Category Archives: handmade

Role Club Chukkas

It’s been hard to adequately encapsulate some of the makers I have come across. Their skills are far beyond what I can comprehend, their drive toward quality even more so.

Brian Truong, of Role Club, is one such maker. He works in a ramshackle shop just south of Downtown Los Angeles, sits on a stool that looks like one you’d find thrown in a dumpster, and thinks more highly of his mentor, Ignacio, than he does himself. Meanwhile, the boots he produces are probably the most well-made objects I’ve ever seen.

So, until I feel like I can capture his process, I’ll show you the boots. These are black Chromexcel chukkas inspired by Navy boondocker boots. Granted, I asked Brian to make them a little more office friendly by lowering the heel slightly and using black lace eyelets but the other design elements are all his.

See Role Club on the internet and Instagram.

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Visiting: The Academy

Long Beach is a working class town. Always has been, always will be. But there’s a shop lurking around on 1st Street that brings a refined element to Long Beach. The Academy.

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You’ll immediately feel comfortable with its environs–unfinished wood displays, taxidermy, bikes, and grease abound. But you’re distracted by all the mise en scene–enchanting though they may be–and what you should really pay attention to are the clothes because they’re refinements of menswear staples.

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Let’s start with shirting, which is comprised mostly of Turkish chambray. Though chambray is known as a blue collar fabric, the Academy’s take on it is decidedly modern with its slender collar, lack of pocket, and slim fit. What you will find instead, if you look closely, are hidden buttons for the collar and French seams along the side hem. Sure, they’re subtle but what I like most about clothes in general and the Academy in particular are the nuances that you’ll only notice over time.

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Sam, the proprietor of the Academy, also takes pride in his denim which is sourced from the vaunted Cone Mills and then constructed in Los Angeles. Now, let’s be fair, there are a lot of high-end makers that source from Cone Mills or a Japanese textile mill and then build them in Los Angeles. In fact, if you own a pair of high-end denim, chances are they’re built in Los Angeles. But what sets the Academy apart is that they allow you to “build your own denim.” What does that mean? It means no rivets at all, copper rivets, blue enameled rivets, or rivets on the back pocket. (Ever wonder why rivets on the back pocket are so rare? Back in the day, cowboys used to complain about the copper edges scraping their leather saddles, so out they went.) It’s a simple touch but one that goes a long way in making the clothes more unique.

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Let’s talk about Sam a little bit, though. He studied product design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and explains his attention to the minutia. At the Academy all design is done in-house, including the design of the simple deerskin wallet below made of one continuous piece of leather.

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At first you’ll say about the wallet that anyone could have made that but simplicity is deceptively difficult to achieve. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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The Academy’s got some other things coming out of the pipeline, too. I’d stay tuned if I were you.

Visiting: Corvus Woodcraft

Corvus Woodcraft is the creation of my friend, Nitin. Out of his garage I’ve seen cutting boards, dressers, and tables emerge.

A while back I visited and got some shots of him at work. Enjoy.

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Railcar’s Type 3 Classic Apron

Railcar Fine Goods, based in Arcadia, California, has put out some great stuff and their Type 3 Classic Apron is no different.

Railcar Type 3 Classic Apron. Photo: Railcar Fine Goods

If you recognize that pocket, it’s because it’s based on the iconic Levi’s Type III denim jacket.

Levi’s Type III jacket. Photo: Unionmade Goods

Add to it the 12 ounce Cone Mills denim and adjustable leather straps and you have one fine looking apron that will age more gracefully than Sean Connery. And possibly best of all, it’s made in-house by a crew of five and not contracted out. (It’s true, I’ve seen their shop firsthand.)

Now who will be the first to make denim boxer briefs I’ve always wanted?

My Belt from Steelhead Fine Goods

I recently got my belt and key lanyard from Allan (a.k.a. Steelhead Fine Goods) and I have to say, these things are gorgeous. Well, let’s back up and let me say this: it’s less about how gorgeous they look now and more about how they’ll look a year from now.

Truthfully, natural vegetable tanned leather looks kind of boring to me; I’ve always liked medium colored leather because of the way it looks so ‘lived in.’ But there are very few materials that wear in as beautifully as leather. It darkens with age, gets scratched and then absorbs oils, and cracks in the areas of most use.


Beauty through usage.

And so goes the idea of this belt. The more I wear it, the more it will become mine. Soaking up skin oils where I might place my hands when I’m standing akimbo or where my hips scrape against a door jamb. The belt and lanyard are blank canvases.

But they’re f*cking beautiful canvases.


The copper rivets on either side of the belt keeper are a discrete but elegant touch. It might never be seen by most people but it’s kind of like lacy underwear on a woman–though she’s got something over them, she just feels sexier wearing them instead of the white cotton alternative.


