Best Made Co., the New York-based purveyor of haute hardware that made a name for itself as the purveyor of $348 axes, has chosen Los Angeles as the home of its second retail store, a 2,700-square-foot space officially opening today that showcases the company's ever-expanding line of tools, apparel, accessories and home goods alongside an ax-restoration bar, an indoor archery range and a postage stamp-size pop-up space called the Snug.
The store, next door to Sycamore Kitchen and a hickory-handled hatchet's toss across the street from American Rag, has taken up residence in a space formerly occupied by Stone Island (which moved to a larger location a block north) and joins brands including Stampd, Aether, Bonobos, Stüssy and Undefeated in the "guys gulch" stretch of La Brea Avenue, and based on a recent preview tour, will likely be a magnet for many a man.
That's because in addition to the aforementioned axes — displayed prominently behind a bar-like counter — and the range of well-crafted tools, toolboxes, satchels, enamelware, chunky blankets and hard-wearing apparel on offer, the store plans to host archery demonstrations (using a narrow indoor range banked with hay bales), ax- and cast iron-restoration classes, blade-sharpening lessons and a map-focused twist on happy hour.
"We're going to do this series called 'Mappy Hour'" says Peter Buchanan-Smith, the company's founder and chief executive, "where people just bring in their maps and drink whiskey and talk about their adventures."
Buchanan-Smith says this as he holds aloft a poster-size reproduction of a vintage U.S. Geological Survey map of Southern California, across which the slogan "Everything here is wonderful" has been silkscreened. The $78 map is one of the items that will be available exclusively at the Los Angeles store (the company sells most of its goods online but also has a 900-square-foot store in New York). Another is a sturdy, handmade, hand spot-welded, white, powder-coated 22-gauge steel strongbox with a red data plate affixed to its top that bears the word "wonderful" (two sizes, $28 and $38) and the new store's 145 S. La Brea Ave. address.
Buchanan-Smith, who grew up in a tool- and workshop-loving household in southern Ontario, Canada, was working for fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi ("designing everything but the apparel," he said, "magazines, books, packaging and [brand] identity") when he began pursuing the idea of an extremely well-made ax. "I would go away to camp in Algonquin Park every summer where I was taught how to really, really, really use an ax. It was the tool that was your lifeline. If you didn't have it, you were useless."
At the behest of Andy Spade (who knows a thing or two about retro-cool retail), the first dozen axes were made available to the public exclusively through Partners & Spade in early 2009. "As soon as I saw the response, I knew I was onto something," he said. "This was a chance to start my own brand, and the ax was the perch."
The handcrafted, U.S.-made axes, with their drop-forged steel heads, colorfully painted hickory handles and price tag starting north of $200 (current prices start at $188 for an ax with an unfinished handle), may have been an easy target for derision and commentary about conspicuous consumption when they first debuted, but Buchanan-Smith has clearly carved out a place for himself in the niche world of haute hardware (he calls the aesthetic "refined utility").
"It took us about a year to crawl out from under the ax tsunami," he said, "but I looked at it like a periodic table; the ax was our oxygen, and we had all these empty spaces. Hydrogen was a first aid kit or a knit cap, and from there it was almost a new product every week."
Best Made started moving into apparel two years ago, and Buchanan-Smith said one of the benefits of opening a West Coast store three times the size of the original New York location was the opportunity to display the full range of heavy-in-the-outerwear offerings, including flannel shirts, puffer vests, sweaters, fleece-lined ranch jackets and canvas field pants.
But the ax-wielding Canadian has one more thing hidden up his 100% cotton flannel sleeve. Past the shelves stacked with bonded canvas rucksacks ($198) and gear bags ($178), beyond the custom wood and glass cabinetry stocked with brass match safes ($78), Japanese chef knives ($98 to $458) and enamelware plates emblazoned with the words "Be optimistic" ($68) and just behind a rack of heavy-duty Pendelton-made camp blankets cinched in leather slings ($198), tucked into the back-right corner of the store, is the space — barely bigger than two office cubicles crammed together — he calls the Snug.
"My dad's from the U.K.," he said, "and a snug was what you'd call a good bar — a small room with a fireplace in it." Instead of a fireplace, this snug will be home to a frequently changing assortment of themed goods. For the store's opening, the theme is wood, so one pegboard wall displays half a dozen handmade wooden arrows alongside an American longbow; hanging on another wall is a $698 limited-edition fir-and-birch cuckoo clock from Gemany's Black Forest (a collaboration with Hubert Herr) whose tiny wood-chopping figures on the front are accompanied by an equally tiny version of a red-handled Best Made Co. ax.
The themed space, the classes and the archery range are all part of Buchanan-Smith's goal, which is as carefully crafted as any of the products that line his shelves. "I want the experience to be first and foremost — before anything is transactional," he said. "They can walk in and feel the brand. They can touch it [and] they can walk out without having bought anything and feel really fulfilled."
No, Angelenos, you probably don't need a $348 felling ax with a drop-forged head and hand-painted handle. But it's a credit to the particular brand of retail magic Best Made has brought to La Brea that you're likely to leave the store thinking it might just be a really, really good idea to have one.
Best Made Co. Los Angeles, 145 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.