Best Denim Shops | Q&A with Mister Freedom
The fourth runner up for our ‘Best Denim Shops‘ title is a heavyweighter, but (to be honest) not your average denim shop. Actually denim is only one of the many categories this mega-store has to offer, but with such great selection and a dedication to the timeless quality of vintage wear and ware – LA’s Mister Freedom deserves our full attention (and a trophy).
The concept behind Mister Freedom is the brain child of French expatriate Christophe Loiron. Since 2003, MF’s brick building at Beverly Boulevard is filled with a huge inventory of vintage clothing, footwear and accessories for men and women from the 1850’s to the present alongside Loiron’s original creations. The 3200 sq ft retail space also offers rare textiles, vintage books as well as antique props for deco. This extensive eclectic collection of vintage items is collected around the world and updated regularly with new finds. Oh, and let’s not forget Mister Freedom also collaborates with Japanese manufacturing experts “Sugar Cane & Co” (of Tokyo based “Toyo Enterprises”) for a full line of clothing, made in USA and Japan.
Mr. Freedom/Loiron was kind enough to answer some questions for us:
DM: How and why did you start Mr. Freedom?
CL: I have been scouting flea markets for a long time and digging through ‘trash’ since I was a kid.. I’ve always appreciated old things. They have soul to me, tell a story and are often intriguing. I love real stories and there is always one associated with a vintage piece. There are like a book. You can like the cover, but what gets you is the story.
After a while I realized that you could actually make somewhat of a living doing it, and that beat a 9 to 5 for me. I opened my own ‘found objects’ thing. Mostly clothes and an eclectic selection of things that inspired me. Textiles, props, books etc…I had made friends in the design field early on, working at American Rag and having a vintage store in Kyoto for a while…Since fashion didn’t interest me, I started catering to people who were more into archiving, research and inspirational pieces.
When the hunt became a little monotone for me, i started making things that I wanted to find in the rags. I learned how to ‘recreate’ the old (graphics, washes, fade, silhouettes etc…) that was getting too hard to find, or just had not yet existed. MF was the result of years of trials, a mixture of vintage and things I was making.
What’s in the name?
I found an original promotional pamphlet of the 1969 William Klein movie a while back. Loved the graphics and the red/white/blue pop art treatment. Hadn’t seen the movie then, but liked the name. Thought that if you could pick your last name, Freedom would be a good one! I value my own, and went for that went I opened my showroom.
Where or how do you source your goods?
Big secret! I get asked everyday! “Where do you FIND all this stuff???”
It’s a full time job mixed with an obsession of finding things wherever i go. I can’t travel without hitting a local flea market or hitting antique or recycled stores. I went to Cuba for 3 weeks on vacation, and couldn’t help looking for Guyabera shirts and other Batista era left over clothes…Seemed all the white tropical stuff is gone though.
I’m constantly on the lookout. I’m often up at 3AM on Sundays, for flea markets. I don’t do EBay either, I need to see and feel before I buy.
Continue reading + more images after the jump
How did the collaboration with Sugar Cane & Co. come into life?
Toyo buyers had been coming to MF for a few years before I actually met them. They had been buying vintage military and workwear from me, along with some graphics that I was making. One day we hooked up and they asked me to make a pair of jeans as collaboration. It was my first time making an actual garment from scratch. The ‘MFSC 7161’ Denim Utility Trousers were born almost overnight. I invented this story about a worker in the 30s who needed a new pair of work pants, so he stitched himself some dungarees with scrap pieces of denim he had laying around. Very ‘primitive’. I wanted to stay away from a ‘501’ style 5 pocket (who needs to sing NY NY after Franky?). So I thought of a USN style wrap legs and pockets, and threw in some obscure detailing. I stayed up all night to make the first prototype…The factory that had to make the production was crying! There were about 550 pieces of those made…
For the next season, Toyo asked me for a more complete collection. So I came up with the story of this Merchant Marine sailor who went on a worldwide tour in 1936, and had his clothes custom made by the local Naval Base Tailors where his ship anchored. I did 3 seasons with that story.
The latest collection is based on the life of 3 brothers, a motorcycle family and club…Spanning from the early 30s to the late 60s. It’s called “Speed-Safe clothing for Modern Riders”…It’s hitting MF mid October 2009. I still really dig naval things, but since everyone has been on that band wagon lately, I decided to switch method of transportation for a while…
Obviously you’re inspired by vintage pieces – do you also look for modern references when you design?
I’m a hermit and have NO idea what other people are making, nor what’s in demand. I don’t read magazines and I am not interested in trend forecasting. I make what I want to wear at a specific time, and if people like it great, otherwise I have clothes I like! I never go shopping for new stuff, and don’t go around to new stores to check out what’s out there.
If I travel to an unknown destination, I don’t want to know what to go see from a guide book. I’d rather miss 10 local landmarks, preferring the pure joy of stumbling upon one on accident. So I keep in the dark.
I spent my childhood in Africa, and there’s a saying that kinda goes: A monkey who imitates a lion is still a monkey. I don’t like copy cats, and there are plenty of those around. I’d rather make mistake doing my own thing.
What role do you think denim played in the whole vintage/heritage movement we see in recent years?
It’s that phenomenon of the rich man who wants to look poor, and vice versa. Beat up denim and old school work clothes for “them that got” and the status giving monogram bag for the others…No-one is happy where he is, it seems. The old story about the grass being greener…
I also think guys are turning away from the ‘androgynous’ look, to a more masculine one. Wearing denim/workwear doesn’t make anyone a tough guy, but I think women must be happy of that change! I’m sure that, should the option presents itself, they’d rather go out with Brando or McQueen than Boy George…
Anyways, we’ll see how long that lasts, but right now it’s more visually pleasing for all, imo.
Which are your favorite denim shops?
I would be the worst guide if I had to take someone shopping! I very rarely shop in ‘new’ stores. The less I know of what people are doing or what’s selling, the better I am. Not an ego issue, I’m just not interested, really. I find plenty inspiration watching an old movie, flipping through old b/w photos or old magazines. And I also only wear denim I make, beside vintage stuff. Not because I find it better, but because I like to see how it evolves. I often end up using my own denim as a wash target for the MFSC Japanese production.
Store?…I have yet to go but I heard that Self Edge in SF (and their new NY location) is a killer spot. My favorite stores would not be just denim (I love good mixes) but Jantiques in Tokyo has to be THE shop to visit when I go to Japan. I also like the RRL store in LA, because they are friends, and we send people looking for something specific back and forth (they carry vintage also).
What, in your opinion, makes a great denim shop?
I think it would be a mixture of old and new. With mostly raw denim and some vintage pieces. I am definitely not a big fan of fake wiskering, as good as the washes are. I would rather buy a pair of jeans with 100% of life left in it, instead of having a factory take 75% of it with hard washing, and blow a knee after 3 months. Personal opinion. It’s a choice at MF, we don’t have new “aged” denim. We miss a lot of sales that way, because not everyone has the patience to break raw denim. But the results are so much better than factory washes that we stick to that policy.
So…what lies in the future for Mr. Freedom?
A lot is going on right now. I have a lot of collaboration ‘requests’ from the big boys. I keep them all hush hush until release date.
I am also trying to set up a good local manufacturing system for MF original designs. Not easy but I believe in local economy, so it is worth the efforts. If I could find the key places/people to make all my ideas/prototypes come true, without getting into the garmento circle, I’d be happy. Working on it, the old school way.
Mister Freedom – 7161 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.