Jack Martinez and His Black Flys Are Back!

The '90s may be long gone, but not OC's infamous, lunatic eyewear brand

Martinez missed the party. He was in Hawaii, but Black Flys and the other companies producing the party were hit with a premise liability suit by Milton's family in 2002. It was dismissed in 2004, but Martinez spent $25,000 on attorney's fees defending himself.

Milton wasn't Martinez's first friend to die. He recalls being in Mexico when he learned Nowell had died of an overdose in May 1996. He was in such denial about the death, he says, that he wouldn't accept it as fact until he met with the other guys in Sublime, who confirmed the tragedy.

A girlfriend named Kelly was shot dead after some purported weed dealers lured her and her friends into their car with the promise of getting high. "I was bummed out for a solid year," Martinez remembers. "A beautiful, young girl. It could happen just like that—bad, dumb choices. It happened for no reason."


But, he says, he didn't allow himself to mourn for too long. "I'm not going to lay down and go to sleep, or start going to Bible study and shit," Martinez says. "We always go back to work. It's our style."

* * *

It's fair to say that the company's out-of-control party scene played a major role in the downfall of Black Flys, but there were other factors. The company's sales crested in 1998, just as the market for wild-looking surf and skate eyewear got crowded. Some of the brands that were ostensibly influenced by Black Flys started outdoing them in sales. The result? Flys never became a multimillion-dollar brand.

Martinez and Flecky did not want to give up control to corporate people, even though the suits would likely have guided the brand to a level of higher business sophistication and bigger sales. There were offers to sell the company, but Martinez and Flecky wanted to hold out for the highest price. They waited too long, and eventually, the offers stopped coming in.

Meanwhile, the party-hardy skate-and-surf world had grown up a bit, and more important, it had grown bored—even disgusted—with the label's leering-bad-boy stance and its obsessions with porn and strippers.

And how long can anyone or anything stay edgy? Fashions change. The cool OC crowd wanted to try different looks. The first wave of Black Flys wearers entered middle age, and a bunch of them realized they looked funny, not cool, in gonzo shades.

Despite having been forced to sell his own company four years ago and a decade too late to truly cash in, Martinez waves off grim pronouncements on the passage of time. As the now-Japanese-owned company's new chief executive, he hopes to guide the company back to its former grandeur with this year's designs, which shipped in May and include the Ska Fly, a checkerboard frame design retailing for $100, and the Stinger Fly, a frame that features stingray skin cast in metal, which retails for $200.

"It's not over," Martinez promises, his gold tooth shining, Black Flys shades pulled firmly over his eyes. "You can't tone down Black Flys. We'd look like poseurs. Maybe we don't have ads with chicks pissing on people's faces, but we'll keep it edgy."

This article appeared in print as "Black Flys Is Back! The unexpected rebirth of Orange County's hard-living, hell-raising fashion label."

« Previous Page