|Photos by Larry Hirshowitz|
While Oxford Slut never worked out as a band name for J. Luke Smalley, it summed up the iconoclastic men’s clothing line he started last year: Vintage button-up shirts are deconstructed, screenprinted with images such as Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, Bromley Contingent anti-beauty Sue Catwoman, or old-school looner/crooner Screamin’ Lord Sutch and Frankensteined back to life in contrasting colors and fabrics, from pinstripes to solids to plaids. The results display a vitality that’s sadly missing from most menswear.
“The biggest inspiration for my clothing line is old punk music,” says Smalley. “I love the raw look of the Clash in Rude Boy to the tailored images of early Stones and the Who. Being a drummer myself for the last 15 years, music is in my blood.”
Smalley started out screenprinting skateboard graphics for the Foundation Super Company in San Diego, but punk music was his driving passion. He left FSC to move to Los Angeles and play drums in the Drop Outs, a self-described “dead-end band” — which meant he still had to make a living, so he found employment at various screenprint shops.
MODELS (left to right):
Steven Johnson, Frank Violence
and Sturmey Archer.
shirts pictured are cotton
“One thing I hated about working at a shop was it’s so impersonal. You’re basically just a laborer,” says Smalley. “I really wanted to be in the art department, so I decided to attend some classes at a community college, to learn the art of screenprint from the ground up. This way I could go from an idea to a garment and not have to pay out the ass for other people to help me achieve printable artwork.”
Eventually, he met and partnered with now-wife Erika, who designs Claret, a girls’ tee and leather handbag line. In the company’s nascent days, Smalley stayed after hours at his day job to print work for their personal projects. Then, one day while picking up ink at a supply store, he saw a flyer advertising screenprint equipment for sale. It was a package deal — everything a person would need to set up a small shop — and the price was right. Smalley ripped down the posting, convinced his sweetie to put their 1965 Dodge Coronet on the market, and thereby raised the money they needed. Now they screenprint in their Long Beach garage.
After he helped to build up Claret, Smalley branched out to produce wearable art for the fellows. Erika does the sewing, while Luke adds the graphics that reanimate his thrift-store finds. Oxford Slut has several of Smalley’s heroes from his old-school scenester days as clients — Anthony Kiedis of the Chili Peppers, Steven Perkins and Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction.
“One of my greatest resources has been my punk flier collection, which I collected out of record shops and picked up off the floors of shows as a teenager,” notes Smalley. “I have close to 200 fliers dating from 1981 to 1985 . . . This is a true lost art! These guys hand-drew everything, fonts and all. Nowadays it’s all computer bullshit. I still do most of my designs using the cut-and-paste method. You’d be surprised how far you can get with a Sharpie, a glue stick, some white-out, and a Xerox machine.”
Oxford Slut is available at American Rag, 150 S. La Brea Ave., (323) 935-3154; Fred Segal Man, 420 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 451-7539; and Wolf, 1337 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 392-8551.