Almost a decade ago, my girl and I were strolling the streets of San Francisco, when we turned the corner and stumbled upon a line of 20 or so kids lined up for a Paul Frank in-store signing. This is back when the designer was still affiliated with his own brand, and when the underground label was much smaller and intimate with its dedicated customers. At the time, it kinda blew me away that guys and girls from all walks of life were spending a Saturday in line to meet this guy who drew simplistic monkeyfaces and attached them to t-shirts and custom accessories. I had always associated this type of phenomenon with rock bands or celebrities. Perhaps even artists. But underground fashion designers?
The reality was that Paul had honed in on a niche market, or more importantly, had created his own. One that no other brand or designer could reach, but one that a specific type of clothing customer was wildly passionate about.
My good friend Johnny Cupcakes opened shop in Los Angeles this morning, which, if you were there, is quite the understatement. The Boston-based t-shirt maker has already built a fanbase on the Eastern seaboard due to his famous Beantown boutique and successful online business. But it’s his clever cupcakes-centric graphics that take cues from his hardcore punk roots, childhood nostalgia, and current streetwear influence that take the… cake. And even moreso when you consider the limited-edition appeal of his products and the cross-market/cross-gender (not transgender) charisma that Johnny Cupcakes has aligned itself/himself with.
The best part about a brand like Johnny Cupcakes is that it’s neither here nor there, but it’s undoubtedly everywhere. A lot of my upper-echelon streetwear contemporaries deride the brand for being kitschy and soft (ironic considering a good chunk of their customers are Cupcakeheads. i.e. Look at the photos.) While more mainstream labels may not understand the limited-numbers approach to a basic t-shirt line. But that is why I’ve always respected and appreciated Johnny’s work, because he’s always done whatever he’s wanted to do with his line, paying no mind to the critics or the doubters, all the while listening intently to himself and his customers — who are ultimately the only ones who matter. At the end of the day, it’s this mentality that racks up the wins. Case in point:
The lineup for Johnny’s store opening started on Tuesday and lasted 4 days, with kids flying in from around the country for the big event. By this morning, the line of sidewalk-sleepers had wrapped around the entire block and curled INTO ITSELF. When I got there this afternoon, I couldn’t tell who was in line or not, with mobs of kids on every street corner, in the alley, wherever I looked. I’ve never seen a lineup like this for anything in the clothing realm.
His Melrose store is a feat in itself. You can catch up on all of the behind-the-scenes production over at Johnny’s blog.
Out back was an air-conditioned tent for friends and family, who also flew in from all over the country to be here today. The closest I could compare today’s atmosphere to was that of a summer music festival, if you can imagine that. And remember, this is for a t-shirt company.
Johnny’s shtick is that his bakery-themed stores don’t sell cupcakes, but somehow I managed to find some in the VIP tent.
And the melee ensues.
At approximately 3pm, a mysterious truck pulled up, driven by 2 moustachioed Super Mario-esque brothers.
I’m only halfway done, but all these photos are slowing my roll. To get the rest, click here to…
“Ayo! Is Johnny Cupcakes in there!? Yo Johnny! You in there!?”
Awaken the beast.
I would later tell people that it felt like The Beatles had landed in L.A.
This is what it looked like everywhere I turned, up and down both sides of the street. And you know you’re doing something right if you’ve stopped traffic on Melrose Ave. on a summer Saturday afternoon.
JOHNNY! JOHNNY!! JOHNNY!!!
HONKING HORNS + SCREAMING GIRLS + WAILING POLICE SIRENS = FRENZY.
Johnny’s dad, on the left, was ecstatic. It’s gotta be a trip to see your son stirring up a commotion of this magnitude.
Brush your shoulders off.
“Who’s gonna wipe off his butt?”
Take a bow, Johnny.