Scott Sternberg and Kevin West on the Space of L.A., Nostalgia and Transformation

Photo Credit: Barbara Katz

Originally published on Public Spectacle, LA Weekly’s arts blog. For original, please refer to: Scott Sternberg and Kevin West on the Space of L.A., Nostalgia and Transformation – Public Spectacle.

In the courtyard of UCLA’s Hammer Museum, patrons are gathered during a dwindling happy hour. They’re waiting to be seated in the Billy Wilder Theater for that night’s Hammer Conversations event — a talk between Band of Outsiders designer Scott Sternberg and writer/”canning evangelist” Kevin West.

Sternberg and West’s talk was advertised as being about the unlikely overlap between food and fashion, and strictly speaking, that was true. Especially early on in the program, the self-described close friends took time to loop in that overarching theme. Yet what became clear was that this talk, held in front of a packed audience, was more of a meditation on several individual themes loosely connected by their careers.

The first major connection to be discovered between the two men was a theme of transformation. Sternberg spent over a decade with Creative Arts Agency, and West was with W magazine for 12 years. Neither man was truly happy.

“The day I started there, I knew I was out of there,” Sternberg said.

So both decided to move on in their careers and follow their bliss — “sort of an Oprah turn of phrase,” as West described it, but an accurate one.

Eleven years ago, Sternberg started making menswear, and in 2004, he founded the Band of Outsiders label. It wasn’t easy to call himself a fashion designer immediately, preferring as he did to think about the brand and the ideas than actually thinking about designing clothes. Even when West first called him a designer in a conversation they had years ago, he demurred at the idea of being categorized with his East Coast colleagues.

“I’m not a garmento,” Sternberg said, referring to the New York term for designers. “[But] I can talk to garmentos, and I can talk like a garmento.”

“You can hang with the garmentos,” West joked.

The two have been friends for years after meeting at a Halloween party, and their warmth with each other was evident from the outset. Even playful jokes, as when West pointed out he was wearing Band of Outsiders (“Cute,” Sternberg said, “but, I mean, you got it at a discount”), established their dynamic: West is the more positive of the two, and more prone to long ponderings, while Sternberg tends to want to cut to the chase.

Similarly to how Sternberg can fit in with the garmentos, West can hang with the foodies, but despite his latest venture — a blog and recipe-filled book about food canning and preservation called Saving the Season — he doesn’t call himself a cook.

“If I had my druthers, I would say I’m a reporter,” West said. “I like going out and asking people questions. … I’ve just shifted subjects now.”

Shift indeed: The man once known for interviewing Brad Pitt and other celebrities at W“went rogue” in his own words and struck out on his home. Yet as West himself admitted jokingly, he was largely able to sell Saving the Season on being “the W magazine writer who made jam.”

“The power of celebrity is so great in the culture,” West said, “[it] accrues a certain reflective reputation.”

Sternberg is similarly aware of the power of celebrity — his brand has featured Michelle Williams, Jason Schwartzman and Frank Ocean in its campaigns. He also knows his past with CAA is not forgotten. In fact, he noted, no article written about him since he founded Band of Outsiders has failed to mention his previous employment. (A trend that will not be broken with this piece, clearly.)

Beyond L.A.’s proximity to the famous and fabulous of Hollywood, however, the two men talked about the city in relation to their careers. Surprisingly for a writer and a fashion designer, they said they appreciate the differences from New York — namely the figurative and literal space of the City of Angels.

“I’m so separated from what’s going on,” Sternberg said, crediting that figurative space as part of what makes his brand successful. He also noted that his trips to New York have previously been like “four-day extended panic attacks.” West was similarly complimentary of the space L.A. provides, noting that his book came together while staying in a house in Laurel Canyon.

Both men have built their current work on the idea of nostalgia, one of the biggest themes in the conversation.

“There’s this self-conscious yearning to return to this pre-industrial, home-cooked, local scene,” West said of the public’s current obsession with nostalgia. However, while West considers it a trend, Sternberg thinks it’s more about the kind of person you are — be it nostalgic or a futurist.

Sternberg’s work has hit on several major trends — from the Polaroid-based photo campaigns to a line of boat shoes just before the trend became massively popular again. Striking those nostalgic trends is great for a brand, he said, but there is a struggle to rein in that nostalgia.

When speaking with L.A. Weekly the morning after the event, West was clearly thrilled with how the event went. “It didn’t feel like a canned conversation, but a continuation of conversations we’ve had in the past,” he said. Yet the question about nostalgia still hung in the air — much as nostalgia does, of course — as the one point where West and Sternberg disagreed to an extent.

