Right now, if you are looking in Los Angeles for cutting-edge, high-end, underground designer clothing from Iceland, you will have to go to Chinatown. Robin Cervar is the woman to see. She is co-owner, with Jason Gillis, of Welcome Hunters on Jung Jing Road, and unless you have been trolling the fashion shows of lesser-known designers in Milan, Stockholm and Paris — where Cervar scouts seasonally — you have probably never seen clothes like the ones she sells. This is fashion that challenges the notion of what clothes can be.

Photos by Jessica Miller / Styled by Fabrice Anneron / Hair and Makeup by Kirsten Simitzi

Mix or match? Jesse Ramos in KTZ dog-print shirt, KTZ leggings and KTZ tribal-print slip-ons. Natalie Rodgers in dress and matching leggings by Stockholm’s Kling by Kling
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Photos by Jessica Miller / Styled by Fabrice Anneron / Hair and Makeup by Kirsten Simitzi

Icelandic hoodie: Nicole Cifani in Mundi’s unisex Capcom sweater
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Jessica Miller

Welcome mat
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Photos by Jessica Miller / Styled by Fabrice Anneron / Hair and Makeup by Kirsten Simitzi

Space frontiers: Gary Lopez in Mundi’s Magnetic Field sweater, Cheap Monday jeans and KTZ high-tops
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Jessica Miller

Feet don’t fail me now: Socks and shoes with a cult following.
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Is it a scarf or is it a visor? Both.

Is it a skirt or pants? Neither!

Welcome Hunters is the local home of Copenhagen-based Best Behavior's “Turnaround Top,” so named, perhaps, because turning it around is what you must do over and over again to put it on. The top is a strange, exquisitely constructed, modern knit affair with long, loopy straps that drape over the shoulders like a jumper, or cross around the neck, or (should you so desire) your foot.

Certain things, however, you would simply never wear together. Cervar steers people clear of such obvious faux pas as pairing an oversize turquoise-blue KTZ logo shirt with loose-fitting jeans.

“But you could wear it with this,” she says, selecting a pair of pants, also by KTZ, which feature a bright-orange corduroy seat sewn over gray cotton sweatpants with an orange bumblebee print and tight ankle cuffs. “Then you put it with these.” She grabs a pair of polka-dot high-top sneakers. “It does look crazy but when you see it on, you look kind of great. But you have to work it. You have to get it on, and get out there.”

Cervar, who is petite with a mussy honey-brown bob, is no stranger to getting it on and out there. Not too long ago, she was a project manager at Oracle, where she built a reputation in the office as the girl with experimental outfits, like a Vivienne Westwood black-velvet skirt that zipped up between the legs, from butt to navel.

“To the average passerby, it might look like a mistake,” she says. “But it was fabulous. I would wear it with cashmere leggings that had slits up the side that sat over the shoe like spats.”

Cervar cashed in her tech-stock options and started the store.

But even Cervar has her limits. Certain things, in her opinion, should never have been created by man or god.

“Lace,” she says, as she folds a scarf into a glass case. “I don't think that lace should exist in any sort of format. Except in doilies or something.”

The scarf, by Italian designer BeaYukMui, is 100 percent pashmina, but lighter and softer, from “a slightly different goat.”

Cervar also likes to experiment with fashion for oft-neglected parts of the body, like the area between your ankle and the middle of your foot. For instance, she doesn't do the sexy schoolgirl look, but she has done a pair of $648 Bolognese leather Mary Janes with a footless (yes, you read right, footless) tight under a legging under a skirt. One of her favorite things to do is wear a sock under a tall (but not too tall) boot, so about an inch of fabric peeps out.

“I love doing things with socks and hosiery,” she sighs, lifting up her pant leg and unzipping her boot to show me a striped, sheer-wool Gallo sock encasing her calf like a sausage skin. “See? You don't have to wear pahn-tyhose or something awful like that.”

The socks, which she sells in the store and which have a cult following, are from Milan and cost about $40. She bought the boots for $1,200. But unless you have X-ray vision, you can't see either of them because they are covered up by her stretchy $65 Cheap Monday jeans.


“Their standards of quality are ridiculous,” she says of the Gallo socks. FYI, in this context, “ridiculous” equals “fabulous.”

The Welcome Hunters style manifests elements of New Rave, which is currently sending waves of skinny jeans across Europe and slowly filtering into Los Angeles.

