Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and at I Love Ugly, everything is subjective. This former art collective has expanded into an international clothing brand known for everything from quality leather goods and suits to drop crotch pants that every skater covets. When they opened their very first store in the states right in the center of the streetwear Mecca of LA, we knew we had to check it out. We were able to sit down with the USA store developer, George Vause, to talk about their brand and store inspiration, best selling styles, and how the US differs from their local New Zealand in terms of dating.
Labeling Men: Tell us your name and your position with the company:
George Vause: I’m George Vause and I am the Store Development Manager for I Love Ugly for the US of A.
Labeling Men: Tell us the philosophy behind I Love Ugly.
George Vause: Deep so soon! I guess, the ethos is fundamentally to curate products for the modern man. The name itself is a little tongue in cheek in terms of what we as a society consider beauty and what we consider ugly, we don’t necessarily consider it that either. Never estimate a book by its cover. So I guess that’s some of the main components of I Love Ugly and its philosophy. Overall it’s just about quality design, you know, the little things I guess in our product and our brand and what speaks the most for us and I guess inspiring people along the way. Making sure people feel inspired by our brand and within its environment and the store. You know everything is carefully curated, we put a lot into the details and design. We are hugely big on that.
Labeling Men: What are some of the inspirations that built in those details?
George Vause: Originally we are a NZ [New Zealand] label, in respect that we are based out of NZ. We don’t consider ourselves a NZ label as such we are more an international label based out of NZ. With that being said, we obviously look to America for a lot of our streetwear influence. Being on La Brea and in Los Angeles, we don’t need to look far with stores around you that are the most prominent in men’s fashion and streetwear. We look to Japan for a lot of quality and detail for our design. We feel that the Japanese culture is very meticulous and we want our brand to be very meticulous. We also come from a European background being Kiwis and being based out of NZ. So that European fashion is still components of our design.
Labeling Men: Amazing. Tell us a little about how was the brand formulated and where you came up with I Love Ugly.
George Vause: The brand was originally started by Valentine, our Creative Director, and he started it originally as an art collective. It was more about a bunch of artists creating beautiful artwork and showcasing them in whatever environment they could, whether it was on a t-shirt or framed up on a wall and then collaborating with other artist and with other brands. It’s always had a brand focus or a product focus but it was an art collective in its original format and original creation. V started the original concept of creating t-shirts from his house. He did it out of his own house and sold it on a really local level, small radius of people around him that saw I :ove Ugly and kind of loved it. It was never a big brand that was formulated and created in some strange, sterile environment. It was literally born organically and came from that organic process. We also started to create more pants and shirting and things like that and jackets and so that started to define us as a brand. Especially the Zespe pant, which is probably the most known for us. That pair really kind of gave people a good understanding of what we were trying to achieve and that really put us on the world stage. So the bones of it really was from nothing and it really grew and grew and now it’s a brand that holds its weight on the international stage.
Labeling Men: That’s so cool that it started out as an art collective. Do you guys still do a lot with independent artists?
George Vause: I guess one thing we always do in our ranges you will always see certain little kind of throwbacks to when we were first starting out. So you’ll see designs on t-shirts that…like this is an old design that we did originally in print form. One thing we would say as an art collective is we really connect with music and it’s a big driver in our fashion. We tend to do a lot more editorial photo shoots with artists, musicians, and people we feel are achieving greatness in their field. We connect with them and we try to portray that in our product and editorials.
Labeling Men: Any artists or musicians in particular?
George Vause: We did an editorial with Odyssey who is a rapper out NYC. And there are a couple more that I can’t talk about, but it’s pretty exciting. But we are always looking to inspire people in that arena as well and connect with that.
Labeling Men: That’s amazing. So as you mentioned you are out of NZ and you have some stores in Australia, correct?
George Vause: When we first went into our brand, we really wanted to develop our retail environment and the thing is we wanted to make sure we controlled our environment. Every touch point in this store would really speak volumes to the brand. It’s a lot harder for brands to develop their own space. We have four stores in NZ and three are in Auckland, which is where we are based. So we developed and refined that model and every store is an evolutionary process from the next one. This is our fifth installment and we just opened our new store flagship in Melbourne.
