The beautiful vibrational beat of Manhattan Beach | AOLAB Fashist edition

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It’s rarely spoken about but we as a species tend not to understand that we each carry miffed mise en scene energy about settling for what doesn’t exactly fit us .

It often manifests comically, a walking- pneumonia like stoic grieving in-situ. We are doing ‘tha things’ that whichever ‘there’ affords us but on an unconsciously grumpy autopilot. Friends and family want to smack us, ‘soma’ us out with scrips to get us back in line or shake us awake. Strangers just avoid us.

Until we get a whiff of what, for whatever reason, does suit us…and we start jettisoning those aforementioned things, people and places all akimbo to make space for more of it. Apologizing initially, before the visceralness of homing in to what could be honestly “right for you” overrides all diplomacy.

These beach cities…

I’ve been dabbling in dalliances with El Segundo, Manhattan Beach , Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach rather consistently since my first sojourn down here in southbay LA in November of 2021.

There are many reasons that I feel amazing in these parts & I’ve stopped doubting, questioning or bargaining myself out the flurry of emotions that kick up every time I Basecamp beneath LAX.

It’s deeper than the “well duh~” embedded in a reality where I can build out books, paint, prep for exhibitions and experiment in Unita’s 3 state of the art creative venues whenever I’m around as an unconventional artist in residence, a stones throw from the most spectacular, pristine public beaches in Southern California.

The more I’ve talked with locals, the more I really do feel an atmospheric shift in the tonality of each city, an actual difference in the air. Especially riding into Manhattan Beach from Hermosa Beach.

Hermosa is cool. A straightforward, pristine pier & beach is worth its weight in gold. It’s the beach most east coasters & Midwesterners are daydreaming about when landlocked in six feet of early snow, what many of us come out here thinking Santa Monica and Venice are going to be before reality smacks us.

& it has nothing to do with the dudes- although they do seem to be living the life here. Motherfuckers are happy & playful for the most part, not even technically “flirty,” per se. In a hilarious kibbutz up at Butcher’s Daughter last month two of our Venice based crew of four described Manhattan Beach as full of divorced men & women driving around happily in their Benzes- which is how I’d described the vibration in Marina del Rey registering to me (sans the happiness) to someone not even a week prior.

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The atmospheric profundity has nothing to do with guestimations of if you’re laidback or not. To a dyed in the wool ex-new yorker all of them feel like wildly lackadaisical, “what is time?” animals, initially. Even when they collect watches, it seems like it’s done ironically, on esthetics alone.

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 But that esthetics thing may be a key into what makes Manhattan Beach sing, for me.

One of the more nuanced things this place has is more hidden, sincerely fashist edge than pretty much any enclave I’ve wandered around in out in LA. 

On the surface? …you’d never think it.

Reads as run of the mill…”upscale beachy.”

But soon as you enter, if you have eyes to see, you get that the shopkeepers & helmers are authentically on their shit, whatever that shit may be, stylistically speaking. I’ve repeatedly chatted with many of them across these almost 2 years, and it shines through, no matter what they’re selling.

And that’s actually very hard to do. In 2023.

& they do it no matter what they are an outpost Of. Each shop is a fiefdom, a kingdom, & you if you want you can gain a good grasp of the sensibilities of the czar behind each place via what they offer & who they’ve handpicked to usher you into it.

They aren’t trying to be “cute” (… unless their “thing” IS cute) …or insouciant…or Whatever. They are being Them. From the children’s wear shops to the flowers, from the crystals to the denim.

Fashist -wise? The merchandising spirits of whomever holds the reigns in each place is apparent. They’re doing it because they “love it” here.

& I love That.

I also love that anytime I rock my gear in Manhattan Beach someone comes up to chat & murmur they like or get it, nyc style.

The dialogue… it’s an inexplicable thing if you aren’t wired for it.

The appreciation of personal narrative & visual shorthand via cloth where it can become a conversation was something that I didn’t know I was “former homesick for”…until it started happening absently in Manhattan Beach.

Prior to those experiences, the closest one’d get in my experience to the kind of banter I’m referring to was mid-hunt, another chick getting what you’d had in hand.