“Swedish denim is where it's at right now,” Cervar says. “The Swedes have cornered the market on awesome skinny jeans. Most U.S. skinny jeans are bedazzled or bejeweled in some way or aren't skinny enough. But men in Europe are wearing jeans that are glued on, although the next KTZ collection has sequins. It's pretty cutting edge.”

Cervar sells a hooded sweater by the Reykjavík designer Mundi that wraps around your head in a cowl, and zips up to completely cover your face except for large oval holes where your eyes peep out. It would look smashing for nightclubbing, or Alpine skiing, or bank robbing, or any combination thereof.

“Yeah, the designers are having trouble selling that one in the U.S. because of the Ku Klux Klan. And Abu Ghraib,” Cervar says, thoughtfully. “The average American man can't figure this stuff out. But that's not necessarily who it's for.”

The typical Welcome Hunters client is a gallerist or an art collector, someone avant-garde, someone “from the Westside who has a different level of disposable income, shall we say.” Roseanne Barr once wandered in. She didn't buy anything, but Cervar would have put her in a flowing gray-silk angle tunic by Best Behavior (it looks not unlike a robe they'd drape you with at the salon when you get a haircut) and a pair of toffee-colored Giorgio Brato lamb-leather boots. The aspiring Welcome Hunters client, however, is Jesse Ramos, a 17-year-old boy from the local high school who comes in after class with his buddies to try on the clothes. Jesse and his friends Jose Olivar, Brandon Calvero and Gary Lopez — juniors and sophomores at Cathedral High — cannot get enough of the store. Brandon is saving up to buy a white hoodie with Rorschach blots, which he plans to wear instead of his school uniform on one of Cathedral's free-dress days.

“I would wear this shirt with these pants,” Jesse says, indicating a long, striped tee that would cover the pants' bright-orange butt.

“But now you can't see the butt,” I say.

“That's the point.”

“You know what would look great?” Cervar says to Gary, who is trying on a green-and-white-striped sweater.

“If I take it off and put it back?” says Gary, grinning.

As long as they don't get too rambunctious, Cervar doesn't mind if the boys try on the clothes because it gives her new ideas for outfits.

“If you start a trend, the principal puts it on the restricted list,” Jose says. “What if I wore this masked sweater to school and they made a rule that said 'No masks'?”

That, they all decide, would be awesome. Because as Brandon says his English teacher says Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” Which to Jesse is just another way of saying, “If people are hating on it, you must be doing something right.”

When she was a teenager, Cervar could not rest easy until her outfits were just so. During her punk-rock phase, it had to be authentic U.S.-military-issue paratrooper jump boots. Not Doc Martens. She spent inordinate amounts of time sourcing the perfect pair of black tights, because she didn't like the way some turned greenish-black after washing. Drugstore tights from CVS, she found, held their color well and ripped in interesting ways.

“The Who and the Clash screamed about life and politics and I was ready. I said, 'I want your clothes, I want your hair, I want to be you,'” she recalls. “Some people think fashion is superficial. But I don't. I think it's all semiotics and culture and how we make meaning.”

The store's Web site had a photo for a while of boys riding mopeds in newly liberated Trieste during World War II, just after Italy capitulated.

“We put it up,” says Cervar, “because we loved the way the boys look. Apart from that problem with the fascism, Italy had great style, great architecture. But hey, what are you gonna do?”


Bea Yuk Mui: Ironic iconography (unicorns, rings, strawberries). Cashmere sweaters, scarves.

Giorgio Brato: Fruit-dyed leather shoes and boots from Bologna.


Jenny Hellstrom: Owl-print jackets. Detective-inspired menswear.

Iben Hoj: Cobwebby blouses and shifts reinforced with stainless steel, from Copenhagen. Only 10 pieces in each collection, but, says Cervar, “perfectly realized.”

Kloset: Flirty, pretty dresses from Bangkok.

KTZ: Tees, trousers and dresses in video-game colors.

Mundi: Sweaters like you've never seen sweaters.

Marjan Pejoski: Hosiery. Remember Bjork's swan dress? Pejoski made that.

 Welcome Hunters, 454-B Jung Jing Road, Central Plaza, Chinatown; (213) 687-9905; www.welcomehuntersla.com. Open Wed.-Sun., noon-7 p.m. Winter sale, 40-50 percent off, currently in progress. See laweekly.com for more Welcome Hunters pictures.

LA Weekly