The Year RVCA Paid Up

Of artists, billboards and cops. Or, perhaps, cache

You could say this was a great year for the Costa Mesa sportswear company RVCA; then again, you could have said the same for each of the past five. But 2005 was the year the company put its money where its mouth was, diversifying nicely into industrial categories as disparate as bail bonds and low-end couture while somehow cementing an already solid rep as one of the pillars of the Orange County action sports scene. (Full disclosure: they recently sent me a brown sweater, size medium, and it fits and I kept it. I'm wearing it right now.)

It began in early February—Feb. 3, most likely, the night before the VIP reception for RVCA's "The New Image Art Show," its piggy-back/companion show to the Orange County Museum of Art's "Beautiful Losers." Combined, the two shows were the Kustom Kulture of action sports—everything you needed to know about the intersection of board sports, lowbrow art, multimedia and graffiti, from C.R. Stecyk to George Thompson.

Thing about graffiti, though, is that people do it—people like Obey head man Shepard Fairey (who's been known to "decorate" billboards before a big show) and RVCA artist (and OC Weeklycover boy) Neck Face. They periodically get busted for it, which is what Fairey says happened to Neck Face in Costa Mesa the night before "New Image" opened.

"We were doing a billboard, and it was a blank billboard," Fairey says, meaning that it was between advertisements, "and I always feel like a blank billboard is fair game. He wasn't finished, but I was finished, and I went to get the car, and that's when they showed up." They—Costa Mesa police—decided the billboard was not, in fact, fair game and arrested Neck Face.

RVCA paid to bail him out—a turning point in company history, one that made clear its changed role in the sometimes itinerant dollar-menu world of street art and street skating: from child to parent.

"That's part of the risk of street art: it's illegal and you can get arrested. I kind of take those risks because, to me, it's important to use public space for expression, and there's no committee for public approval. You're just taking it directly to the people," Fairey says of bombing billboards, as it's sometimes known. "I'm dedicated. I'm dedicated to it. It's like by any means necessary. I'm going to get things out there any way I can."

RVCA is similarly dedicated—though its founders and Neck Face have repeatedly declined Weekly requests to discuss the incident. But after a cell phone call—we like to imagine a frantic phone call from the Costa Mesa jail—RVCA stepped up.

Bailing out Neck Face makes last month's emergence of RVCA's clothes in the Irvine Spectrum's glitzy, expensive, new Metropark outpost easier to comprehend. It's easy to dismiss Metropark as just another place for people who look like Laguna Beach High School students spending their parents' money. But it has RVCA and other righteous brands. The association, as RVCA sales folk told me at the store's grand opening, benefits both parties without diminishing either. It shifts RVCA a bit from high-end action sports retail to low-end couture—a transition it can make without selling out, thanks to its street-wise stance on the Neck Faces of the scene.

"They're doing everything to give amazing graphics the best platform," Fairey said of RVCA, but he could have been talking about Metropark. "And I think people are over wearing something just because it's a brand name. I think people, after they get into their twenties, are a little more sophisticated. They want something that's just a little deeper." Which is just exactly how RVCA sees itself: like you, theoretically, improving with age.

 
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