The Mod Couple and The Cult of Retail
They say retail can be a bitch these days. But after visiting LA’s Virgil Normal you might add only if you make it that way. In just two short years its purveyors, stylist and costume designer, Shirley Kurata and artist, Charlie Staunton created their “community store with a gift shop” just by virtue of their taste and crew. Wander in on any given day and thumb through the latest rarities from Rodarte, Shuttlenotes, Battenwear, Free and Easy or some local zines and a carefully selected range of vintage fare. What it is and how it came to be is best said in their own words, so take a tour and learn a little more about their cult of personality.
Shirley, what was the road that led you to becoming a stylist?
I was born and raised in Monterey Park. I went to Paris for three years to study at fashion school and came back to LA to get a degree in art. Just being involved in fashion seemed limiting so I also wanted to explore film and television; it is LA after all.
Didn’t you work with Roger Corman?
Just for two days in the art department, but that’s not something I’d put on my resume. But I did work on some low-budget films and television. Through that I met photographer, Autumn DeWilde and starting working with her, which led to more connections in the music world. At the time she was shooting people like Beck, Spoon, Elliot Smith and so many other artists in LA. Styling for bands led me to working on commercials and editorial. Over ten years ago I met Kate and Laura from Rodarte and worked with them on their first runway show and have been styling with them ever since.
Your personal style is unlike any other.
I’ve always been interested in vintage and love the fashion from different eras, especially the 20s, 50s, 60s, 70s. I like mixing that all up into something that’s just me but defining my style is sort of abstract and can be hard to put into words.
What about you Charlie?
I come from a little town called La Palma near Cerritos, CA. Like a lot of Southern California kids, I grew up skating and hanging out at the shop. My local shop was a really creative atmosphere and the boards on the wall were like a gallery. When I went to college I started taking some art courses and found that world to be more lively than I’d imagined. My buddy Rob brought me in to do some design for an apparel brand so that’s how I got into the fashion world.
Moped culture and the infamous Latebirds gang was a big part of your life for a while.
My friend Eric was living in San Francisco and one of his friends found a container full of mopeds on some guy’s farm. He had the idea of buying all of them and giving all the mopeds to his friends. What began as a way to go get some beers with friends snowballed into something bigger and it wasn’t too hard to coerce our other friends into buying a $500 moped.
Shirley, were you into it?
I rode but wasn’t a die-hard like some of the other kids in the gang. I fell going all of about two miles an hour and scraped up my knee pretty bad.
And you all met up at Choke.
Yeah, when Choke opened I think there were only one or two mopeds on the street. Jeff was a really warm and energetic person who always made you feel welcome when you came in. It didn’t matter if you were into mopeds or not; in fact, he probably preferred it if you weren’t. Inside was a spot to get coffee, a couch, pinball and a Coke machine filled with beers. Everyone was always welcome to come spend an hour or a day if you wanted to. All kinds of creative people would come by like Aaron Rose and artist, Alexis Ross.
So the space stayed in the family and eventually became Virgil Normal?
Originally we wanted something near this location and had been hunting for a couple years. We found out Jeff was closing Choke in April 2015 and we opened in June. We didn’t want to erase the history that Choke had so we kept the signage and mural that Alexis Ross did. The moped is still hanging up.
Did you already have a vision of what the shop would be?
We started out thinking it would be a men’s clothing store because Vinny’s Barber Shop is next door and we knew we’d have a lot of guys coming in. The store is now “gender fluid.” It’s a gallery for our friends and the friends we make. There is also a responsibility to be here for the community and give people a space to express themselves. Outside of the vintage clothing about 90% of the things we carry are made by people we know.
You also throw some pretty killer parties.
Cinco de Mayo was fun with a Donald Trump piñata. Our anniversary party with Honey Power Club and impromptu set with the comedian, Bill Kottkamp. The She Chimp party was a classic. She’s a trained primate that does custom sign painting. Whatever you want her to paint she’ll paint! The Feels have played here along with the local hobos, literally the local bums. Alexander Spit brought in his studio and recorded here. People were filling in throughout the day bringing lyrics or playing guitar. We’ve met so many cool people who just stop by and who make the trek from all over. The sense of community has been more fulfilling than making money. It’s really a community store with a gift shop.
When and why did Snoopy show up in your lives?
We used to carry Peter Jenson from London who did a collaboration with the Peanuts Gang. That was one of the first lines we brought in and some of the pieces had Snoopy and Charlie Brown all over them. I then started painting him on the signage. Snoopy is a built-in icon; he can do anything from surfing, skating or just hanging out. Now people bring us Snoopy themed stuff all the time. We’re thinking our retirement will be the Snoopy museum.
As much as Virgil Normal is are a part of your identity, your house is unique too.
It was built in 1962 by architect, Stephen Alan Siskind in this little knoll in Los Feliz. There are four houses on a shared driveway so it’s almost like a campground setup. Evidently, he built his own house in Topanga when he was 21 and ours when he was 25. It’s mid-century but it’s kind of like an A-Frame chalet with a spiral staircase.
We both go to the flea market a lot and collect a lot from vintage stores. The Eames did things right where their house was folky but modern at the same time that made it a lot more comfortable and cozy.
What can we all look forward to in 2017?
We’re doing collaborations with Lot Stock and Barrel, Braindead and artist Ty Williams. Also expect to see more in the Virgil Normal line and lots of surprises.
Visit 4157 Normal Avenue in Los Angeles or online at virgilnormal.com