June 19, 2009


As I enter the warehouse space that is MISTER FREEDOM, I look around for a basin of holy water, a stone bowl in which to dip my finger, as this is my Cathedral. The religion: vintage. And if we continue with this metaphor, Christophe Loiron is God, or at least a disciple of sorts.

When I walk in, the smell of a-couple-hundred-thousand-years of collective history tickles my nose and draws my mouth into a smile. I have arrived. If the pieces on the floor could tell stories of their travels, there would be no need for film or books. People would simply come to Mister Freedom, huddle in a circle around a 1944 Army Issue fleece, and listen to tales of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

There is a reason Mister Freedom is known the world over… it’s good. Bottom line: it’s one of the best vintage dealers peddling some of the finest examples of expertly worn-in garments known to man. And owner & operator, Christophe, knows more about the pieces, origins and construction than any other soul in the game.

The complete story below the picture...

My previous job had put Christophe and me in touch, and we had established a pretty good professional relationship. Although at times intimidated by his vintage knowledge, tough exterior and previous Japanese magazine fame, I had always been impressed by his optimistic nature and the fact that you could, even if he was busy upstairs, expect at least a cheerful smile and nod. I have been coming to Mister Freedom since he operated his much smaller shop over off Melrose, which he opened in ‘03. It was there that I had my first “moment.”

Some talk about finding God, others reflect on the day their first child was born; for me, I speak about the first time I walked into Mister Freedom. I was in college, and my only exposure to vintage was at the Salvation Army. I remember walking in and seeing a leather jacket, STP patch stitched across the back, and British motorcycle patches lashed to the sleeves. It was at that moment that I really got that things used to be made better, by people who cared, and for people who didn’t hope for a quality product, but expected it. Little did I know, six years later, that realization would still be hitting me every time I walked into Mister Freedom.

I get to the store at about 11AM. In LA, that translates into breakfast time. Over eggs and bacon, we spend an hour talking about the importance and overuse of the term MADE IN AMERICA, the silence that fell over the crowd when Zidane was ejected from the World Cup, and the irony of a Frenchman knowing more about the USA than I do. Three cups in, the coffee might as well be bourbon, because the conversation is jumping around faster than drunken, incoherent banter. And to the untrained, eavesdropping ear, our vernacular and enthusiasm for the world of vintage must have sounded like a Wall Street trader speaking Pig Latin.

Walking down Beverly, Christophe asks me about his store, who shops there and why. These things might not matter to some shop-owners, their feedback is simply reflected in making their margins, but not Christophe. He knows he does great work and sells a quality product, how could he not, but still keeps an enthusiastic interest in the general perception of his shop. It’s things like this that give me the idea that Christophe is not just in this game for money or fame, but the simple satisfaction in providing good products to good people. He smokes another cigarette.

Back at the store, Christophe takes me upstairs to THE DRAGON’S LAIR. Yes, up the very stairs that are capped at the top with a STOP SIGN warning of certain death if one passes without permission. I was going behind the curtain. The wizard has deemed me worthy to share his secret plans for how to make his little world run. Rolls of dead-stock, denim, piles of boots, bins of buttons and jars of metal details clutter (but in my eyes decorate) every inch of available space in the thousand-or-so-square-foot “work space” in the loft above the store. A loft I was very familiar with, like an eight-year-old is familiar with the roof of the dugout at Dodger Stadium. I had always guessed, wondered… even asked, but had to leave the exact layout to my imagination.

By now, Christophe recognizes my passion for the details and nuances that go into his line and store, and is all too happy to show me his varying collections of odd bits and pieces picked up at swap meets and flea markets around the world. There are not a lot of people that could hold my attention while going through an entire WWII uniform repair kit complete with the original metal carrying case, but this job is made simple when Mister Freedom is supplying the narration. His passion rubs off quicker than the indigo on the NAVY Denim jacket he moves to show me what’s behind the next cupboard door, or in the next jar. An overwhelming mix of jealousy and kinship washes over me as he shows me the collection of collars he “stumbled on” while at the Rose Bowl. He continues. Like digging for dinosaur bones at the Museum on Fairfax, it almost gets to the point where the feeling of surprise wears off and you simply know that moving a little dirt is inevitably going to uncover some age-old treasure. As we get deeper in the workshop, I find myself unfairly comparing Mister Freedom’s treasures: “Yeah, that amazing 1941 infantry field jacket is good and all, but just not as good as the other three 1941 infantry field jackets you have over there.”

