The number of abandoned retail outlets and storefronts that have closed continues to rise, gallery dept making shopping in brick-and-mortar shops seem like an unremarkable activity that can feel almost like a walk through the Twilight Zone. Signs of life can seem almost as disorienting as this new, glum normal.
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Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood
For example, take a pair of storefront windows at Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. They were once a reminder of an old, defunct upscale furniture store.
In August, they started to fill up with seemingly unrelated objects. Bluejeans were heaped high in a hill, a lounger upholstered in denim was full in, and a life-sized model wearing a jumpsuit, complete with an eyeball, remained in the midst of an ocean drop materials.
The hand-painted signage in one window indicated that the Gallery Dept. storefront, with its cryptic displays and 6,000 square feet of retail space, is the “Appointment Only”.
Gallery Dept. is not its name. Gallery Dept. is not a gallery, nor a department store, but a hybrid clothing label that sits somewhere in the Venn diagram overlap between streetwear labels, denim ateliers, neighborhood tailors, and vintage stores.
Gallery Dept could be described just as accurately. Gallery Dept is the personal art project of Josue Thomas. A designer whose creative impulses are as diverse and multilayered as his own.
With so many small brands retreating this summer, Mr. Thomas’s label has survived and thrived despite these difficult conditions. Gallery Dept. has grown in less than two years.
Gallery Dept. has been moving from a crowded workshop down Beverly Boulevard to its new location in part because its hoodies and logo tees, as well as its flare-cut jeans, which were each hand-painted by Thomas on upcycled and dead-stock garments, have become rare objets d’art in a crowded streetwear market.
This sector of fashion is very crowded. In recent years, there has been a lot of corporate collaborations and merch drop. Gallery Dept. is the opposite.
Gallery Dept. is a more bespoke operation that offers streetwear basics with a unique artist’s touch (in this instance Mr. Thomas).
In 2017, Mr. Thomas started to make jeans and screen-print shirts according to his mood. Gallery Dept. was established in 2017. After being worn by Kendall Jenner and LeBron James as well as Kendrick Lamar and two Migos (Offset, and Quavo), it has evolved from an underground cult label for collectors to one that is atmospherically acclaimed.
The appointment-only space is now available with up to 20 appointments per day. Those who are lucky enough to get in the space are greeted by a 20-foot tall wall. It reads “Art That Kills” in large crawl text and occasional references to Rod Serling’s iconic sci-fi program.
The store is brightly lit by Mr. Thomas’s abstract paintings, writings, and clothing racks. They are stacked on bright brass shelves and filled with thick sweatshirts and sweatpants.
One can also hear bits of bossa Nova Muzak over the noise of sewing machines. This vinyl-only mix was also created by Mr. Thomas. (An Art That Kills imprint plans to release music from other artists, such as the New York rapper Roc Marciano.
Gallery Dept.’s new space was funded on the strength and success of e-commerce sales this spring, Mr. Thomas stated during a walk-through. This gives Thomas and the label (12 people) the freedom to work on their own terms. There are quite a few.
There are no mirrors in the dressing rooms to assess a fit. He said, “We’re going tell you whether a piece of clothing works or not.” Its garments are also free of price tags.
He said, “If the price is your first consideration, it will change the way you think about a piece.” “I prefer people to engage with the clothing first.”
The Gallery Dept. does not accept pull requests from stylists
The Gallery Dept. The Gallery Dept. does not accept pull requests from stylists and does not send pieces to influencers. Mr. Thomas explains this with a hint of punk anger.
He said, “Kendall does not get a discount.” “We don’t seed. “I don’t care about who it is, we don’t cater for different markets.”
He wore a pair of cutoff carpenter trousers and a white T-shirt, each with a rainbow splatter. Mr. Thomas looked like an artist, his hands painted and fingernails individually colored. While standing in a room decorated in mauve, Thomas showed off his latest ideas.
He wore pewter jewelry with unusual shapes. For example, an earring that resembled a zipper pull. This was made in collaboration with Chrome Hearts.
Thomas stated, “I liked my parents’ clothing growing up.” “As a teenager, I was able to fit into my father’s leather jacket. It had a perfect patina, which was my personal style. You couldn’t buy it in a shop.
He turned 36 in September.He grew up in Trinidad and Venezuela as the son of immigrants. His parents used their artistic talents to build a life for themselves.
Stefan Gilbert owned a small women’s clothing label
He now employs those same talents as a designer and artist: screen printing, tie-dying, and sign-painting. His father Stefan Gilbert owned a small women’s clothing label for a brief time.
