It’s style, not fashion, Commonwealth seeks to serve under its roof as the streetwear specialty retailer marks a move to the Los Angeles Arts District.
The business, started by Omar Quiambao and Larry Incognito in 2004 as a concept shop with the tag line “For the Greater Good,” brings its street- and skate-inspired boutique to yet another growing pocket of the Arts District where Silverlake Wine, Guerrilla Tacos, Base Coat Nail Salon, CES Gallery and the Museum of Ice Cream all reside. Just footsteps away, Dover Street Market is expected in the spring.
The area reminds Quiambao of New York, where he last resided, and is close to where he now lives in downtown. Opening the 1,500-square-foot shop represents the first time he’s living in the same city as a Commonwealth store.
Quiambao, a graduate of Pratt Institute, has spent the better part of nearly two decades now being a purveyor of what those standing from the outside might call youth culture melded with skate and streetwear. Commonwealth’s brand of that lifestyle mixes high fashion with the street for a store that includes brands such as Pleasures, Wacko Maria, Brain Dead, Padmore & Barnes, Stone Island, APC and Comme des Garçons Play, among many others. The company has also been producing Commonwealth-branded merchandise since its inception, first starting with the usual T-shirts before expanding into cut-and-sew, with fall 2017 designed and made in Los Angeles.
“Our POV is we’ve always mixed high and low. Now it’s much more commonplace. It’s much more accepted to cross genre lines and cultural barriers, whether it’s music or subcultures,” Quiambao said. “It’s a big melting pot. There’s always a thread of some type of skateboarding influence or some type of lineage to that [in store]. Some people might not know that something that might appear as a fashion brand or designer brand, the history of that designer and their roots came from skateboarding.”
The totality of Commonwealth is a study in perspective, with Quiambao’s expertise on the branding side having him count Asics, New Balance, Reebok, Anti Social Social Club, Stussy and 10Deep among a group of clients he’s worked with since entering the industry.
For the two founders, Commonwealth is also a reflection of their own interests, a point of distinction that allows them to serve the actual fans of “the lifestyle” as opposed to jumping on board a trend.
“I like the shop life,” Quiambao said. “I grew up skateboarding and hanging out at skate shops during my adolescence.”
That’s a bit of a different story than those retailers and brands now looking to ride the wave streetwear is currently on — a reality Quiambao sees as a trend more than anything else.
“There’s a big difference between style and fashion,” he said. “Fashion is definitely based around trends. Style, sure, it can create trends, but it doesn’t change. Trend is something like ‘Hey, I might dress like a skater and next year I might dress like a homeless person.’ That’s trend and, to me, that’s fashion. I think the luxury market is so interested in what we do because there’s a lot of energy around it. They can see there’s a lot of demand and frenzy about things and it’s just a way for them to diversify their market. It’s not just all handbags for women and so sneakers are considered the handbags for men. I don’t think their fascination with it will be as long lived. I think it’s fast-fashion for the luxury market.”
Quiambao and Incognito, both natives of Virginia Beach, Va., have their first Commonwealth shop there. Commonwealth is also in Washington, D.C., and Manila, where it will open its second international store over the weekend. These more recent steps in the business’ trajectory beg the question of whether there are more stores in the cards for Commonwealth. That appears yet to be determined.
“It took us 10 years to open up our third store here in the U.S.,” Quiambao said when posed the question. “People keep telling us retail is dead, but I feel like if we focus on our community and actually listen closely, we’ll be fine because, at the end of the day, as great as the Internet is people still want a certain experience. That’s how they grow attachment to a brand.”
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