It says a lot about RVCA that co-founder Pat M. Tenore can rhapsodize in the same breath about his treasured black Mercedes SUV—the one that looks like a snow shovel—and about skating the pool at the vacant house across the street from his work. Because Tenore, who has a wife, kids and a mortgage—and every conceivable reason to cash it in—has taken RVCA from his garage to the height of Orange County fashion in six years without selling out. That's partly because he still appreciates pool skaters (even when a broken ankle means more than it used to) but mostly it's because RVCA has managed to mash up culture, lifestyle and art into something that most of us want to buy.
When he decided it was time, in the early 2000s, Tenore brought in surfer Conan Hayes to invest and to help run the company. But first it was just PM Tenore, as he's also known, in a garage that he fitted with oiled plywood panels to give it the sense of a studio. Today, of course, RVCA has a Velcro Alley address in Costa Mesa right around the corner from Paul Frank, but the difference is apparent from the moment you drive up. Paul Frank is all nice and neat Mondrian blocks of color and a green lawn. RVCA has its fence painted all Wild Style by lowbrow skater artist Thomas Campbell and others with weird little monsters and sundries. Both labels have made it into Fred Segal, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, but this one is still street.
RVCA manages this by hiring established as well as up-and-coming artists—people like Mark Mothersbaugh, Neckface, Rich Jacobs, Matt Leines, and Alex Knost—to design its shirts. The artists make a little money, RVCA makes some money, sometimes they give some of the money to charity, and you get a cool shirt with a Leines's tiger (which looks like something the Osgemeos might do), or Jacobs' eerie floating heads, or Alex Knost's line-drawn line people on it. Even DJ Kid Millionaire—or as his mother calls him, Devon Aoki's brother Steve—designed a DJ bag for them. See? Everybody wins—and by everybody, we mean Ewan McGregor, Matt Costa, that guy on Laguna Beach, the student body of UC Irvine and half the staff of OC Weekly. It's called their Artist Network Program. And yeah, somebody must have tried it before but not like this. RVCA owns it, which is why at every LAB anti-mall fashion show you see all that trickly embroidery running down the T-shirts. (They did that, too.)
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Which brings me to the point where someone I know stopped wearing the brand after a dude on the street stopped him and asked where he could pick up some "sick R-V-C-A shirts." Um, it's pronounced "Ruca," like from Roman letters, and it's not an acronym. It looks good. And it's not a diamond-shaped window sticker on some lifted pickup truck on the 405. Not yet. www.rvcaclothing.com.