In 2012, Carl Louisville quit a job running the Prada Epicenter store on Rodeo Drive, where he got to socialize with Miuccia Prada and Hollywood A-listers. Post Prada, he opened a luxury store in a section of Los Angeles adjacent to homeless encampments in the city’s tough Skid Row section.
“You’re out of your mind. What are you doing down there?” Louisville remembers friends telling him. Fast-forward five years and the question never pops up anymore.
Louisville’s Guerilla Atelier, located at 912 E. Third St., was one of the first luxe stores in Los Angeles’ Arts District, which for the past 18 months or so has been one of the hottest up-and-coming retail neighborhoods in the metropolis. He’s ready to revamp the place, which he defines as a “lifestyle gallery” and gave him success in downtown.
Currently, young, affluent people go to the Arts District to wander through the sprawling 100,000-square-foot Hauser & Wirth art gallery, which opened in 2016; drink Belgian ale at Wurstküche; and shop for high-end clothes and lifestyle items at Guerrilla Atelier’s neighbors Shinola, which opened in December, and 3.1 Phillip Lim, which opened in early May. Arts District shops Poketo, which opened in 2012, and the Apolis: Common Gallery, which opened in 2011, also pioneered retail in the Arts District. But Guerilla Atelier was a game-changer. Brigham Yen, a real estate broker and editor/publisher of the blog “DTLA Rising,” said that Louisville proved that luxe retail could thrive in an area once best known for urban blight.
“It was the first store in the Arts District to carry exclusive designer items that would usually only be found on the Westside. Demand was there, and [it] showed other retailers, like Shinola, that DTLA could support luxury retail,” Yen said.
A steady stream of shoppers and the curious visit the 6,000-square-foot emporium to browse through Guerilla Atelier’s selection of designer lines for men and women such as Los Angeles–based Verdad or view pop-art and giant coffee-table books from the publisher Taschen. Price points range from $35 for a scented candle to a $5,000 men’s suit and $20,000 for a painting. Recognizable for his salt-and-pepper hair and beard and clad in a long-hemmed artist’s shirt by the RTH label, Louisville has sketched out the next step for Guerilla Atelier.
He will change the merchandising direction. It will go from an entirely multi-brand store to one where about 60 percent of the floor space is devoted to the shop’s new private-label line, which will also be called Guerilla Atelier. It will be produced by Italian brand Tagliatore, which is headquartered in the Southern Italian region of Puglia.
Guerilla Atelier will be a collection of tailored clothes for men, and styles will range from shirting to tuxedo jackets. Retail price points will be $300 for shirts to $5,000 for suits. Looks will include navy, gray and black suits a man can wear to a business meeting. The label also will offer a tuxedo jacket featuring red and blue herringbone fabric. Also part of the debut collection, sports coats, a selection of trousers, outerwear and knitwear. The Guerilla Atelier label is scheduled to hit his shop floor in mid-June. Louisville anticipates wholesaling it eventually. He also forecasts that he will open Guerilla Atelier boutiques in other cities.
Louisville hopes the private-label line will be like his store. “I’m always looking for the next thing. The private-label is a completion of the journey of creating my own environment,” he said. “We’re taking a number of unknowns. It is the final risk.”
The risk is devoting store space to a brand that no one has heard about. Also, there is no guarantee that the line will be a success, said Rob Greenspan, an apparel business consultant for Greenspan Consult Inc. in Los Angeles’ Encino district. If the line succeeds, it will provide a larger gross profit than branded lines, and the retail store will be the exclusive place to find the line.
From childhood, Louisville maintained an ambition of running a haberdashery, a place that sells men’s clothes and accessories. After a career in sales and management for blue-chip retailers such as Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue, Louisville hoped to try something different. It would be a space inspired by the grand French ateliers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. There would be no designated space where shoppers would be directed to browse through dresses or shirts. Rather, Louisville hoped that visitors would be guided by a spirit of discovery.
The boutique draws mostly downtown Los Angeles residents but also people throughout Los Angeles County as well as international tourists. Louisville intends the space to be a luxe experience without the trappings of high-end stores on other exclusive retail streets.
Louisville helped create the look of the place, which includes exposed HVAC pipes on the ceiling, bulbs hanging from cords and Taschen coffee-table books artfully placed around the shop, which is designed to look like a lived-in space, not like a store. Guerilla Atelier typically keeps its selection to a few brands, such as Verdad, RTH, Mister Freedom, Annelore and Borrelli Napoli. The store has championed emerging designers such as A Vested Interest and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Chris Gelinas. Also seen in the store, Passavant and Lee accessories, downtown Los Angeles eyewear brand Saint Rita Parlor and niche fragrances from independent companies.
The store also devotes wall space to and has produced gallery shows for artists such as David Bromley from Australia; Knowledge Bennett, whose “Cojones” gallery show depicted famous people grabbing their crotches; Karen Bystedt, who exhibited a trove of rare Andy Warhol pictures; and artist Danny First, whose art and sculpture currently lines Guerilla Atelier’s walls.
Atmospheric music and the signature brown scented candle aroma from Hôtel Costes from Paris waft through Guerilla Atelier’s space.
“This is an expression of what I find beautiful,” Louisville said of his project, which is mostly a one-man show. “I do everything here … joyfully. This environment is the truth.”