Bling is a many-splendored thing. Some rappers' propensity for piling it on à la Mr. T might make it not appear so, but unique design and quality shine through even when bling is worn in massive amounts.
There's no Jedi mind trick behind the success of Han Cholo, an L.A.-born-and-bred jewelry house whose work can be seen in many a music video. Snoop Dogg has donned Cholo's Star Wars–inspired rings on every finger, while Gwen Stefani has rocked singular classics, including a ghetto-blaster ring and belt buckle.
Brandon Schoolhouse, the designer behind the company he runs along with partner Guillaume Pajolec, never had a formal line in mind when he got into the accessories game back in 2002. "I was basically making custom jewelry for my wardrobe-styling jobs for clients," he says. "And I would make jewelry just for myself."
No model can make a product cooler than the designer can by wearing it himself, and soon Schoolhouse had a bona fide biz on his hands. He opened the Han Cholo store, first as a sort of pop-up shop inside his pal Broke Dulien's successful White Trash Charms boutique in Los Feliz, then in Echo Park, on the tiny retail stretch on Echo Park Boulevard, which currently includes Tavin vintage store and Chango café. At the time, Echo Park wasn't nearly the hipster vortex it is today, and in many ways Cholo put that particular block on the map. Schoolhouse and the neighboring shops threw monthly block parties with art shows and live music until he closed his retail space a few years ago.
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Speaking of "the hood," cholo — which refers to a certain type of Mexican gang member — is more than just a name. Schoolhouse's L.A.-tino culture plays a big part in the line's aesthetic, as do skater style and music. Like the Beastie Boys, for whom Schoolhouse worked when they had their Grand Royal music label, the street style and hip-hop-meets-punk-rock attitude is a big part of the brand. HC's accessories have a pop culture–damaged edge, from brass knuckles, nunchucks and 40-ounce bottle pendants to rock & roll staples like skulls and spikes on everything from earrings to belts.
"I'm heavily influenced by music, science fiction and old Hollywood movies I grew up on," Schoolhouse says. "But I've never wanted to be one kind of stereotypical jewelry line, and I never wanted to paint myself into a corner. My imagination runs a little wild."
Indeed, the pop culture references go from wild to whimsical and back again: unicorn necklaces, pyramid rings, charms based on the video game Space Invaders, all in silver or gold, some with gem embellishment. It's the kind of jewelry that makes a statement. Wear Han Cholo and the question "Where you from?" is answered without saying a word.