|Photos by Michael Powers|
It was a twisted-sister ride on the road to becoming a clothing designer
for Jeffrey Sebelia, whose line Cosa Nostra is infused with rebel wit and messed-up
elegance — a glamorously decadent rock & roll spirit. Oh, he was always interested
in fashion. In awe, really. He even learned to sew when he was a tyke after his
parents split up and he was dividing time between Pasadena, where he was born,
and New York and Alabama.
“I was a 9-year-old with no friends. My grandmother in Monrovia would take care of me, and the sweet old lady who lived next door taught me to sew. I would make bags, almost like little treasure bags for coins and things, and sweaters and jackets with her.”
But then he discovered punk rock — “the ’80s made me everything I am” — and Sebelia started learning guitar. And like any righteous punker kid, he tricked out his clothes with patches, spray paint and some judicious scissor work.
Next thing you know, it’s the early ’90s and he’s the bass player for the heavy power-pop trio Lifter, who had an indie hit with “402.” The song led to the band getting signed by Interscope in that frenzied time of the Silver Lake scene, when Beck, Extra Fancy, Possum Dixon and the Geraldine Fibbers were scoring major-label deals.
But rock god-dom was not to be, although they gave it a heck of a try for five years. “It was fun but there’s nothing worse than three guys in a van circling the country, just hoping to make it big and everyone telling you that you’re going to be huge and then at the end of the day realizing that it doesn’t matter to them whether you’re huge or not. You’re a tax write-off.”
Still, all that driving around did give Sebelia plenty of time to sit in the back and read fashion mags — a pastime not shared by his “very macho” bandmates.
Fast-forward through six years of him doing art direction and production design for music videos, and we find Sebelia burned out. He decided to investigate what fashion was all about, enrolling in L.A. Trade Tech to see if he still liked to sew.
“I loved it. More than music and more than any other design I have ever done.”
After two semesters at Trade Tech, he won a contest in fall 2002 to be in a fashion show and started making samples — reconstructed leather, fur and denim coats. He partnered up with stylist Michel Berandi — the two were part of Gen Art’s “The New Garde” show in April 2004 — who co-designed the line until last fall (they were briefly joined by Nashville Pussy bassist Corey Parks, who was designing her own line, for a few months in the beginning).
He and Berandi showed the samples to a friend who got the pieces into Fred Segal, where all sold as one-of-a-kinds. A business was born. Two, you could say.
While dropping off an order of women’s pieces at Fred Segal, the men’s buyer caught up with Sebelia — who was then working out of his living room in Highland Park — and asked if he had any menswear. “I didn’t, but I said, ‘Oh, yes, but it’s all out.’ ” Two weeks later, he did. “Production work was boot camp for doing anything.” The line, now manufactured in a downtown Garment District studio with six employees, is evenly split between men’s and women’s, and he makes some footwear and jewelry.
Sebelia exudes a kind of Cali-cool dudeness, complete with post-ironic shag and an armful of tats (which his mom has been known to airbrush out of the family Christmas photos), but he radiates — in an understated way, of course — when recounting a phone call he got from a salesperson at Maxfield: John Galliano, his biggest design inspiration, had just bought one of his jackets. “It made me really feel good.”
So why the name Cosa Nostra? “It came from one of my favorite albums by Johnny Thunders — The Cosa Nostra World Tour. And from knowing my sordid family history and background with Jewish-Italian crazy fuckers on the East Coast. It means ‘this thing of ours’ in Italian. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of this crazy reconstructed stuff happening. I felt like I was doing that frame of mind for fashion. It was rock, it was Johnny Thunders, it was a little fucked up and it seemed to make sense.”
Cosa Nostra is available at Maxfield, 8825 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood;
(310) 274-8800 or www.cosanostrainc.com.
Photographs by Michael Powers
Hair/makeup: Alma Anguiano (MK Artists)
Models: Leah Fitzgerald (Photogenics) and Joshua Lasater (Q)
Fur felt riding cap (on Leah, third photo), and velour fedora with grogram and feathers (on
Joshua, third photo); fur felt hat with quail feathers (on Joshua, first photo) all
by Ariane, 9528 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-9021.