Gotta say…it added to the locational charm.

I could be wrong, but whatever that vibrant flavor is may be why big box shops gain no real ground here. At least not downtown. There’s a Free People that feels like it’s been there forever. & even it doesn’t feel like a run of the mill Free People. All else is elegantly rammed east of Sepulveda, away from the ocean views. Like over at The Point & Manhattan Village. But even it is lackadaisically doing its own “actual oasis” thing. Their Anthropologie is the closest to the nyc Rockefeller center you can experience on the west coast, IMO.

In LA proper there’s One intersection I’ve seen so far that gives a semblance of the vibe I’m speaking on, gives it as good as it has gotten it. & it is in Echo Park.  There is a reason it vibrates the way IT does, too. There’s a cluster of  old-school, stalwart and upstart  actual designers helming those spots, with their roughly hewn ateliers rammed into the far recesses of their stores. Bona fide true Fashist central.

It’s just this energy that they give a fuck, and it’s beyond the trends. They truly believe their customer exists & will find them …and it arises as soon as you cross the thresholds.

Back over in Manhattan Beach, that’s even the case when it comes to sustainable fashion.

Full disclosure: California has some of the best vintage , consignment , antique and thrift shopping in the country, often hidden in some of the most surprising places.

The Opera House collective in Petaluma’s downtown is a fucking fever dream of perfectly curated magpie madness for women and men. Petaluma even has a military museum that has a military uniform surplus shop rammed into the belly of the beast;

Atherton/Menlo Park gets its props partially due to its plethora of places and pricepoints, and partially because some spots yell the loudest about being the best in show, area-wise…but there’s an unassuming spot down in Palo Alto, across from Stanford called Fillmore and 5th that puts the loudest to shame every time;

Soquel & Capitola have full fledged, polished scenes that counter the brazen fight me energy felt all over the Santa Cruz vintage scene (in a good way);

& somewhat closer to here and now, Retroblades- the curator extraordinaire of Archive Atelier up at Free Market/Runway Playa Vista not only can make your every fashist dream come true, her collection can inspire you to dream in ways you have never had the cajones to envision yourself. She even takes her fire on the road, occasionally glamming up Newport Beach with wild pop-up collaborations.

In the beach cities overall but specifically Manhattan Beach? FINDER’S KEEPHERS.

It is small, packed to the gills in the most organized fashion, and that war room(the items yet to hit the main floor)is Not to be doubted OR Slept on. I’ve quietly watched the saleswoman sincerely lean in & really listen to customers on the hunt time and again, trying to describe a feeling or mood, only to excuse herself to the war room(my verbiage) & come back with something to make the huntress gasp.

Last time I was in they pulled out black suede thigh high Uggs they were trying to figure out what to do with. Size 8, I think. Not exactly the edgy, shall we say cosmopolitan look you’d expect at the beach, but it made perfect pitch sense to how Manhattan Beach reads to me.

If I saw a chick in those on the street & asked her “Here?!…where?” I would not be surprised at all by her saying Finder’s Keephers. I haven’t Jones’d to go nuclear on a window display since 2015 in South beach(Miami) but just imagining what could be Done with what they have on hand makes me dementedly blushgrin.

& …every item I’ve brought into “the fold”[ that is my stored wardrobe ] from Finder’s Keephers and worn on the road has had people shake me down for details.

… Including my bday 🎂 gifts to myself this year. I was going to make a knit tank sweater dress for myself as a love offering while up in silicon Valley for a week but found one there the day before I flew out.

& a glorious, almost painfully histaminey, gorgeous, obviously 90s Belgian riff on an iconoclastic, sexy cropped Fisherman’s sweater.

It kept singing scratchy songs of the Antwerp 6 from my formative fashion design school years( Dirk Bikkenberg was and is one of my why’s for focusing on menswear) until I took it with me, only to needle me in to researching the brand & finding out that it relabels forgotten found legacy pieces, re-purposing them for repositioning in their own sustainable collection after a few readjustments.

… which begged the question 🤔…

“Well…whose piece was this originally then?”

When I did my due diligence and found out… it was birthday brains all over the place. In a good way.