By Brian Feinzimer
By Charles Lam
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Joel Beers
In the early 1990s, a Flys scene would be like this: semi-pro skateboarders doing stunts at the brand's Costa Mesa warehouse, followed by a boxing match; if Sublime were in town, they'd be an impromptu concert.
"It was the perfect atmosphere: sun, surf and skate," says Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh of the Black Flys parties the legendary band played between 1991 and 1995. "It doesn't get much better than that. Flys were always known for their debauchery and good, clean filth. There was a lot of skin, a lot of skate and a lot of extracurricular activities going on."
Gaugh remembered Sublime's best Black Flys show being at a warehouse party in Costa Mesa around March 1992. "We played two hours—until we couldn't play anymore," he recalls. The set list included Sublime songs "Greatest Hits," "Get Out" and "40 Oz. to Freedom," as well as reggae classics "Rivers of Babylon" and "Steppin' Razor."
"We started out playing backyard parties," says Gaugh, who currently lives in the Lake Tahoe area with his family and plays with band Del Mar. "It was true to our roots. We were playing for our friends. We were playing for ourselves. It was a jam session, a lot of freestyle dubs; we could have even written songs on the spot there [at the warehouse]."
Few parties were actually scheduled, but if Martinez decided a party would be at his warehouse the next night, 1,000 people would often show up. There was a doorman to make sure the dudes coming in weren't too dangerous. But ladies had no problems gaining entry. They weren't the type you bring home to mother, Martinez remembers. "We were going to strip bars a lot, and we were recruiting the hottest chicks there," he says. "They'd come to parties dressed scandalous—half-naked, huge fake tits."
Like most party scenes, this one was rooted in boredom.
Martinez grew up in Huntington Beach and Anaheim, shaping surfboards, painting, reading Hustler magazine, enjoying punk rock and hip-hop. He got jobs creating art for popular activewear labels such as OP, PCH and Jimmy Z. He appreciated the paychecks, but he could not stand following orders or listening to parents whining about skulls and crossbones being on their kids' favorite boardshorts.
The Black Flys story started in 1990, when Martinez was fired over creative differences at his $65,000-per-year job as T-shirt manager for volleyball brand PCH. His then-wife Melissa, a designer for Quiksilver, supported him during this time. The eyewear field seemed wide open to Martinez and his friend Flecky, a former pro surfer who worked as a printer and a silkscreener and ran action-sports line Burning Snow.
There was little competition in eyewear back then. But these new contenders needed a name. A friend and surfwear innovator Jeff Yokoyama—who created brands Maui & Sons, Modern Amusement, and Generic Youth—suggested something wild. "Who has the craziest eyes? Flies have crazy eyes," Yokoyama remembers saying aloud. "That's where the name came up."
A little research found the name Flys was trademarked. So Flecky and Martinez tried Black Flys, which seemed grittier.
For a year, they passed out brand stickers designed in a hot rod-style, red oval with the words "Black Flys" in Gothic lettering. They scrounged up enough money to buy some outré-looking sunglasses with green camouflage-printed frames. They slapped the Black Flys logo on them and sold the glasses out of their car trunks. Within three weeks, they had sold the inventory. By 1992, they'd purchased their own injection molds, and with a palette of bright colors, they began producing boxy frames with big eyes. Lenses were yellow or blue; the sides of the eyewear would carry insouciant mottos such as "Me, Myself and Fly."
Strangely, at least for a company of party animals, mornings started early at Black Flys. Hungover or not, the crew reported to the office at 8:30 a.m. One morning, Eric Lamph, an art designer and Flys sales guy, started work by drinking coffee, smoking weed and listening to voice-mail messages with Jonathan Paskowitz, the Black Flys sales chief and scion of the Paskowitz surfing clan. One of the messages was left by someone with an English accent: "This is Simon Le Bon. My wife gave me one of your glasses, and I was wondering if you could send more?"
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As the brand's fame began to spread beyond Orange County, more celebrities wanted to meet these gritty, surf royalty Jay Gatsbys. Former NBA star and party hound Dennis Rodman invited them to his Newport Beach house. Dexter Holland of punk band the Offspring would drop by the offices to pick up shades. LA-based porn stars Jenna Jameson and Candy Apples would drop by company parties to put their own mark on Orange County highlife.
The money the company made was small change by the standards of a successful activewear company. In its first year, Black Flys earned just $70,000. In 1995, it made $5 million; by 1998, company earnings peaked at $11.9 million. But it was enough money to spread the Black Flys message.
Women's line Flys Girls was introduced in 1993, and Martinez, et al. recruited a crew of OC beauties to rep the shades. The House of Flys boutiques offered the brand in spots such as Costa Mesa, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. By 2001, there were 13 such boutiques, and the company chronicled its lifestyle for the world via a house magazine, Hot Lava, which published 29 issues in the mid-1990s, and a 45-minute Jackass-style video show, Flys TV.