C California Style

Steven Tiller. PHOTO: Chris Orwig.
A snapshot from California Stories on SeaVees.com, a film/photo/writing series about living in California. PHOTO: Cara Robbins.
The Orwells perform for Session 2 of SeaVees’ Parking Space Sessions. PHOTO: Cristi Silva.

California Dreaming

by C California Style

Steven Tiller moved across the country to reinvent the 1960s shoe label SeaVees and, in turn, himself.

There are two ways to get through life: living your dream and just living. Steven Tiller, SeaVees CEO and chief designer, understands the difference, because he’s done both. “Before SeaVees, I was going through the motions. I was living in Boston, designing shoes, traveling the world, but I was checked out,” he says from his office, a converted garage space near the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara. It was only when Tiller discovered a vintage shoe in a secondhand shop in Tokyo in 2005 that life took a dramatic turn. “It was just crazy, holding an old SeaVees in my hand with the license plate logo off center, the sky-blue herringbone sole, the ‘Sea’ in the name, the wishbone V, created in 1964—my heart just started pounding. This shoe needed to be resurrected, and, in a way, so did I.”

Three years ago, he quit his job, acquired the heritage brand and moved his family to California. Now, as SeaVees celebrates its 50th anniversary—the line ranges from classic sneakers (the Baja Slip On, the Hermosa Plimsoll and the Westwood Tennis shoe) to sandals and desert boots. Each style has a name, date and story derived from a notable California event in the 1960s. “The ’60s always fascinated me. I was the kid who loved the feel of a vinyl record and read Kerouac’s On the Road a million times. It was a period of such optimism and intellectual depth, also with a grittier darker side,” he says.

Tiller has seamlessly bridged the past with the present—a new Hollister collaboration is particularly appealing to 20-somethings. “It’s pretty empowering,” he says as a breeze from the Pacific passes through the metal garage doors. “Everyone should have a California dream.” seavees.com.

By Mara Peters.