Designer, collector, craftsman Blaine Halvorson is like a gem from an abandoned mining town—by way of outer space—beamed down right here in Culver City. Brian D. Leitch stops by his “MadeWorn” studio, where he makes art, clothes, shoes…And things just get curiouser and curiouser.
If you made an appointment—as it’s done—to visit the Culver City studio of Blaine Halvorson, it would be easy to get a little overstimulated…from both the Brothers Grimm darkness of the world he’s created and the beautific lightness of your host.
Taxidermied giraffes. CBGB urinals. A bas-relief made from 30,000 “smoked” cigarette butts. (He doesn’t smoke—Damien Hirst stopped by and demonstrated how to use a vacuum cleaner to “inhale them” down to the various lengths required when Halvorson was more than a couple thousand butts in, “the old-fashioned way.”) A plastic meat locker surrounded by a litter of sweet (but stuffed) puppies. Before you know it, you’re in…deep.
Clothes, cobbled footwear, furniture, ephemera, erotica, excellent booze and the most sophisticated cabinet of curiosities fill the most creepy-beautiful, intensely curated succession of rooms you’ve probably ever encountered. Then there’s the carefully attenuated collection of important art—all for sale right here in a 4,500-square-foot, old-fangled, new kind of museum in Culver City…Who woulda thunk it?
Not to mention the club room conversation, which veers from Art Basel to the unprintable but perversely fascinating way a Tokyo “Love Hotel” works (and how it will eventually become the subject of an installation at an off-site hotel) to what it means to be a craftsman in a world where laser printers can now create a house without a contractor—let alone construction workers—at the push of a button, and “followers”—as in “How many do you have?”—are more important than the quality of their leaders.
Halvorson is a leader—and a maniacal one, but in a good way. “I’m obsessed with the meticulous—things no one in their right mind would ever do,” he says. A former construction worker from Gallatin County, Montana, where Halvorson hunted buffalo and excavated the relics of old mines for leisure, the tall, sturdy, expressively tattooed 43-year-old went to art school “by accident,” he says. “A minute later I’d-a been a lawyer. I went into the art building to take a piss, and my friend said, ‘Hey, man, you need an art credit. Sit in on my class—this professor is mad-cool!’” So it was that Halvorson took the proverbial left turn at Montana State University that led to this epic excavation of his creativity.
Don’t call him “artisanal.” Or part of “the Bespoke Movement.” Or worse, a “fashion designer”…“I f*n’ HATE that. I wanna be a craftsman. The finest craftsman in each of my trades.”
A mind as complex as this is best summed up simply: He makes things. Painstakingly. So many things it’s almost inhuman. All by hand. His methods might be described as simultaneously arcane and futuristic, and the processes he goes through verge on creative lunacy. Art, fashion, objects, food and drink, friendships—the lines are preternaturally blurred. “This place is not for everyone. The things I make are for The Purist. I wanna set the Holy Grail standard for American craftsmanship,” he says. But there’s not a single indication of any kind of stress or strain about him. No “I’m not precious, but I’m precious” posturing. At any moment he could be hand-cobbling a shoe out of rhinoceros hide; building a room walled with giant illuminated mug-shot portraits—on a sudden impulse—as a backdrop for an impromptu dinner for 25 friends, all to be seated confronting the criminals in sturdy old wooden jurors’ chairs while they sup; or tracking down a guy in Colorado who can get him every grommet and grimy truckload of used denim or WWI canvas, broken-in bunch of leather rodeo chaps and a myriad of other ghost-town relics, which he will then remake, through a synthesis of handmade trial and error and technological insight, into MADEWORN, his catch-all for a collection of menswear, accessories and “stuff” that he thinks is luxurious by nature and nurture.
Maxfield in Los Angeles agrees, and his hand-tattooed pigskin duffels, each representing at least 100 hours of work alone, sell before they even hit the floor.
How did this all happen…here? Having sold his Junkfood Clothing line in 2005 for a tidy sum, Halvorson gathered all of his slightly insane brainchildren together in a single place, outside of his own head. On a random trip to L.A. from his vacation home in Montana, he was shooting the breeze with Joel Chen (proprietor of JF Chen, the furniture showroom) and Ray Azoulay (of Obsolete in Venice) one sunny SoCal day. As that conversation came to its natural conclusion, the idea for the raw space sort of materialized. Says Azoulay: “We are all just big kids playing on the big planet and having a big fun time! So we create the worlds we are most happy in. This is his.” Lucky for us, Halvorson’s Cowboys & Aliens world kerplunked itself down right smack in the middle of L.A.
Meanwhile, Maxfield, the ever-experimental Beverly Hills emporium, was back knocking on his discreetly unmarked door, becoming more and more enthralled by the evolution of what the now-local visionary calls his “enter an Alice in Wonderland maze and come out through a casino.” After the huge success of the hand-tatted pigskin bags, the retailer stepped it up by commissioning him to re-create the dramatic, always evolving installations of his studio in-store, in the coming months. Each new output, which will grow to include more women’s wear, new executions of the coveted shoes (“Only eight days of dedicated handwork from client-order to final delivery!” he says. “Who does that?”) and future-cult accessories. Also studiously dismembered and re-Frankensteined jeans paired with impossibly, identically distressed rock tees…and more. It’s all on its way as fast as he can make it—debuting first in a diorama Halvorson devised from his personalized vision of the Ramones’ old stomping grounds, the now-defunct legendary NYC rock club CBGB.
His spectacularly shambolic yet exquisitely tailored clothes—each piece individually requiring an alchemy of ingredients gathered from Montana to Motown, assembled in Tokyo on antique sewing machines and hand-finished here—will get a full-on installation too (maybe “Tokyo Love Hotel”?). All individually conceived to give the goods a more accessible place to live and breathe beyond the Culver City studio…eventually, he says, growing into a freestanding international enterprise.
Beardy and top-hatted Halvorson may be his own best model, in studiously shredded and stained denim—“Jeans are the most insanely personal thing of all,” he says—rumpled Confederate vest and the vascular forearms of someone who works long and hard with his hands. His “general store” has outfitted the likes of Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Damien Hirst and more than a few logo-averse art-world insiders who look as impressively refined but resolutely masculine in the sophisticated Civil War kind of deshabille his clothes convey.
Design obsessive and actress Diane Keaton is a fan too, and MADEWORN for Women is coming along nicely, in a naughty-schoolmarm sort of way. “An Amish whore, but no disrespect, and a beautiful, strong girl too,” he says. Let your mind wander.
His may be a New World of luxury for the future, as the idea of what real “exclusivity” actually means shifts. Like Lord Byron’s exquisite, Old World dueling pistols, Halvorson is about a kind of honor. An elegant marksman when it comes to everything MADEWORN, he’ll go 20 paces with the current culture of logo-as-luxury, turn, aim and shoot. To wit: One day he decided to buy a vintage Louis Vuitton bag, keep the excellent, basic-bones construction but jettison the much-sought-after logo part, replacing it instead with his own version—in hand-cured, tattooed pigskin—the “LV” pattern re-rendered less perfectly and more painterly, in an arrestingly unique and, some may say, more exclusive incarnation of the original one your secretary now owns, even if hers might be a fake. It’s expensive. It looks “off.” Like something you recognize as quality but at the same time have never seen before. And some people in the world, growing tired with the sameness of global branding, find the idea of purchasing an artifact like that, under the weirdly wise and watchful eye of a 30-foot giraffe, exceedingly luxurious indeed.
Photographed by Amanda Demme