The Hundreds is huge. Over the past seven years, the Los Angeles streetwear label has gone from T-shirts to cut and sew to stores and footwear. Bobby and Ben Hundreds have locked down L.A. and San Francisco, and the two just opened their newest store in our little city of NYC. The Hundreds New York was designed in conjunction with the architectural firm Johnston Marklee, and the shop is a testament to The Hundreds' unique ability to create distinctive retail environments that tell stories. The store (located at 96 Grand Street) is housed in a historic New York building that gives the modern interior design elements a dash of character and antique charm. We caught up with Bobby Hundreds to discuss the concept behind the store, his surprising love of poetry, and the paramount importance of making the right first impression with New Yorkers.
Interview by Yang-Yi Goh
Photos by Bobby Hundreds
COMPLEX: You wrote on the blog that the store's design was based on your "original concept of a modern boutique imagined 70 years in the future." Can you elaborate?
BOBBY: All of our stores are themed around the idea of time. I like to refer to us as a timeless brand; we've been around seven years now and hopefully the stuff we made seven years ago you can still feel comfortable wearing now. Ten years from now, the stuff we're making today will still make a lot of sense—you can still pull it out of the closet and it's still a very wearable piece. We translate this idea onto our stores; we design them to be timeless in that they are specifically set into a particular time period.
The L.A. store was designed as a very modern boutique, so it feels like it was built in the 2000s, and there's nothing really jarringly out of place. But the San Francisco store feels prehistoric, it feels old—it's a cave, with skulls and everything. And then it's juxtaposed with this weird idea of the future, with blinking lights, and everything is very angular. It's this '70s idea of the future, this 2001: A Space Odyssey mash-up in one space. It's neither here nor there—it feels old, but it feels like the future. It definitely doesn't feel like now. The first store was about now, the second store was definitely not now.
This third store is kind of a continuation of that theme, where it's built as if it was a store built for now, but you're looking at it as though you're 70 years into the future. It feels vintage.
COMPLEX: So it's kind of the futuristic equivalent of those stores that have been in New York since the '30s or '40s.
BOBBY: Exactly, and there's a lot of those stores here. They have this rich, complex history. The floors are kind of warped, there's water damage, and the hand-painted signs out front have been stained and been through storms for decades. There are amazing tapestries of stories that come out of old stores that have a lot of character—it's like the people of New York. When we first stepped foot into our space and it was empty, we were just looking at it and I was like, "This is amazing, how old it is. And the stories, if these walls could talk," you know?
So it's kind of like that same idea, we built this store for now, but it [looks like it would] 70 years into the future. The mirrors are kind of corroding. The photos are from our past, but I've warped all the photos so they look like they're 70 years old and falling apart. It's a futuristic store, but it has a very nostalgic feel.
COMPLEX: Both the L.A. and San Francisco flagships were designed by TylerSpencer Design Studio, but for the New York store you chose to work with the more well-known architecture firm of Johnston Marklee, a firm that has worked with the likes of Maison Martin Margiela. Why the switch?
BOBBY: TylerSpencer are our close friends. We worked with them on the first two stores and we really feel like they captured our vision. The switch had nothing to do with them or anything, we just started looking because, well—if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere in the world. We knew we needed to come correct, basically, when entering this territory. That, again, is why it was such a deliberate and lengthy process. We knew we couldn't come half-assed; everything had to be awesome.
COMPLEX: You can only make one first impression.
BOBBY: Exactly. First impressions are everything, and New Yorkers...if you're wack, they can smell it. No one is going to give you a second shot. In Johnston Marklee, we've found an architecture firm that really understands our vision, and has a strong and reputable name. I've personally just been a fan of their work for such a long time, just admiring them.
They're artists, first and foremost, up and above architecture. Ben was like, "Dude, just e-mail them. Just see if they're down and if they've heard of us." Thankfully they had, and they were super-stoked. They were like, "Yeah, let's meet!" And we were like, "Really? You worked with Margiela, and you built these amazing houses around the world." And they were like, "Yeah, let's sit down, we're interested."
COMPLEX: You also posted an image of a plaque that featured an excerpt from Walt Whitman's "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" Why exactly was that poem chosen, and what does it signify to you?
BOBBY: First of all, I love poetry. It sounds strange, but I do. I'm a complete nerd when it comes to literature. I've always appreciated Whitman's work, and I was looking for some type of quote to encapsulate our space here and our time here in New York. I was going through some of his poetry, and I was reading that "O Pioneers!" poem. Those first five or six bars that I put up, I feel they're so poignant, and they pretty much hit us right on the mark. There's a line that's something along the lines of, "O Western youths, you with your tanned faces... " You can interpret that as us Californians, basically kind of marching forward and picking up and being pioneers. Not necessarily in the sense that we started it, but being pioneers in that we continue on, we're marching on, and we're entering this new territory—that's New York for us, as far as opening our own retail store—and basically just charging forward and enduring through it.
COMPLEX: Can you walk us through a few of your favorite design elements and details from the store?
BOBBY: There are all these awesome little secrets. For one, that Whitman poem is on the mirror, and if you follow along the mirror there's an area in it where you can kind of see into it, and we show product that's not being released for a little bit. When we were first talking about the store and having this very nostalgic, historic feel, I got really into this idea of ghosts, of spirits that tell stories in this place. If this place has been around for 70 years, there are ghosts in these walls. When you're looking in the mirror, the mirror has corroded so much that you can see your reflection, but it kind of doesn't look like you. When there are people in the space walking around, it kind of looks like spirits walking around. It really adds to the mood of the store.
There are also these Chesterfield accents, which was Johnston Marklee's idea. There's one massive couch in the corner that kind of evolves and takes over the space. The cabinetry in the middle of the store has been engulfed and swallowed up by this Chesterfield—it feels like this organism that's moving across the store. I really like that.
COMPLEX: You and Ben have always been really careful when it comes to the growth and expansion of The Hundreds. You wrote that you both have always wanted a shop here, but how did you decide that now was the time to open a store in New York?
BOBBY: If we could have opened the store earlier, we would've, it's just that it took a long time and we wanted to be very careful with finding the right location and building the right staff. We looked at like 10 to 15 different places—we were very close to getting certain places, but then we'd back out, or the deal would fall through. But we're so happy with the spot we have, and everything is right, the staff is right. And then just building the story around it, and the reasoning, and the logic behind it—it all kind of came together. It was just organic, but we were just trying to be really patient and deliberate with how we opened the store.