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Photos by Larry Hirshowitz
CLEVERLY SUBVERSIVE LATINO AND NON-ENGLISH logos emblazoned on T-shirts, border goods such as huaraches and much-sought-after lucha libremasks line the red walls of Blue Demon. The store is an attractive Warholian reworking of Pan-Latino memory — kitschy Latino icons like singer Rigo Tovar, actress Maria Felix and variety-show host Raul Velasco get cracked with a postmodern whip. The immigrant is chic at Blue Demon, named after the second most beloved masked wrestling hero in Mexico (El Santo being the first, of course).
Co-owners Miguel Garcia and Diana Contreras, jet-setting upper-class transplants from Mexico City, arrived at their Melrose Avenue location after Contreras' purse, containing their passports, plane tickets and $7,000, was lost while on a business trip here. Garcia was sitting at a Starbucks trying to figure out what to do, when he noticed a storefront for rent across the street; on the spur of the moment, he called and got the space. Now, a year later, Garcia and Contreras — who met when Contreras visited one of Garcia's upscale Mexico City clothing stores — are tapping into a distinct Pan-American consciousness.
Hot on the post-Chicano heels of the Nortec cultural border boom, the couple are helping to define a Latin American cool with clothes — they rework vintage finds, paint traditional and pop iconography on jeans, reconfigure logo tees — and goods for both the nostalgic children of immigrants as well as the trend-monger looking to make peace while getting a piece of the Latino L.A. skyline. They dress DJs, guerrilla artists and rock stars: On the walls, mÃºsicos such as Kinky, ManÃ¡, Maldita Vecindad and Molotov have scrawled their black Sharpie greetings.
"What I do here is not just about vintage, or the border or even Mexico. I want to represent all Latinos — from Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro," says Garcia in accentless English. "Vintage doesn't work in Mexico. People don't want to wear used clothing, and they especially don't want to buy an old shirt for $20."
Sporting a new mullet, Garcia is a green-eyed, bicultural, binational skateboarder who looks like a cross between Mickey Rourke and a Keebler elf. Born in Mexico, raised around jazz musicians and artists in New Orleans and schooled in business administration in Mexico City, Garcia is the son of Larry Bornstein, co-founder of the seminal jazz club Preservation Hall. In Mexico, while running Less Than Zero-style with the children of the country's elite, Garcia discovered an affinity for designing women's clothing.
Contreras, born and raised in Mexico City, has a chilanga accent (a sing-song inflection) that surfaces when she's excited. She designs the patchworked jeans that have been worn by the likes of ManÃ¡, and says many people are surprised to see that Mexico has an art scene as well as a sophisticated sense of fashion. "They think we're still rocking sombreros and zarapes," she jokes.
Most of their designs are produced on a small scale, providing Ãºnicoidentity while avoiding the need to traverse maquila terrain. Neighboring Mexico City seÃ±oras — Garcia and Contreras spend about two weeks a month there — work on some of their designs, and earn a living wage.
In continuing to create thinking goods for the body, Garcia and Contreras are translating historically devastating moments and forgotten stars of Mexican lore into pop art. The most popular items, made in the shop's backroom, are baseball jerseys with a country's name and number, usually the year when a historical event took place: Mexico 68 (Tlatelolco student massacre), Japan 45 (Hiroshima), Cuba 59 (Fidel's revolution).
A pretty Latina walks in and asks Garcia if they have a jersey for Spain. Not yet, he answers. What year did Franco die, he asks Contreras, who doesn't know. They'll have to look it up before they get to work.
Blue Demon, 7625 Melrose Ave.; (323) 653-5603.