In his 20s, Thomas also worked for Ralph Lauren. He soon realized that he could only survive as a creative person in a predominantly white fashion company.
He said, “I was the coolest Black guy, but there wasn’t anywhere for me to go.” “It would have been the best case to source buttons for women’s outerwear.”
Gallery Dept. was founded by Mr. Thomas in 2016 when he sold a denim poncho he had made from his own fabric to Johnny Depp’s stylist.
Thomas was primarily focused on D.J.ing and making beats, but after selling all of the pieces he intended to sell at Estate Marmont, Thomas realized that there was another creative outlet.
This was less about ponchos dropping from subsequent collections and more about old garments being remade in the heat of artistic paroxysm with as little second-guessing as possible.
Jesse Jones, a veteran sailor, helped Mr. Thomas to create made-to-order pieces. Customers were often unaware of the details of what they had just stumbled upon.
He said, “We were creating pieces as we were selling them.”
Thomas worked with vintage shirts, hoodies, and bomber jackets. He would often screen-print the logo of the brand, adding paint or other embellishments as the mood struck.
This extends to sweatpants, long-sleeved tees, and socks. He also started to alter the silhouette of the vintage Levi’s work pants and Carhartt work pants by adding a subtle flare. This was complemented with patches and reinforced stitching. The result is a streetwise version of the boot-cut jean.
Mr. Thomas as the “LA Flare“
This style of jeans was christened by Mr. Thomas as the “LA Flare” because it isn’t like other denim styles that have been categorized into “his” or “her” categories. The LA Flare is the zeitgeisty “they” in streetwear denim. The label refers to its products as “unisex.”
The price of the jeans is higher for luxury items, while the basic version starts at $395. The price of the jeans can rise to $1,200 if you add custom tailoring or additional touches from Mr. Thomas.
A pair of chrome-dyed flares with Chrome Hearts that were adorned with the brand’s iconic gothic crosses has been sold for $5,000 on Grailed.
George Archer, the senior buyer at Mr. Porter, stated that “there is nothing like Josue’s repurposed Jeans.” They are both wearable pieces and works of art. He is the only one doing what he does.
The Gallery Dept. was first discovered by Mr. Archer. The logo was first seen on men in Tokyo in March. Mr. Thomas interprets and creates clothing as if it were an end in and of itself and not a commodity that can be monetized. Porter still hopes to make it. a monetizable collection. It will also offer pieces on its e-commerce website later in the year.
Motofumi Koga, creative director at the Japanese label United Arrows & Sons
Motofumi Koga, creative director at the Japanese label United Arrows & Sons said that you can feel the warmth from Josue on each piece. Mr. Kogi, an elder statesman of Tokyo’s streetwear scene, discovered the label while on a trip in Los Angeles last year. He is known for his artistic flair and ability to transform a worn garment into something new.
He said that he had taken a staple of hip-hop culture, and resurrected it.
It was a challenge to get those who are part of that culture to accept it. Mr. Thomas stated that 2017 was the first year of the flare. He said skinny jeans were popular. “Rappers would walk into the shop and claim they’d never worn a flare. Everyone is now wearing it.
Instagram has fit photos by rappers Rich the Kid, Quavo, Offset and Migos. Gallery Dept.’s flare is a well-known silhouette. It features skinny jeans that fall below the knee, often coiled around vintage Air Jordans.
Virgil Abloh is a fan of the jeans and sees Mr. Thomas’s “edit” on the classic garment as the next chapter in its history.
“Their flare cut was the most important new denim cut in the past decade — since skinny jeans,” Mr. Abloh stated. Self-described Levi’s “obsessive,” he owns more than 20 pairs from Gallery Dept. After a routine stop at Erewhon Market, he entered Mr. Thomas’s shop.
“I thought, “This is incredible. He said, “Here are some men editing their clothes in a store.” It reminded me of what it was like when I first started, which was to paint over logos and make hand-personalized clothing.
Mr. Abloh believes Mr. Thomas’s work is fashion’s equivalent of “readymade” art. He also mentions Shayne Oliver from Hood by Air as a distant relative. He said that he and Thomas are part of a Black designer lineage that is still defining itself.
“He’s an example of someone who creates their own path from a group that hasn’t traditionally been involved in fashion,” Mr. Abloh stated. Josue is a pioneer in the Black design and I see him as bringing a new perspective to the table.
Thomas agreed with this. He was also distracted by the thoughts that were happening at his fingertips. His ability to remain in the moment is what will determine the future of his brand.
He said that people want things that aren’t manufactured. “This paint was created by me working. This feeling was what I wanted to recreate. It’s impossible to see past something that has been contrived. You can only explain so much.