Labeling Men: Obviously store design is super important; what influences helped develop your store layout?
George Vause: Good question! We design in house so we do everything ourselves, for us it’s a collective of thoughts from all of us. So there’s elements of functionality to make sure it’s functioning as a retail store but then the practical components. We also wanted to make sure we were inspiring in the space. Minimalism is probably the main influence within our product and within our store. It’s minimalistic and everything is tasteful, we’re not over the top. As you can see, we like to do things differently; we black out our stores and paint all of our stores black. This one is probably the most challenging in its environment because it actually has a blacked out window. For a lot of stores you are killing out one of the most advertising or most marketable components of the store. We actually wanted to black it out, we can control the lighting, control the environment and people when they stepped in, the really stepped in a space that was our world and would be a part of our world.
Labeling Men: That’s a really cool aspect, really intriguing. People must be like, what’s going on in there?
George Vause: We get a lot of people who kind of stick their head around the corner and are like “what’s this?” So we meet that with really strong customer service. You know, we’re not going to have someone step into our environment and then be met with opposition; we want them to be welcomed into our environment. Our world is a kind of exciting one and an inspirational one and we want to portray that in every component, in our sales and our ability to really connect and relate to our customer.
Labeling Men: Really creating that culture…
George Vause: Yeah, beating it down and making sure people understand it.
Labeling Men: How would you label the guy who wears I Love Ugly? What’s his personal style; what’s his story?
George Vause: When I think about I Love Ugly, like I said, we curate products for the modern man, so that really is a broad spectrum. You’ve got your business-orientated man, your architect or lawyer; you’ve got the kind of street urchin. There’s always a different products that are designed and developed for specific people. We have a suit that I would say would be the best suit, it’s the perfect wardrobe filler that we just ensure you’ve got a really on point suit for something so simple if your attending meetings, being in a formal environment or going out that night. Our shirting, we do a beautiful mandarin collar, which to me that’s a refined shirt that’s for a refined man. That’s the formal aspect, our footwear is very formal, our leather goods are very formal. But we do things like drop crotch pants, like the Zespe pant that’s for the very street oriented kid who loves to be on point with their fashion, they love to peel everything back, the love the length they love elongation and all that’s. So that’s maybe the more artistic kind of character, the more extroverted personality. So there is a sense of refining in the brand with the refined customer and then there is an outlandish part of the brand for the more street-orientated customer who really wants to be on point with that.
Labeling Men: Very cool, you have something for everyone.
George Vause: We really do create a broad spectrum, but everything is for a point, a certain component so we aren’t broad for no reason.
Labeling Men: Have you gotten any funny couples that come in shopping together or any funny stories with that? Any girl who is like I want you to wear this and the guys is like nahhh?
George Vause: Every day some guy comes in and says I really want it but I’ve got to ask the wife first. We are always very personal and want to get to know our customers that come through, every once in a while someone will come in and they pull out a bunch of product and every single thing they have to categorize it in a way that their girlfriend or wife will approve.
Labeling Men: Haha, always. So being from NZ and coming to LA, how do you see the dating scene?
George Vause: Like with NZ the girls are very conservative, the dating scene is completely different. You don’t’ have the same kind of - it’s not as outgoing. Not saying it’s super conservative where there is no dating, it’s just that classic at a prom where the guys are on one side and the girls are on the other and no one knows what do and who’s going to step up and ask someone to dance. Every once in there is that hilarious person who will go through and dance with every single girl but the majority of them are just off to the side and here it’s a completely different game. Everyone is mingling and everyone is forward, it’s like there is no bars hold.
Labeling Men: Finally, what’s next for the brand?
George Vause: At the moment we are really psyched to move into wholesale, so the plan will be to push the brand out into certain stores. Still maintaining our certain direction and our style of how we want to be portrayed in those stores. So we are carefully navigating that area now and really pushing out to other multi-branded stores. It’s ensuring that our message is there with the brand and the sense of inspiration and the brands fundamentals are out in some capacity. Maybe some collaborations are on the horizon.
Visit I Love Ugly at their LA location, 170 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, or shop online at www.iloveugly.com
Interview by Mischa Teichgraeber