The area around Virgil in Los Angeles is kicking off at the moment, its a spot close to my heart as I spend three months around here in early 2013 when Sqirl was an exciting newcomer and there wasn't much besides. In just two years a few more lovely stores have opened: a great florist, a vintage store, a gift shop selling letter press cards, the usual gorgeous stuff that we all love.
But on my June visit, a freelance-friendly brunch ended with a wander up to the crossroads of Virgil and Normal (my fave road name in LA) to discover the latest and greatest addition to this burgeoning neighbourhood, in its first few hours of opening: result! The store, aptly named Virgil Normal (I mean, wouldn't you?!) was opened by partners in business and pleasure, Charlie Staunton and Shirley Kurata and has taken over a special spot, the site of Choke, an old neighbourhood moped clubhouse owned by Jeff Johnsen with art by Alexis Ross: coolness level: 11 out of 10.
I asked Charlie and Shirley a few questions about their lovely new store and what to expect from Virgil Normal in the future. Hopefully you'll find it as interesting as I found the store and go and check it out next time you're in LA.
How did you come to take over the store? I heard you were moped fans.... were you friends of Jeff and Alexis or was it coincidence?
In 2007 Shirley and I and a couple other friends decided it would be fun to have a moped gang. Our friend Dean suggested the name Latebirds as she always wanted to have a band of the same name. But not being a musician this was her chance to use it. We recruited our immediate friends and then quickly began meeting other moped riders in Los Angeles. What began as a joke and a fun way to spend weekends exploring the parks and neighborhoods of Los Angeles, quickly became a institution of fun. Jeff opened up Choke soon after moving from New York where his position was a certified Vespa mechanic. His initial intent was to service the re-emerging Vespa scene. But we quickly became Choke bar flys and diverted his plan towards our little two stroke bikes. Choke was our unofficial club house as well as a center for creative types like Alexis Ross. Alexis would be around doing sign painting and drinking Jeff’s amazing coffee.
You kept a lot of the original look and feel of the place, but what did you change?
We loved the raw bones of the store, especially the large windows and outdoor space including Cafe Legs #1 built by Alexis Ross and Jeff Johnsen. The floors and walls had 9 years of oil, paint and ware from moped trafficking. We tried our best to maintain the authentic patina from those years of hard use. In addition to the industrial touches we kept displays, the shop lights, Cafe Legs which still operates as a gallery currently featuring work by Dane Johnson. Exterior walls only received a freshen up red coat of paint on parts that did not contain any sign painting or murals like the Los Angeles icon “Larry in Space” painted by Alexis Ross.
Is this the first venture you've gone into as a couple? What do each of you bring to the store and how does it balance out?
Yes this is our first business venture together. Shirley brings her sartorial eye, as she is a style icon herself, as well as a stylist and costumer as a profession. Charlie has a long background as a men’s clothing designer as well as knowledge and connections to brands and showrooms. He also runs the day to day of the shop and acts as the shop boy.
I wondered what your thoughts were on creating a mens space, seeing as you, Shirley, have come from a very womens-centric area of the fashion industry?
Considering the history of the space a former moped shop covered in grease and fitted with industrial lights and cafe legs, along with the neighbours Vinny’s Barber Shop it seemed a natural fit to do a men’s shop. In actuality the store with the mix of vintage and home goods does a decent amount of business with women.
Can you tell me a little about what you're stocking right now and some personal fave pieces?
We are very pleased to be carrying Rodarte printable goods. Such as the Scorpion football jersey made famous by Jay-z which they collaborated with on a custom one of a kind for him. In addition to we are working very closely with Portland, Oregon brand Bridge & Burn. Erik Prowell the founder and designer is hand curating the collection for our store which includes refined and timeless wovens, and the notorious Burn sweatshirt collaboration between them and Columbia Knit. I’d also like to mention that we are the only Los Angeles stockists of Peter Jensen’s for men, key pieces include the collaboration between Jensen and Peanuts, printed wovens and Charlie Brown jumper.
You stock a fair bit of vintage including denim and military, where do you like to go digging for vintage and what are your ultimate finds?
We do very well with our tightly curated collection of vintage. We try to bring in key pieces from the 70’s, 60’s and dating back to the 30’s with a French Chore Jacket. Some key items as well are vintage cover alls and overalls, if we are lucky they have great patches, embroidery and possibly bleached by the sun for 20 years. All of our pieces have great details such as selvedge, great wear, felt applique etcetera. We are proud to stock Jack Knife Denim. The nerdiest attention to details without getting nerdy. They spend 24 hours of labor on each pair of jeans. All seams are either selvedge or clean finished with twill, the Rivets are backed by leather and waistband is sewn in one continuous stitch measuring 35 ft of stitch. We are always attending the Rose Bowl Flea Market and have been fortunate enough to befriend some Los Angeles’ greatest and most dedicated collectors. Our friends spend weeks on the road scouring the basements and attics of America finding pieces like Chokers car club letterman style jacket. A very clean jacket from a 1950’s car club which is in amazing shape and is chain stitch embroidered.
You describe the store as a mens 'sports and leisure' store and speak of the balance between a city life and the great outdoors... What part does denim play in your ultimate menswear wardrobe and why?
Denim is a classic piece of apparel that fits into just about any situation. From work and camping paired with boots and a motorcycle to a fitted blazer and button up shirt. Denim embodies the lifestyle of sports and leisure.
What are your plans for the store and future plans for the Virgil Normal community? I know you are keen to host events and gatherings, etc.... Do you also hope to extend/ open new stores/ build an empire(!) or is this very much a local/ community driven thing?
Our goal is to be more than a store but to be a platform to showcase talent. 99% of what is carried in our store is designed and created by personal friends. From Adam Siegel’s custom airbrushed Vans or Meredith Metcalf’s hand thrown ceramics in her back yard to Bridge & Burn from Portland who is a long time friend. In addition we have teamed up with live show curators Honey Power Club a group of talented women who host great music shows and curated their first art show here featuring musicians that are also artists, like King Tuff, Amy Allen, Luke Thomas, Mukta Mohan, Sam Phillips, and Emily Alben. The band Feels played, with special guest Suck Me Beautiful, the event was filled with DIY energy that I grew up in and love to be around.
We hope to interact with the community in a personal way. We do not have any plans on spinning this off into some mega chain, as we are located on Virgil and Normal our namesake, might not make sense in another location.
I visit a lot of stores around the world and when an authentic and well curated store pops up, there's a really tangible vibe, I definitely got that vibe with this store. It does, 'Feel so good' Go and check out the vibe for yourself, address above.