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An Anti-Pretty Pretty Boy 

Charles Stolarek and His Wooden Mustache

Thursday, Aug 4 2005
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Photos by Michael PowersYou could call Charles Stolarek a meta-designer. There are his clothes: oddly beautiful and thought-provoking, droll and subversive. The Museum of Jurassic Technology comes to mind. And then there are the ideas behind his clothes. His second collection for his Wooden Mustache line last fall started out with the notion of rotation and pageantry, creating a formal shape that moved in a fluid way, full of clean lines, very symmetrical, with perhaps a raw edge to leave part of the story untold. “I like the immediacy of someone climbing in and wrapping themselves in an idea.”In fact, his collection for Spring 2006 is all about thinking — “thinking about ideas so hard that the ideas come through your skin, as though it is a thought versus something you go buy and put on.” Complicated hand-dyed shapes — a jacket might have 30 pieces by the time it’s put together — might frame the heart, or form a tank top where a pocket has been attached, ripped off and reattached, giving the impression that the pocket moves.His line is as much about commentary, about conflict, about identity, as it is about the clothes. He’s creating narrative, layers of personality, a way to interact. But there is both form and function: pockets big enough for a hand, just as many buttons as needed to keep a garment closed, never a phony placket. The genuine matters.So does keeping prices reasonable — nothing too sacred or costly — while still supporting himself. And making extraordinary things through simple means. And not taking himself too seriously. After all, he’s a guy who loves Dollywood (its Ring of Fire is his favorite ride in the whole world); once owned all 144 Branson, MO trading cards; and makes up his own jokes: Why does the secretary have beautiful nails? Because she’s good at filing. He’s not a perfectionist — it’s sportswear, for heaven’s sake — but at the same time he doesn’t want to contribute to the averageness of objects or thinking. And sometimes he’s disappointed because he just doesn’t feel that impressed by anything. Portrait of the artist as a young man. Chatting with Stolarek on the front porch (complete with sewing machine) of his faded glory of a house — a seven-bedroom K-Town Arts & Craft–era bungalow shared with five people — he considers his answers, long pauses punctuating our conversation, which meanders from the heady to the factual. Stolarek, known as Chuck, wanted to be a high-school music teacher. Mostly in response to the awful teachers he had growing up in a no-stoplight suburb outside of Chicago. He began playing saxophone in the sixth grade, band-geeked his way through high school and got a music scholarship to Wesleyan.But after a year and a half there he realized that teaching band in the middle of Illinois wasn’t his future. So he transferred to RISD to study furniture design. Why furniture? No real rhyme or reason.After graduating in 2002, he headed to Los Angeles. Time to get going with real life, to start something, and his brother was studying at CalArts so he had a place to bunk down. He eventually moved to Highland Park and met people who were making clothes, including Corinne Grassini, who does the line Society for Rational Dress. The immediacy of the process attracted him.“I’m interested in connections, making pieces that have a story to them or a concept, that fit well and are reasonably priced, that can breathe and be manipulated or worn in different capacities. Maybe someone would throw a piece away after they wore it once, or they would keep it forever. As long as somebody is involved in something and an interesting person. The stuff is specific enough that it keeps away people who I wouldn’t want to be friends with.”This spirit of challenge informs both designer and his clothes. He’ll try something he thinks would be hard to do to see how far he can take it. Say, learning the clarinet a few years ago (he plays with a group called Beverly Hills Wind Trio). Or designing clothes with no formal training. And there’s the sort of anti-pretty pretty aesthetic that defines Wooden Mustache — the name a Mad Lib–ish random selection. Not that he doesn’t want you — that is, if you’re a self-assured woman with a sense of humor and savvy to trends and mainstream culture but no follower — to appear attractive. He very much does, but not in the sense of selling a look. His ideal customer doesn’t understand the concept of ugly.

Hand-dyed linen jacket

Cotton dress

Stretch cotton pintuck blouse and linen sailor skirt

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Cotton tee-shirt with princess seams and rayon skirt

Cotton blouse with inset silk panels and linen riding shorts

(above and below): Cotton dress under double-zip cotton hooded jacket and spandex nylon leggings

Cotton poplin satin-lined hooded coat over cotton pants

Wooden Mustache is available at The Kids Are Alright, 2201 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 413-4014; and Una Mae’s, 4651 Kingswell, Los Feliz, (323) 662-6137; or woodenmustache.com or elegantelevator.com. PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL POWERS MODEL: EMILY BOOTH MAKEUP: ALMA ANGUIANO (MK Artists) HAIR: KRISTIN SIVESIND (Luxe Lab) All jewelry by Glass Arrows Shoes by Society for Rational Dress

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