Crooks and Castles

Crooks and Castles is making a comeback.

The California-based streetwear brand, founded by Dennis Calvero and Robert Panlilio in 2002, was best known for parody graphics fusing luxury logos with its own flourishes — the Versace medusa head covered with a bandana being its most popular. Calvero said with luxury brands now working more directly with streetwear lines, it was an ideal time to revamp Crooks and Castles and bring it back to the market.

“Now that everything has caught up to what we’ve been doing for the last decade, we thought it was time to tell the younger consumer that we are one of the originators of this luxe street image,” Calvero said.

The assortment, employing graphic language that’s a bit more political, features T-shirts, sweatpants with smaller versions of Crooks and Castles signature medusa graphic, chain link motifs and logo imagery. T-shirts are priced at $45 while track pants run up to $148 — slightly more expensive than previous incarnations because more items are made in L.A., and due to limited runs on garments made from Japanese military fabrics.

After launching, Crooks went on a short hiatus when Calvero moved to New York and took a job at Ecko Unlimited where he learned how to build and run a brand. He became design director and was tasked with making Ecko a lifestyle line. In 2005, he went back to his brand and started wholesaling. In 2006, while he was freelancing for another brand, Jay-Z’s assistant came to pick up clothes and Calvero slipped in a few Crooks and Castles T-shirts. Jay-Z was photographed on the street wearing the medusa T-shirt and the image was published in the New York Post. “After that, our phone wouldn’t stop ringing,” said Calvero, who went on to rope in celebrities including Rihanna and Drake.

In 2006, he engaged a production company in Montreal that helped finance its first couple of runs for a percentage of the profit. Crooks eventually signed a 50-50 deal with the manufacturer in 2007. This left Calvero with very little control over the brand, which hit its peak in 2013 and operated a store on Fairfax. By this time, Crooks had a distribution and licensing deal in the Philippines, along with distribution in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., but things started to shift.

“Trends were changing and there were less graphics from 2014 to 2015,” said Calvero. “We still had a strong business, but you could feel something in the air. New brands with an elevated approach began to emerge.”

The founders worked with another financial partner to buy the brand back earlier this year and now the focus is on small distribution in North America spanning men’s, women’s and children’s.

“It’s just a smarter approach,” said Calvero. “We are identifying our main commodities and looking for areas where we can expect growth. But most of all, identifying what our customer wants.”

He plans to seed celebrities and influencers who were former fans of Crooks, and work on collaborative product with “Power,” a popular series that airs on Starz.

Calvero said there are no plans to open a store on Fairfax again, but he is considering downtown Los Angeles, where streetwear retailers including RSVP and Bodega have opened stores.

“With Supreme being there and a lot of other brands, if a kid has a couple of hundred bucks, he’s going to spend it at Supreme or on a pair of sneakers at Flight Club,” said Calvero. “I get DMs from fans who are in Memphis and can’t wait to own a store on Fairfax. But you don’t have to come to L.A. Create your own Fairfax in Memphis. If you build it, people will come.”

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