R13 | Unleashing Underground Fashion One Location at a Time

by Taylor Giangregorio

Designer Chris Leba has taken tangible steps toward expanding his denim brand R13, founded in 2009. Opening up a location on 34 Howard Street, R13 is to be worn by creatives who crave life in its purest, maddening form. The underground culture is on the uprise to flip the ways of our country upside down— on a surefire path to take over.

The new space is a physical reflection of the collections, offering customers a memorable shopping experience in an elevated space with minimalist design. Featuring exposed brick and concrete, LED screens, and five modular racks— the space is a true reflection the underground designs within R13’s brand as a collective.

How would you say R13 fits into the underground culture of America?

I believe the authentic view is that R13 is a luxury fashion house that celebrates and is inspired by the underground culture of America. I think what’s important is that we have to be respectful of the authenticity of the underground culture and at the same time be true to who we are as a luxury fashion house.

How does the new physical space at 34 Howard Street reflect the spirit of the brand?

R13 is all about self-expression. The store is really a smash up of all the things that I love in my past retail experiences over the course of the last 30 years. I came to New York City in the late 80’s and one of the first stores that I fell in love with was the first Commes Des Garcons store in Soho- it was minimal, raw and industrial. That unforgettable experience has always stayed with me. In the 90’s, Helmut Lang opening his NY flag ship and I also fell in love with its minimal and gallery like approach of showcasing clothing. I was also inspired by two of my favorite architects. John Pawson for his extreme minimal vision, and Tadeo Ando for his very industrial and strong aesthetic. I took all these elements to Leong and Leong and we work together for over a year on how to mix technology and my favorite cultural influences of today into a retail space that is timeless yet relevant.

What is the importance of the minimalist design within the space?

I wanted to create this push and pull between the energy of the brand. You have the hustle and bustle of the city with a minimalist environment that I always find calming and peaceful. 

Where do you pull creative influence from when designing for certain collections?

For me 95% of the time I am inspired by things that are authentic by nature, whether it be from a cultural perspective or a product perspective. I can be inspired by the Punk era, Grunge era or something as simple as a pair of 5 pocket jeans.

What is the most exciting factor of being able to showcase and sell clothes from R13 in a physical space?

I think that it was critical for us to create a space where our customers can come and really be immerse in the full breath of everything that we do. With our Soho store I wanted to create an innovative shopping experience — an elevated yet minimalist setting in line with our brand’s DNA.

Where do you see the trajectory of this “Other America” heading? Is it about more than just fashion and design to you?

The Other American is an archetype that has and will always exist. I see myself as part of the “Other America” and I will always express the brand through that POV.

Where do you see the future of R13 heading in upcoming years? Are you planning on expanding further, physically?

R13 is coming up on celebrating our 10-year anniversary so we want to just take a moment to celebrate that. Right now, it’s all about us learning and fine tuning our retail store concept before we start thinking about expanding into having multiple retail locations.

It appears to be as though anyone who wears R13 looks effortlessly cool. What type of person is the ideal R13-wearer?

I’ve always had a vision that the R13 customer would be someone who is strong, natural, unpretentious, creative and edgy. And that’s exactly who they are, a cultured and sophisticated rebel. 

R13 is now open at 34 Howard St, New York, NY‎ - ‎ 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Photos courtesy of R13