“I’m not a Luddite,” West said, joking about the influence of recreating the past in his work. He noted that it’s not about staying in that past, but using “what’s valuable about that place” in his work.

“I think Scott and I would agree on that basic point,” West said. Perhaps acknowledging their conversational dynamic, he added, “I do think he would have a more succinct way of putting it.”

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Hipsters’ popularity defies counter-cultural roots

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Hipsters’ popularity defies counter-cultural roots – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Cartoon Credit: Ian Zell | The Los Angeles Loyolan

They wear skinny pants and TOMS shoes. They listen to underground music and embrace everything retro. They wear wayfarer glasses and consider independent artists the golden standard. These are the stereotypes surrounding hipsters in today’s popular culture.

The term “hipster” is firmly engrained in the mainstream vernacular of today. Hipsters have become so popular that advertisers are embracing the hip ideal as a marketable brand. The hipster, which was once considered an icon of the counter-cultural movement, is quickly becoming an immovable part of pop culture.

“Hipsters want to feel special and superior. That’s a huge thing, being superior,” said sophomore film production major Zoe Gieringer, who dislikes the ‘hipster’ label. “A lot of the culture is counter-mainstream. Hipsters almost have an aversion to the mainstream.”

“I think, for some people, it’s an attitude, a feeling of superiority,” sophomore film production major James Weber said of hipsters. “But I’d say that’s getting into the pretentious side of it … I would say a hipster would be someone who would wear trendy clothing, listens to independent music, is under the radar and has an eye for anything counter-culture.”

The hipster culture first came about in the 1940s as what author of the Journal of the American Musicological Society article, “The Problem with White Hipness: Race, Gender and Cultural Conceptions in Jazz Historical Discourse” Ingrid Monson describes as a “hip subculture, comprising black Americans interested in Western artistic nonconformity and white Americans captivated by urban African American styles of music, dress and speech.” The word “hipster” became popular again in the 1990s as a term for who particularly invested in independent music.

Sophomore film production major Caroline Dunaway was less clear about the definition of the word thanks to the connotations that have been attached to it.

“The problem is it depends on how you’re looking at the word,” Dunaway said. “I feel like, a lot of times today, when someone calls someone a hipster, it’s derogatory.”

Perhaps because of that negative connotation, it’s difficult to find many who will define themselves as hipsters. Junior film production major Dan Fromhart is a rare breed: someone who seems to have a grasp on hipster culture while submitting himself to the label.

“I would consider myself a hipster,” said Fromhart, “but by doing that, I don’t think I am actually considered a hipster. I can call myself a hipster just because people would consider me a hipster. The way I dress is hipster, but the way I live my life isn’t.”

Today, however, the movement seems to be centered on retro fashion as well as with independent music. The stereotype also indicates a competitive nature among hipsters to discover small artists and wear unconventional fashion trends first.

“People associate being a hipster with trying to go against the grain as well as trying to find the super cool, underground bands that no one knows about and stay ahead of everyone else in knowing about things,” Dunaway said. “So I think in that sense, that’s where the negative connotation comes from.”

As the hipster label has evolved, however, it has increasingly  become part of popular culture, something Dunaway said was a contradiction of the very ideals behind the culture.

“People truly believe in the counter-culture aspect of it, but the hipster image reigns supreme in popular culture when it comes to our generation and what it means to look cool,” Dunaway said. “Advertisers cater to the hipster demographic. When you go to a store and say, ‘I’m going to buy this, it’s so hipster and counter-culture,’ thousands of other kids are doing the exact same thing … [and] you’re actually feeding the popular hipster culture. It’s not good, it’s not bad; it’s just popular.”

The marketing of the hipster image is what has caused so many to attempt to be hipster simply as a trend or fad. It is those people who have added a negative connotation to the word: the divide between real hipsters and posers.

“There’s a conceived true hipster and a conceived wannabe hipster,” Dunaway said. “A lot of people see a real hipster persona and a buyable, wearable hipster persona. You can buy the records, you can put on the clothes, but does that make you a hipster? I don’t know.”

“People go out of their way to dress the part of a hipster and make it look like they’re part of the culture because it’s becoming more popular,” said senior business major Brian Pede. “It’s cooler to be that way and dress that way.”

At LMU, according to Gieringer and Fromhart, hipster culture is a bit more limited, with most of the emphasis placed on the music scene versus the counter-cultural aspects.

“I don’t think there’s a strong hipster culture at LMU, but because there isn’t one, the people who have even the littlest tinge of hipster to them are immediately put into that box,” Gieringer said.

