THE STRONGHOLD | MICHAEL PARADISE ITW

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We joined Michael Paradise at his The Stronghold shop in Venice Beach, to know as much as possible about both his shop and historical brand The Stronghold.

YOU SAID YOU WERE INTO THE LEATHER INDUSTRY A LOT IN THE ’80S AND YOU ALSO WERE A FASHION-DESIGNER, CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND BEFORE TAKING THE STRONGHOLD?

I began working in the apparel industry in the late-’70s with a company called North Beach Leather which had been founded in SF in ’67. I spent almost sixteen years with that company living in SF, LA and NY, eventually becoming the creative director. In addition to creative direction, I was responsible for product development. This included designing the men’s collections and also developing the leather and suede materials in Italian and French tanneries.

CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT NORTH BEACH DESIGN BACK IN THE DAYS?

North Beach Leather had retail stores in all of the major American cities as well as in London plus an international wholesale business. It was known for custom made and ready to wear leather and suede apparel for both men and women. Because of this it had a celebrity clientele consisting of luminaries from the worlds of music, film, television, politics, and sports. In the ’80s, North Beach Leather became recognized as a high fashion luxury brand with stores on Madison Avenue in NY and New Bond Street in London. The North Beach design studios were in NY and Paris, and eventually, LA. Garment manufacturing was done in the USA, Italy, England, Hong Kong and Korea. Leather and suede was tanned in the USA, France, Italy and Spain. Needless to say, I was travelling constantly.

“FASHION IS A CONSENSUS, WHILE GOOD STYLE IS TIMELESS”, CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO US THIS THOUGHT OF YOURS?

By this I mean that what is called fashion is basically a seasonal agreement by a relatively small group of designers, editors, and marketers (and now bloggers as well) of what is ‘in’ and/or commercially viable at any given moment regardless if it’s inspired by couture or what is happening on the street. Style is a personal statement that comes from within.

YOU TOLD US THAT YOU HAVE A DREAM FOR YOUR SHOP: YOU WOULD LIKE TO SELL ALL THE WORLD’S MOST CLASSIC AND TOP BRANDS, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA AND HOW IS IT GOING?

After many years of thoroughly enjoying my work as a creative director in the international fashion business, I eventually lost interest in spending my time developing new products based on upcoming fashion trends. I started to look at every category of clothing and ask myself what the historical origins of the various types of apparel were. This led me to start researching heritage brands that had been in business for a long time. I was asking myself who was the oldest maker of shoes, the oldest maker of hats, the oldest maker of jeans, the oldest maker of leather jackets, etc. I thought that if these companies were still making the same basic styles for, in many cases, over a hundred years, then these items were not ‘fashion’ as I knew it but something quite different. Here were style that had been successfully made and sold for many, many years regardless of any current trends. I call these styles ‘iconic’ styles and I believe that they stand apart from what we call fashion today even though they go through phases of being ‘fashionable or unfashionable’ depending on the period. These styles are truly timeless and therefore are outside of fashion. And what’s more, these products are all of excellent quality and offer constant satisfaction to generation after generation of customers.

I GUESS THAT’S CONNECTED TO THE MOOD OF A FINE SHOP LIKE YOURS – BUY ONCE, CRY ONCE – HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE BRANDS YOU SELL?

I define a true heritage brand as being over fifty years old and still making their original styles in the original country of manufacture. This means that American heritage brands are Made in America, British heritage brands are Made in Great Britain, French heritage brands in France, and so on. We feature over thirty domestic and international brands that meet these requirements. If a brand is making some of its production in a country other than its origin country, we won’t offer those styles.

IN THE SHOP WE CAN FIND AMAZING LIMITED-EDITIONS IN COLLABORATION WITH BRANDS LIKE ALDEN, WHITE’S BOOTS AND MORE, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THESE PARTNERSHIPS?

These are all part of a category that we call Expressly For. Because of our longstanding relationship with brands such as Alden, White’s Boots, or Christy’s, we are allowed to commission small custom runs of styes that are made expressly for The Stronghold and are not available in their regular collections.

ARE YOU PLANNING SOME NEW JOINT-VENTURES WITH FINE BRANDS?

We are currently working on a series of three exclusive Stetson hat styles that will only be available at The Stronghold.

YOU HAVE A NICE RELATIONSHIP AND COLLABORATION WITH DEREK HARRIS FROM LEWIS LEATHERS – YOU’RE ALSO THE NORTH AMERICA DISTRIBUTOR FOR THE BRAND – HOW DID YOU MET AND HOW THINGS ARE GOING?

Lewis Leathers is a true heritage brand in every way. It’s been Made in England since 1892 and they still make the same styles as historically correct reproductions. I began working with Derek Harris around five years ago after meeting him in London. We are steadily growing the business in North America and are soon going to make the brand available online with the launch of our upcoming web store.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE IN CHARGE OF A BRAND REALLY IMPORTANT AND CONNECTED TO THE DENIM HISTORY SUCH AS THE STRONGHOLD?

I take the authentic history of The Stronghold very seriously. Here is the first apparel company from LA and one of the oldest original denim brands, having been founded in 1895. This is what inspired me to develop our policy of offering only true heritage styles and brands.

CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT STRONGHOLD STEVE – THE OLD MASCOT OF THE BRAND?

Stronghold Steve was first drawn in 1908 by a graphic artist who went on to found the first advertising agency in LA.

FURTHERMORE WHAT YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE CHARLIE CHAPLIN DRESSED IN THE STRONGHOLD IN HIS FILMS?

It’s simply the best product endorsement that I could ever imagine. Charlie Chaplin was once the most famous actor in the world. And he was wearing Stronghold as early as 1916!

CAN YOU EXPLAIN US THE NEW COLLECTION FOR THE STRONGHOLD: FITS, WASHINGS, FABRICS AND SO ON?

The Stronghold continues to make classic fits and styles inspired by our archival pieces of vintage Stronghold. We only offer 100% selvedge fabrics with many denims that are loomed exclusively for us based on original Stronghold garments such as our brown hickory stripe denim, our gray pin-stripe denim, or our wide striped blue and natural denim. We do not offer artificial washes on our denim. We believe that the customer should break in and personalize our denim so most of what we sell is raw denim as was originally the case. However, we have begun to offer a simple cold water rinse option for those customers that do not want to start with raw denim.

YOU HAVE ALSO A NICE CUSTOMIZATION RANGE FOR THE STRONGHOLD: CAN YOU DESCRIBE IT?

Any of the styles that we make at The Stronghold can be custom ordered. We offer custom sleeve, body, or hem lengths. You can have any garment made up in any of our fabrics (we have in stock around fifteen-twenty different selvage fabrics at any given time). You have a choice of six different thread colors that you can specify along with six different pocket fabrics. It’s possible to add smaller details like a buckle-back or suspender buttons to any jean.

FINALLY WHAT ARE THE FUTURE PLANS FOR THE SHOP? AND FOR THE STRONGHOLD?

This year we will be launching a new website along our first web store which will feature all of our Stronghold products along with the products in our Expressly For program. We will also be offering a selection of Lewis Leathers styles online as well. Please check us out at thestronghold.com. In the Spring of 2018 we will be opening a second store in LA in the Downtown LA Arts District.