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.
COMPLEX: The Hundreds is a very California-centric label in terms of its style and lifestyle. Why do you think the brand resonates so strongly with people not only on here the East Coast, but across the country and around the world?
BOBBY: Outside of L.A. and California, everyone hates L.A. and California. But as far as the cultural and subcultural context goes, it's pervasive. Whether people want to admit it or not, it manifests throughout their entire experience. I always try to bring up the allusion to skateboarding—skateboarding is a purely Southern California sport. It started in Southern California; it evolved in San Diego, and matured in L.A. and, in the '90s, up in the Bay. It's a very California thing, but it's practiced worldwide. Everyone kind of re-appropriated skateboarding to fit their personality, their geographical location, and their environment. The same thing with like Tupac's music, or Chicano culture, or Mexican food. All these things, they couldn't be contained within their particular geographical location. Whether people intended to or not, they kind of had to explode outside of that arena.
I feel like it's the same with The Hundreds. The Hundreds is based around this very Cali, relaxed, casual vibe. Like the classic T-shirt—how California is that, you know? But it just couldn't be contained just within the West Coast. People relate to it. The themes of it are Californian, but the idea and the personality of The Hundreds is just a global, personal thing. Anyone can appreciate it.
COMPLEX: L.A. is your hometown, and you love it, but what is it about New York that appeals to or inspires you?
BOBBY: First of all, I think this is the shopping center of the universe. As far as retail and fashion are concerned, and as far as I'm concerned, this is the epicenter. On top of that, just the cultural and subcultural phenomenon that happens here...again it's another epicenter. Trends begin here, and they move west, and they move across Europe and Asia. I feel like "cool" starts from here, and I think New Yorkers have made a culture out of that. New York is a very unique place in that sense. L.A., obviously, has a lot of amazing things that New York will never have. But I think what it comes from is the diversity of the people here. Everyone lives in such tight quarters with each other, and I think that just builds an amazing creative energy in this town.
For me, personally, New York represented a certain genre of skateboarding, and a certain genre of music—of punk and hip-hop—that I grew up on that had a flavor that L.A. didn't have. Most importantly, what's most important and pertinent to The Hundreds is New York's interpretation of streetwear. It was instrumental in how a brand like ours came about, with brands like Supreme, SSUR, and ALIFE. What those guys did in the '90s and early 2000s really shaped what consumers and kids today are delving in with modern streetwear. It started in Southern California, but it really matured here.
COMPLEX: Last week, you released a sneak peek of a few of the exclusive shirts that will be available at the store's opening—all of which feature uniquely New York graphics, from Metrocards to Adam Bomb re-imagined as a "Big Apple". Aside from these New York-exclusive releases, will The Hundreds' newfound presence in NYC affect or provide inspiration for the brand's creative direction in any noticeable or permanent way?
BOBBY: The funny thing is, really New York has always been a part of The Hundreds, even though we're themed and centered on this idea of California culture. I've been coming here since I was a kid, and all the brands I looked up to were New York brands. The artists that I looked up to were New York artists, and a lot of the music that I listened to was from New York. How could I not have that permeate my inspiration for the brand when I'm working on things? I've loved coming here, even before we had the store, even before we started thinking about the store, just to gather inspiration and hang out and talk to the people here and soak up the city. It's always been a part of the brand, and for sure from here on out, just having this store here, just listening to what people have to say here, we're obviously going to be a reflection of that.
COMPLEX: The Hundreds has come a long way since you first started out seven years ago. Back then, could you have ever predicted just how successful this project would become? And how do you think The Hundreds will continue to evolve and develop over the course of the next decade?
BOBBY: Back then, we kind of lived day-to-day, like, "This is what we've got to get done today." But when we first started out, we knew we were going to have stores. I talked about this on the blog, but when we first started the brand, we'd just printed our first T-shirts, and Ben was in New York. He was like, "We're going to have this store in New York. We have to have a store in New York—streetwear exists here." So we always had these goals and these lofty visions. We want to get further into publishing and media and music—these are still goals that have to be really ascertained and materialized, but they're coming around.
But yeah, I mean, I'm just grateful. Ben and I still feel like we're still 23 years old. We're 30 now, but it still feels just like we're working out of the apartment, making T-shirt graphics. It's hard for us to look from the outside and have this objective perspective of what's going on. All these different people are working for us, we have stores now, we have all this stuff. To us, we're still just the same guys.
COMPLEX: A few weeks back, you wrote a fairly provocative post that criticized contemporary "branding strategies," and it ended with you saying that the most important thing is authenticity.
BOBBY: Yeah, I feel like there were ten thousand ways to do this store wrong. A lot of people—a lot of critics—were looking for us to do this the wrong way. I think the way we managed to pull it off makes a lot of sense, and personally resonates with our brand and our back-story. This is a natural expression of what we already do, what we've always represented, and who we are as people—this is just something that we do. We're not trying to say we're something that we're not. We're not a New York brand. We're not New Yorkers. We don't talk like you guys, we're probably not as cool as half the people in the city. But we want to pay tribute to the city, and pay homage to everything it's done to us as far as inspiring us. That's all we're doing here, we're giving back, you know? We're here in your city, please come and enjoy the space, please come and enjoy the brand. If you like it, cool. If not, we just thank you for being here.