The R13 store at 34 Howard Street is an understated storefront tucked across the street from Opening Ceremony and one door down from Rick Owens. It’s a homecoming for the label, which was introduced in 2009.
Chris Leba, the founder and designer of R13, was vice president for design at Ralph Lauren until 2016, and refused to be identified for the first seven years of R13’s existence. The label is known for its artfully shredded denim and punk influence, drawing inspiration from the awe Mr. Leba felt when he arrived in New York in the mid-1980s.
Apart from a tiny rack at the front of the store, there are no visible clothes when you walk in. Instead, there are five Escalade-size LED screens in a row. Standing back far enough, I watched young people with bleach-fried hair roosting and smoking on a city street.
“It’s footage of punk from the ’70s and ’80s in London,” the saleswoman told me. The store, which is otherwise raw concrete and brick, is noticeably chilly. Screens get hot.
Clothes hang behind each screen, so there are always punks flashing at your back. The first piece I noticed was a jacket with words embroidered on the back: “Do you need to be in control of others as much as you are or can you release some of that control?” Coat wisdom.
After I graduated from college, I worked at a denim store in the meatpacking district, and I remember hauling starched piles back and forth from the dressing room to the display wall. It was my unfortunate task to maintain perfect stacked decks of jeans, and know their slight variations in wash and cut. Each shift’s handling blued my hands.
So to the kind saleswoman who hauled pants for me here: I know. When I told her, “I’m going to think about them while I pop into Rick Owens,” she knew that I knew that she knew we would not see each other again.
Trying on jeans is great exercise. Do not fork over money for classes that make you do burpees and squats. R13: an elevated workout experience.
I jumped into some “boy skinny” pants ($365). I did not look “boy skinny,” but I am an adult woman, so I was fine with it. I worked my biceps with my fingers in belt loops, thinking about curve fitting in mathematics, and the degree of uncertainty of getting a pair of pants on.
You might think getting them on is where you feel the heat, but it’s off. When a hem is tapered enough to fit the ankle, it takes a kick squat to get that hem back over your heel. You, too, can be closer to your beach body with just 20 minutes and 20 pants legs.
It’s difficult to talk about the delicacy of trying on pants with kneeholes without implicating myself. Then again, what counts as damage to what already looks lawn-mowered? Toes snag.
Back on the floor, I looked at an array of tropical-print shirts and cute shorts ($365), a pair of men’s drop-crotch jeans with dark red paint flecks ($425) — I checked to make sure I wasn’t just bleeding somewhere — and, at $195, Joy Division and Sonic Youth tees with snags and moth bites. I wondered if real moths were sourced in Italy, and whether it was possible to buy clothes moths on the internet.
This search taught me that adult moths do not have mouths; their sole purpose is to mate, and then they die. In nature, some things achieve only one thing. So, the artfully decimated jean shorts I tried covered my butt ($445). Otherwise, they were functionless as bottoms. But perhaps, like a moth who has aged beyond its last meal, design for one thing is design enough.
Somebody get me an embroidery machine. I have coat wisdom.
Is distressed clothing a sign of post-capitalist dystopia? Yes. In the 1990s, deconstruction was artistic rebellion. Grunge was offensive, but at least it was new. In 2019, internal disrepair throbs from every tier of human relation. How dare we enjoy post-apocalyptic pants, kicked back in our gilded existence as the wreck overtakes people near and far? It’s outrageous.
That said, I will now argue the other side. Only a true artisan can dismantle something into a beautiful still-something. R13 jeans are milled and mauled in a small factory in Italy, where, I understand, craftspeople who apprenticed in the art of denim making take great care in taking apart. It is worthy to master dismantling inherited illusions of completeness.
Then again, I did not pay $445 to own jean shorts that look as if they survived a pack of motorbikes in a Globe of Death. But I take no issue with their existence. In fact, the double-back and double-front jeans ($695), which are jeans hanging off jeans, are gorgeous. The brand’s double-shredded hems look harmoniously in process, like pants that are sprouting other pants, as if everything that’s mangled can regrow.
After processing the ethics of ripped jeans, I needed a brain refresh. I turned to one of my favorite texts, on a $2,500 refurbished trucker jacket with studs and embroidery: “Does your logic and analytical ability interfere with your ability to give and receive affection?”
34 Howard Street, 844-634-3055; r13denim.com
Space A veritable mullet of retail: spare art installation from the front; tie dye and shredded clothes for sale behind.
Vibe A nostalgia for destination stores of the ’90s comes through, a relaxing addition to the fashion hub on Howard Street.
Service High-concept distressed denim requires trial and error with sizing and wash. The salespeople are patient and supportive. “It’s a process,” I was told.
Pricing For Italian milled fabrics, the pricing is correct. For band tees, ripped jeans and surplus shirts, the pricing is outrageous.
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