On a recent weekday morning, local graphic designer Dean Bradley arrived to his brand new clothing shop to find his front glass door almost completely destroyed. Almost. The would-be burglars who tried to break in during the wee hours of the morning failed to shatter the glass to get inside. Instead, icy crystal spiderwebs radiated from the points where their hammers had smashed, waking the neighbors who scared them off.
Even for being tucked away in a small storefront just off the coast of the sun-soaked Newport Beach peninsula, it appears that Cutlass Clothing is already proving that makes clothes good enough to steal—or at least try to.
"We posted a photo of the door on Facebook and said 'the new Cutlass line is so hot people are trying to break down the door,'" Bradley says. "Seriously though, those dudes must've really wanted our t-shirts."
The odd good fortune of a company making noise for putting out clothes touted by the rowdy reggae rock scene, blue collar surf bums and sunburned tradesmen is just part of what makes Cutlass stand out. By now, most people know that OC is a region awash with surfside lifestyle brands marketed to wannabe pro surfers and sun-tanned adonises. It's a multimillion dollar industry for brands like Hurley, PacSun, RVCA and the rest. Cutlass' advertising themes like "local legends" and "custom exotic" are designed to not only appeal local big timers like the Dirty Heads, Seedless and Slightly Stoopid who sport their shirts on stage. They also want their clothes worn by working class beach rats with artistic flare and a conscious desire to lift a middle finger to the stereotypes of what beach culture is to the rest of the world.
"I'm trying to make this the everyday Southern California lifestyle brand. But it's not about having the dudes that are in the limelight or the Number 1 surfer on the team," Bradley says. "It's about the guys who are going for it for their own true passions and the true beach culture that exists around here."
Founded this year, Cutlass opened a small flagship store where bold colors and wild animals combine with designs for hot rods and pirate ships on shirts, jackets and hats. There's no doubt that the clothes were born out of a love for elements of American traditional tattoos, '70s skateboard culture and the sweaty tropic regions of the world. These are all things swimming around in the mind of Bradley, who got his start working for the big boys at Hurley a decade and a half ago. After leaving and eventually co-founding his first company Atwater Clothing, Bradley got a taste of success building a homespun clothing brand that found its way into every nook of OC fashion—on display at boutique surf shops and Nordstroms alike. It even earned Breakthrough Brand of the Year from the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association in 2009.
Unfortunately when the business went under due to a toxic dispute with a sourcing partner for his materials, he had to start over again. He went to work for LOST clothing and then an east coast-based company called Ergo, which happened to be next to the famous 17th Street Recording Studio in Costa Mesa where bands like Slightly Stoopid, The Dirty Heads and Seedless were recording.
"I had a real tight affiliation with this California reggae rock scene from back in the day," Bradley says. "From the time the Sublime thing ended to when Slightly Stoopid was just a small band who I connected with in the beginning."
Those connections would prove valuable as he became inspired to start Cutlass. Not only was he friends with local bands, he also wanted them to be the face of his company. And, in the case of singer/guitarist Casey Sullivan of Seedless, also involved behind the scenes. Sullivan's experience in marketing earned him a slot working with Bradley to help launch the company as well. And fellow designer and business partner Martin Stern also stepped up to help run Cutlass.
"Bands can get a hold of us and connect with us as a team as opposed to some marketing rep they don't even know," Sullivan says. "All these bands are our friends and they come through the shop all the time. We're having bands play music at the store on Friday nights in store and other areas around here."
Having the storefront is also an asset for the brand as Bradley, Sullivan, and Stern try to create an approachable environment where they show off designs to customers as they work at desks in the front of the house and gain feedback from customers about what they want to wear on their back.
"I'm having those moments when two random people walk in who I've never met and I explain to them why this shop is here and why it matters to me," Bradley says. "They walk out with something and a week later one of the guys comes back to get that other shirt he was thinking about."
Just like the brand's minimalist logo of a skewed hour glass with plenty of future on the bottom end, the guys aren't wasting much time getting themselves noticed. This Friday, the first day of spring, Cutlass is hosting a show at the recently rebranded venue Lido Live featuring Seedless, the Originalites and Snakebit Drifters. The hope is that packing it in and stocking the place with plenty of merch is gonna send a loud, clear message that the vision for Cutlass represents a genuine style that is cool enough to steal, but definitely worth paying for.
"I've had a time in my past where you might see more of my t-shirts on the boardwalk than some of the bigger brands around here," Bradley says. "And that's the goal, to try and get out here and reclaim the neighborhood."
Cutlass presents Seedless, The Originalites and Snakebit Drifters at Lido Live tomorrow. For full details click here. 8p.m. $20, 21+.