Christophe’s love for vintage and all-things-old was forged as a little kid, traveling the world with his “oil man” dad. Living out of a suitcase, seeing the world at a young age, opened his eyes and exposed him to countless opportunities. But it also made him long for home - not just a house, but home. Perhaps a love for vintage comes from the idea that it all has a history, it tells stories of home – however far away. For Christophe, home is not where you hang your Korean War-era hat, or park your bike. Since 1990, home is here, in LA, in his workshop. He still travels the world, in search of the next “score” of amazing unseen vintage goodness, but these days he does it on his own terms. He does it to feed his passion for the lifestyle portrayed in his line, to find the next great artifact that has lain forgotten for decades.

Although the Mister Freedom line ranges from outerwear, to wovens, to denim (and even talks of footwear), it started with t-shirts. Vintage jersey tees precisely chosen and altered so even the most well educated vintage collector would be fooled. Well, maybe not fooled, but impressed for sure. Hand-cut stencils and vintage military patches were used to embellish already incredible tees. I remember speaking with Christophe years ago about the paint he uses. He told me stories of late night runs to the hardware store to find the right kind of paint that would hold up in the wash. And it’s the wash that’s key, “you don’t really know what you have until you wash it.” These shirts, and the original “Mister Freedom” Triumph shirts, put MF on the map for designers around the globe. Retail giants began to notice, and pretty soon teams of designers would have MF high on their list of “spots to hit” on LA research trips. The Mister Freedom store has become a staple for companies’ inspiration shopping, rivaled only by maybe the Rose Bowl, and even that’s a close call these days.

The quality of the line is undeniable. The detail, the material, the construction… it’s all there. And not one opportunity was missed in its design or realization. That attention to detail and quality has brought Christophe so much attention, both from the trendsetting elite, and from the die-hard sticklers for classic, timeless cool. It’s no small feat to be talked about with high praise on blogs mostly covering street wear and the newest sneaker, as well as featured in the new J.Crew catalog, next to such iconic pieces of menswear as the plain front chino.
Christophe Loiron's pieces are emerging as modern day classics, appealing to an audience much broader than that of the originals by which they were inspired. Mister Freedom is bringing the vintage aesthetic to the forefront of the menswear consciousness and doing it with a sense of integrity not often found in other labels.

Walking the loft, taking photos and rummaging through piles while Christophe takes a call from New York, I can’t help but be more and more impressed with the man behind the brand. I look at the sketches for the upcoming collection. As if they were drafted by a seasoned vet of the fashion design trenches, they are stylistic and masterful. With no formal training in either design or art, Christophe is able to create these pieces just like the pros, and perhaps with even more personality.

I would be lying if I said the new line, which I was lucky enough to sneak a peek at, is good. Because it’s not, it’s downright amazing. Plenty of companies look to the past, perhaps making up stories to help with the creative struggle of designing like it were 60 years ago (on a computer), but Christophe pulls it off as effortlessly as he makes his own showroom cool. He just does it. The world of vintage and military classic has become so second nature to him, that it’s not a case of looking to the past for inspiration, but rather looking inside himself.

The morning winds down with us sifting through handmade stencils, talking about the state of the economy and its effects on the retail market, how much we can’t wait for the next World Cup, and why vintage just doesn’t seem to always make you rich. My day with Christophe gives me more insight into the brand that I could ever get from reading any interview. So, next time you’re in town, stop by, ask for Christophe, say hi. Even if you’re not a French National Soccer Team fan, he’ll still let you look around. I have been a fan of Mister Freedom, the brand, the store, the idea, for some time now. But it is with great pleasure I can now say I am a fan of Mister Freedom, the man.

Cheers to you, Christophe.