Fromhart added that LMU’s hipster culture was “suppressed, but growing,” largely thanks to the school’s population of wealthy students seeking a way to rebel against their upbringing.

“In regards to music, I think [the LMU hipster scene] actually has a lot to offer that you might not realize when you first come here,” Dunaway said. “As far as the bad hipster connotation goes, I don’t want to say sometimes people try too hard, but people can try too hard.”

As the hipster image continues to evolve, it will likely fall out of the popular culture once again. However, the culture of hip will continue on and possibly return to its counter-cultural roots.

“I think it’ll absolutely continue to evolve, but I’m interested to see where it goes,” Dunaway said. “Everything is influenced by something else. We can’t keep pulling out of thin air. It seems like we’ve gone through so many cycles – I’m interested to see what it’ll be. I’m certain it’ll be something from the past, just repurposed into something just a little different. Only time will tell.”

Andrew Kelley

How the men of LMU can make it work

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: How the men of LMU can make it work – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Andrew Kelley

Photo Credit: Shaina Julian | The Los Angeles Loyolan

Men of LMU, gather! Cast off your baggy sweatshirts and unflattering basketball shorts! There is a whole world of jackets, sweaters and jeans out there that can make you look good and feel better about how you present yourself to the world.

It’s a gross generalization to make, but there’s a strong argument to be made that the guys on this campus and in America simply don’t dress as well as they could or should. Rarely, if ever, is the problem with what they’re actually wearing. The quality of clothes and of brands on this campus in particular is remarkably high. But if you’re not wearing these designer duds properly, what’s the point? You’re paying a lot of money to look subpar.

There are three main tricks in men’s fashion that can change a weak, unflattering look into a winner. Join me, won’t you, as we go over how color sense, fit and layers can pump up the volume on your outfit and make that cute thing down the hall take notice.

Item number one on the agenda: color sense. It may come as a shock to some, but there are colors out there other than blue, brown, black and white (two of those aren’t even colors!). A simple outfit like a T-shirt and shorts can go from “I pulled these out of my hamper this morning” to “I’m a young Tim Gunn!” in a flash when you’ve got strong color sense.

I love to recommend dressing in what I call multi-tone monochrome, which is all in one color, usually blue or green, but in different shades. For example, say you’re wearing a kelly green V-neck. You could contrast with a pair of forest green shorts. The color gives a great pop effect, immediately setting you apart from the crowds of khaki cargo shorts and T-shirts.

Even if you aren’t one for super bold colors, you still have the power to embrace richer tones than a simple faded blue. A deep navy shirt is muted, but still notable. To reference Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada,” blue is not just blue – there’s turquoise, lapis and cerulean, to name a few. The same principle can apply to brown, yellow, purple, etc. There’s so much that can be done with color without even worrying about silhouette.

Speaking of which, the second item for today is fit. Sometime in the past two decades, the concept of men’s clothes fitting well seemed to fall by the wayside. Showing a couple of inches of underwear is encouraged and baggy sweatshirts are the norm. Men should take a cue from stars like Ryan Gosling in this summer’s “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the blockbuster “Inception.” Both men’s characters were suited up to a T and perfectly fit. These actors aren’t just renowned for their looks – they know how to dress themselves to emphasize those looks.

Even when not wearing a suit, fit is always paramount when figuring out how to look. A pair of jeans that sit properly on the waist can give the illusion of a nice butt where one doesn’t normally exist. Straight men, don’t shrug that off! Women can be very picky when it comes to their man’s backside. And if you spend all day in the gym, why cover your toned physique? Wear a slightly tighter shirt than you’re used to so you can best show what you’ve got going on underneath.

The final tenet of men’s fashion that must be remembered is layering. We’re about to head into the cold months of winter, and there will be plenty of opportunities for wearing multiple layers of clothes. Sweaters and jackets are key. Stay away from sweatshirts as much as possible unless you’ve found one that’s just so good-looking you simply can’t resist. These exceptions should be slim-fitting and in a cool print or color – anything that looks bulky or faded isn’t worth it.

Sweaters are making their way back from “Mister Rogers” territory and into the hipster chic zeitgeist. Jackets that aren’t too bulky and complement the rest of your outfit are great for a cold day. A peacoat is also a must-have item – it can be worn casually and with a formal outfit. Both fashionable and functional, layers can give your outfit depth and detail in the best way.

With these central tenets under your belt, you can dress for success and show what you’ve got to the greater LMU community. You owe it to yourself to look great.