVP Gallery, 424, Lane Crawford, The Webster, Fwrd by Elyse Walker, Ssense and Selfridges.

The brand, for all intents and purposes, in the mind of Villaseñor is a design firm. What started as a line of ready-to-wear in 2014 with a label in keeping with a family tradition in which all names start with “Rh” is, at its core, a place for Villaseñor to practice his love for fine art, whether it be through the garments, sculptural elements or furniture. The pop-up at Maxfield is perhaps the best representation of the different mediums Villaseñor likes to dabble in via Rhude, he said. It also serves as another signpost in a string of streetwear-related pop-ups that have served Maxfield and the brands it has been linked with well.

The arcade at the front of Rhude’s Maxfield pop-up.  Kevin Gonzalez

“We’re at a golden time now where the T-shirt is as valuable as a couture dress,” Villaseñor said. “A T-shirt is valuable. These aren’t cheap hoodies. These are like $700 hoodies and I guess we’re more honest with what is really ready-to-wear. People are on the go and I think the Internet is the biggest example of that. You’ve got to move.”

Everything is made in the brand’s Los Angeles studio, with textiles shipped from Italy and Japan.

A large pill bottle sculpture, which was sold last week, anchors the center of the store. Framed pieces of art work, also already sold, line the walls. Bang & Olufsen speakers bought by Rhude and fitted with custom covers designed by Villaseñor were made to look like oversized pills in keeping with the space’s pharmaceutical theme and retail for $7,000. The actual clothes, a number of exclusives just for the pop-up — sweatshirts, vintage T-shirts with Swarovski crystal work, sweatshirts and hand-dyed Sherpa jackets hang from racks against the perimeter store walls.

“I’m really, really keen on approaching my clothes as an art project, so there’s that romantic feel that it’s handmade,” Villaseñor said. “The purpose of the brand isn’t about perfecting the garment — obviously, execution’s big, but it’s more so about the feeling that a hand has touched it and this is by my people. I know exactly where it came from and how it’s made.”

Villaseñor’s story is an interesting one. He was valedictorian at Taft High School in Woodland Hills and a student of physics. That’s how his love, interest and also adeptness at designing furniture came about. Four chairs he designed especially for the store are set to arrive Monday.

So how does a kid who excelled in the sciences swing his pendulum to the other side?

“I did school for my father and my family — well. I finished school well for my father and family and I just had more passion for fine art,” Villaseñor said. “When you come from nothing, you need to find means quickly and clothing was a way for me to interpret every design I do. I treat it as if it was a painting. That’s why I focus so much on graphics. I enjoy it. It’s like a part of me that I can feel like the garments are the canvas and I’m able to be playful.”

Rhude has inked a deal with what Villaseñor called a big sportswear firm, with the product due out for the fall season.

He’s also got bigger ideas for the pop-up concept, saying it could be done in other markets with different front-facing themes. So, for example, instead of an arcade at the front, perhaps it’s a butcher or cigar shop. He said it’s likely the concept would be brought next to Tokyo and then perhaps Canada.

The business, Villaseñor said, is growing rapidly and now it’s a matter of managing the growth while maintaining brand consistency. So far, the business has remained self-funded. How much longer it stays that way, depends on who steps up to the plate.

“It would be nice,” Villaseñor said on the idea of taking on an outside investor. “Help would be nice, but as of now we don’t really need the help. If people want to hop in and make the ship bigger, here’s what I tell everyone: For every vision, it’s about the speaker and the bigger the speaker the larger the audience you can reach. If there’s a big speaker willing to let me reach the whole entire world, maybe we can do it.”

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