In an unassuming corner of the Brentwood Country Mart, sandwiched between Christian Louboutin and luxury beauty brand Space NK, there’s Substation No. 1, which has acted as a convenient mini-post office since 1948.
Barely bigger than a one-car garage, the space offers many of the services found at larger U.S. Post Office locations. Candy, newspapers and assorted packing materials are sold there as well.
On occasion, however — and at the discretion of Brentwood Country Mart owner James Rosenfield — this minuscule post office space temporarily houses the odd designer-in-residence. Right now the pop-up belongs to Rowing Blazers, the decidedly East Coast label known for its collegiate-inspired apparel that has been re-interpreted in high-quality fabrications and punchy colors.
Just don’t call it “preppy.”
“I try to avoid the P word,” said the brand’s 32-year-old founder Jack Carlson. “But I guess Rowing Blazers is preppy because it’s rooted in classic East Coast American vernacular: seersucker, tweed, corduroy, rugby shirts. But I feel like what I’m trying to do with the brand is take all that good stuff and leave behind the stuffiness and sense of exclusivity that often goes with it.”
Carlson’s life is a textbook example of East Coast prep. He’s a graduate of the Boston preparatory school Buckingham, Browne & Nichols. He completed his undergraduate studies at Georgetown and read ancient Roman and Chinese history for his PhD at Oxford. He competed on the USRowing team from 2011 to 2016.
He retired from the sport and decided to enter the menswear space, creating the Rowing Blazers brand in 2017.
After a year or so of direct-to-consumer sales, the first Rowing Blazers pop-up opened in Lower Manhattan in New York in summer 2018 and became so successful that Carlson eventually signed a longer-term lease for a space in SoHo. His first permanent store opened last May.
A month later, that momentum carried Rowing Blazers across the country to L.A. to a men’s pop-up at the Country Mart. (Women’s jackets and blazers from the label are available online.)
Rowing Blazers opened for an initial four-month run at Substation No. 1. Because of the brand’s success here, Carlson has extended his short-term lease agreement with Brentwood Country Mart several times. It turns out the L.A. market has a bigger appetite for satin-stripe polo shirts and fitted blazers with grosgrain trim than one might expect. (At the pop-up, hats start $30 and blazers go up to $998.)
In the space recently, there was a display of flattened cardboard shipping boxes for sale under a rack of colorful polo shirts. Also, folded collegiate tees were placed on the counter where a person might send registered mail or pick up a candy bar. In this intimate space, every inch matters — but that’s all part of the charm.
Carlson plans to keep the pop-up running through the end of February. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what opening these pop-ups can do,” he said.
The light-filled pop-up embodies Carlson’s desire to have a preppy brand without “stuffiness” or “exclusivity.” The doors are always open, often with racks of rugby shirts propping them open.
Carlson has also managed to curate a variety of trinkets and memorabilia to decorate the store. A rowing oar hangs on the wall. There are varsity pennants and antique watches as well as Babar figurines.
“I have all these little framed pictures of Arthur Ashe, of Dustin Hoffman from ‘The Graduate,’ of Tupac Shakur wearing a rugby shirt,” said Carlson. “I tried to give the space a little bit of an L.A. vibe.”
Celebrity clientele has included actors Timothée Chalamet, Paul Rudd, Will Farrell and Joe Keery and rapper Vic Mensa. (Then there’s the occasional local resident who stops by the space, hoping to mail a package.) However, Carlson says his biggest surprise customer wasn’t someone from the entertainment industry.
“Our first customer on the day we opened for business was Lisa Birnbach, who wrote ‘The Official Preppy Handbook,’” he said. “She doesn’t even live in L.A., but I think she was in town and was just visiting the Country Mart and going to lunch at Farmshop.”
According to Carlson, what has surprised him about the L.A. market isn’t that prepsters have sought him out. It’s the diverse clientele.
“You definitely get the preppy Brentwood families,” he said, “but we’ve also had hipster guys drive all the way over from Silver Lake because they’ve followed us on Instagram forever. And it’s the first time the brand has been available in L.A. It’s been a really good mix of people at the Country Mart, and that’s exactly how I want it.”
Rowing Blazers Trading Post, Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Suite 50, Santa Monica, 11a.m.-6 p.m. every day; through Feb. 29, (310) 458-0476, rowingblazers.com