I love the lanyard so far, too. Despite initially thinking it was too long I changed my mind when I went to unlock the door and realized I could reach the lock without ever removing the key cluster. Function wins over form.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how it wears in but at first glance I could not be happier.

Related: Visiting: Steelhead Fine Goods

NorthernGRADE Los Angeles

There are going to be some great, local brands at NorthernGRADE Los Angeles. Image and more info here.

Visiting: Steelhead Fine Goods

My friend Allan is the owner of Steelhead Fine Goods, a quality, bespoke leathergoods company based in Santa Barbara, California. So it’s fitting that he’s named his company after the ocean-going form of rainbow trout. Steelhead.


Once upon a time, you could name any river or stream in Southern California, and these beautiful fish were probably known to swim up it from the Pacific Ocean and spawn in their place of birth. But the damming of rivers, pollution, and over-fishing have left the steelhead a rare sight in the past few decades.

Steelhead Fine Goods, like its namesake, is rare breed. 

I had the chance to visit his shop recently during Allan’s downtime, chat, and take some photos. Check out the photos here:



Just like conservationists are wont to bring back the magnificent steelhead, Allan is looking to breathe new life into a once dying craft. 


I’m not going to lie, I was taken by the smell of leather and the prospect of some nice leatherware. So after leaving his shop, I placed an order for a leather belt. I mean, it’s good to support independent craftspeople, right? Oh, and you can check out more of Allan’s work on his Tumblr

‘Bing’s Tux’ from One Trip Pass

This story about Bing Crosby’s bespoke Levi’s tuxedo comes by way of One Trip Pass, a great blog on all manner of Americana, and was far too good to pass up. So I asked and was graciously granted permission to re-post the story in full. (Thanks, Jay!) Here goes…

Lynn Downey has a pretty killer job as Levi’s archivist. I visit her and the vault any time I can think up an excuse. Recently I was chewing the fat with her about my visit and subsequent fascination with Elko and North East Nevada. She told me all about the history there with Bing Crosby and the Levi’s denim tuxedo. I asked if she would write a piece on the subject for One Trip Pass and she agreed. The following is her story on the subject. Thank you, Lynn!

“Quick. What comes to mind when you hear the name Bing Crosby?

“White Christmas.”  Goofy movies with Bob Hope, like “Road to Morocco” and “Road to Zanzibar.” Golf. Levi’s® jeans.

Huh?

That’s right. Bing was a huge fan of the Levi’s® brand, and in 1951 the company went above and beyond the call of duty for Bing when he and his favorite jeans were insulted by a hotel clerk in Canada.

First of all, Bing had always been a Levi’s® jeans and jacket wearer. He owned a working ranch near Elko, Nevada and was also its honorary mayor for years. He posed for the covers of albums and sheet music in the clothing. Get it? He loved the brand.

So when he went hunting in Canada with a friend in 1951 he naturally wore his favorite jeans and jacket. One evening, the pair decided they wanted to stay in a hotel in Vancouver, and when they got to the registration desk they were politely but firmly told by the clerk that they would not be admitted to the hotel.

Why?

Because they were wearing denim.

You see, in the 1950s, denim had a very bad reputation, thanks to Marlon Brando, James Dean and all those other malcontents who were upsetting the social order by not conforming to America’s postwar obsession with suburbs, picket fences and men in grey flannel suits. Not only that, denim still retained its work wear, laborer origins.

In other words, not at all the appropriate clothing that this particular hotel allowed beyond the lobby.

Luckily for Bing the bellhop recognized him, and the men were given a room. And when he got back to Elko he told his neighbors what had happened. They in turn contacted Levi Strauss & Co., which immediately went to work on a special garment made just for Bing, and which would not likely be duplicated by anyone.

They made him a denim tuxedo jacket.

It was made of the same denim used for the 501® jeans, had a lovely cluster of red Tabs in the lapel, fastened by another cluster of copper rivets, and a huge leather label on the inside. This stated that denim was appropriate attire for any occasion,  and that stuck-up hotel clerks should just get over it.

The company presented the tux to Bing at the 1951 Silver State Stampede rodeo in Elko. Dressed in 501® jeans and a cowboy shirt, Bing happily donned the jacket and posed for the cameras. He was so taken with the tux that he wore it to many of the press appearances for his next movie, “Here Comes the Groom.”

The company made replicas of the tuxedo jacket as display items for salesmen to loan to favored retailers. And a few of the replicas reside today in the LS&Co. Archives. Under lock and key.”

– Lynn Downey

Rogue Territory’s Supply Jacket

These Supply Jackets from Rogue Territory are what easily the nicest denim jackets I’ve seen in a while. Best of all, they’re made here in Los Angeles.
photo: Rogue Territory
       photo: Rogue Territory