When our friends at Vans send out the invite for a special occasion, you know we try to do our best to provide you with the same experiences that we are fortunate to have. As a true Vans fan boy, I’ll always consider myself lucky to be a part of these things, and to be able to rub elbows and chop it up with like-minded individuals about Vans…it just doesn’t get better than that. This was a night to celebrate Robert Williams though, and his collaboration with Vault by Vans for Vans’ 50th Anniversary celebration, and just like I’ve done in the past, I want to take you along for the evening’s festivities as if you were there with me, like I hope most of you wanted to be.
continue after the jump
It’s about 3:30 in the afternoon, and brotha’ Joey of Strictly Waffles has just made it to my house in Glendora. We planned it out a few days earlier that he would drive up from Escondido, and I would drive him, my girl Tintin, and I to the Resident LA, in the Arts District of downtown LA, where it is located. We just received an email that the event got pushed back an hour, so we had some time to kill. With no traffic on the 10 West, we made it to LA in like 20 minutes. We were very early, so we killed time by heading across town to Blends LA, as well as walking around the Little Tokyo Mall, buying knick-knacks and Hi-Chews at the Daiso store. Damn those things are addicting.
So after enough time wasting, we made it back to the venue, where we had a small hiccup with the RSVPs not showing up on one of the iphones, but the other one did, so we were all good. We get our wristbands, and we walk in to a damn near packed room of people, already seated, awaiting the Q&A session with the man of the hour. It’s okay, because we’re just going to use the excuse that the address was wrong on the invite, which it kind of was, but we’re good. Each chair had a Vans pencil and notepad on it, which in hind sight we should’ve tried to grab a few extra. The entire place is staged with various installations of Robt. Williams logos, signage, and his shoes displayed prominently in front of the DJ booth. We see that Robert is about to start, so we work our way up to the bar, which is fully stocked with your favorite spirits, and craft beers on tap. Did I mention it was an open bar until 8 PM? Joey and I both order a “Crown-equivalent” and Red Bull, while Tin opts for a Jack & Coke. Let the good times roll.
Mr. Robert Williams receives a proper introduction, and proceeds to share with us a retrospective of his life and career, discussing his early beginnings of trying to make it as a career artist, working for different companies and how his style of art had a hard time being accepted by the art establishment of the time. A quick online bio search of Mr. Williams will reveal that his early years as a delinquent youth may have an underlying tone to his style of art and bold attitude. What was later coined as “lowbrow” art, he found himself having to really build and foster a culture where he could get his style of art out there, and naturally, it was well received by the rebellious types, which fit in well with the biker crowd of the mid 60’s. Around this time, Robert began working with the infamous Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, which put him in and around circles of outlaw bikers of some of the largest motorcycle clubs in California, which led to a couple amusing private stories about their dealings with the leaders of these clubs. It made for some hairy times, and he’s glad he was able to live and move on to other successful chapters in his art career.
Robert’s always been an outsider due to his style of art, but the precision, skill, and of course talent makes his work undeniably authentic. I don’t want to get too deep into his career path, which is fascinating, but it would require it’s own blog post, so I’ll just refer you to Wikipedia and his website for all of that info.
When asked how did the partnership with Vans come about, he said it was a natural thing. After moving out to Venice in the early 60’s, he noticed that all the hot rodders and surfers were wearing these cool deck shoes, instead of the typical sneakers that everyone else was wearing, which he thought were quite ridiculous and just absolutely would not wear. Vans had that cool factor, and they were, and still are, a defining Southern California lifestyle. We can’t argue with that.
The Q&A was over, and now we got a chance to wander around the place, and check out the awesome spot. Vans seems to know all the cool hipster joints, and Resident LA couldn’t have been a better choice for the night. They have a full bar inside, but it’s the outside patio that was poppin’. They have this old trailer that’s been diverted to a bar that serves up a whole bunch of craft beers on tap, as well as some cocktails, and KTCHN’s food truck trailer sitting directly across from it was a great compliment to the free alcohol. There were these ladies in the back corner cooking up some of the best street tacos I’ve had in awhile. They make these blue corn tortillas by hand and their flavors ranged from mushroom veggie ones, to chorizo, chicken, to chicharrone. So damn good. Did I mention there was unlimited free drinks? Joey, Tin, and I are a few drinks in and are having a great time, just hanging out, talking with folks, and listening to Meatbodies and OFF! playing in the background throughout the night.
The best part of these events is getting to see some old friends, and getting to make new ones. Earlier in the day, Vault had their sales meeting up the street, so everyone involved with that, made their way over to the party afterwards. I finally got to meet a few guys and girls that I’ve only dealt with over emails, phone, or social media, like Dionte from Sole Classics, Chris (DJ Delve) from Kicks HI, Mike from Proper, and then Ed, Taylor and Neal from Vans. It’s always fun running into the Blends fam as well. Look at me, namedropping lol. Seriously, I appreciate all these people and what they do, and in some direct or indirect way they’ve all helped support us.
The evening couldn’t have ended any more perfectly. We were just about getting ready to leave and the man himself, Robert Williams approached the three of us and asked if we were having a good time. I don’t know if it was the alcohol talking, or just my embarrassing ability to ramble on forever, but I do recall telling him how I respect that he stuck to his beliefs in art, and didn’t conform to the mainstream, and instead forged his own path, thus creating his own culture, and providing an outlet for others who were like-minded. I don’t like talking about myself much, and I don’t care to sit back and rest on my laurels, but I recognize that this was sort of the same path I took when re-creating Offthewallsite, and then Under The Palms. We understood early on what we had with collecting Vans, but the mainstream sneaker crowd just wasn’t ready for them. By creating a community, and sharing a common love, all the while educating the newcomers, we knew the community would only get bigger over time, and by staying focused and true to what we do, and not trying to be anything else, the Vans sneaker/enthusiast community is as big as ever. After about 5 minutes of heaping praise on to him, it was time for us to say goodbye. This talk with Robert got me thinking a little bit. Being authentic holds more value than anything these days, and you see people trying to buy it up all over the place. Whether it’s driving classic cars, riding bobbers, building furniture, learning to skate, brewing beer, whatever. Most will come and go with the trends, but it’s those who stick with it and do it for the passion who end up with the loyal following and the ability to stick around. I think this is why we have this attraction to Vans. It’s this shared narrative, and as long as Vans doesn’t lose sight of that, and continues to support the ones out of step like us, we’ll be right there supporting and being their wingman indefinitely.