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Let Bygones Be Buy Gone

Photos by Debra DiPaolo

Starting in the mid-’90s, vintage fashion boutiques such as Lily et Cie, the Paper Bag Princess, Resurrection and Decades opened and became as exclusive and expensive as Westside art galleries, with stock often described as “museum quality.” Now these secondhand fashion institutes curate shows, make private appointments and — as extensions of the Hollywood prop and costume houses — have rental sections. They also serve as a one-stop resource for many of today’s biggest design names seeking inspiration. That’s a gigantic leap from the early ’80s when vintage usually meant thrift store, and you wouldn’t have seen the likes of Winona Ryder, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger donning used clothes for a red-carpet appearance. Not only does wearing vintage underscore one’s individualism these days, it puts forth fashionista props — as in “Look at what my discerning eye has found.”

Cesar Padilla (left) and Radford
Brown in the dressing room,
converted from a vault, with
a 1971 limited edition Man
Ray mirror from the Ultramobile

About 10 years ago, before I had any idea that the secondhand-store age of innocence was coming to an end, I went to Kentucky to visit my friend Cesar Padilla and his significant other, Radford Brown. They opened Sasquatch, a vintage retail store in Louisville specializing in primitive to modern furniture and quality used clothes. They were buying their merchandise from estate sales, country flea markets, dead stock and thrift stores in the region. I went with them on a buying trip to a small Indiana town, and got some insight into what it takes to find valuables in a pile of junk: radar. The thrift stores weren’t as picked over as L.A.’s, but after I fingered through a couple racks of suits, I became irritable and restless. Cesar, on the other hand, zeroed in on treasures, spotting just a part of a suit sleeve and knowing instantly that it was the one.

A few years later, Padilla and Brown took a load of furniture and clothes to New York for an exposition called “The ’60s Show” and created a sensation. In 1997, with the possibilities in Louisville feeling increasingly limited, they opened a boutique, Cherry, in New York. A clientele evolved that was mostly stylists and designers, and Padilla and Brown also became associate dealers for Sotheby’s, handling fashion properties. They began buying costumes, art-to-wear, and one-of-a-kinds from socialites, art collectors, theater companies and old ballerinas.

Their biggest acquisition was the estate of Joseph LaRose, a shoe designer in Florida who designed and produced shoes from the ’40s to the ’80s. The purchase included more than 100,000 pairs of shoes — pumps, spikes, flats, platforms, inverted wedges and the sole-less Lifetime Sandal made up of a chain harness with toe ring and two gladiator-length silver-leather straps – many with matching handbags, plus artifacts including design sketches and personal letters from star clients such as Joan Crawford. A select number of pairs were auctioned at Sotheby’s; the rest make up the stock at Star Shoes on Hollywood Boulevard.

Padilla and Brown had been looking to open a shop in L.A. since they embarked on the Star Shoes venture. Last Friday they threw an opening party for Cherry West, located in a former ice-cream company next to the cruise-y “Vaseline Alley” in West Hollywood. “We love it!” says Brown, a Florida native. “This space was the most vibrant, the most alive.” Adds Padilla, who grew up in Lynwood and Huntington Park: “We totally fit in. We’re a little trashy, and we’re a little high-end.”

Cherry West’s “Rental Only” room offers a peek into iconic pop cultural moments: Norma Kamali’s parachute-fabric ensemble; Jean-Paul Gaultier’s formal kink jacket; very early Issey Miyake; prototypes of Wax Trax’s punk/goth-era T-shirts; and Rudi Gernreich’s knit arm pieces. Cherry isn’t only about labels, however: Streetwear from the ’60s to the ’80s reveals the progression of youth culture movements. There are mint-condition hippie leathers, Boy of London zippered/bondage pants, knit leg warmers.

Lower left to right, Joseph
LaRose late-’40s/early-’50s
inverted wedges, Goody Two
Shoes platform “official glam
rock shoes” and Joseph LaRose
late-’50s pump.

But Padilla seems the most passionate when showing off the monumental rock T-shirt collection, which goes all over the place from Eddie Cochran to Iggy Pop to Adam and the Ants, plus commemorative shirts from the Ramones’ first U.K. tour, Divine in Africa, and the Sex Pistols in America. There’s one gem he refuses to sell: “Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band wish you a Merry Christmas.”

This is the beginning of a bigger project. Padilla, a music enthusiast who has directed three videos for the hardcore East L.A.–based death metal band Brujeria, wants to compile the rock wear into a narration: “I’m trying to get at the root of what to me is the last great American revolution. It’s like in that X song — ‘The Unheard Music’ is still unheard. The music has been written out of current rock history, especially in the eyes of public institutions. It’s Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols and then U2. What happened to everything in the middle? I want that music to be heard.”

Cherry West, 8250 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 650-4698.

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