Taz Arnold: rocking his look and label, one at a time

Music producer-performer Taz Arnold's TI$A line spreads the word on personal style.
Music producer-performer Taz Arnold’s TI$A line spreads the word on personal style.
(Gary Friedman/ Los Angeles Times)
Fashion Critic

An urban peacock whose tribal look samples the preppies of Brentwood, the punks of North Hollywood, the skaters of Venice, the hippies of the canyons and the hip-hoppers of South-Central, Taz Arnold is one of the most stylish men of the moment. Maybe you’ve seen him staring out from the pages of indie magazines such as Trace or Index, singing “Ima Vote Obama Way” in his self-made fan video on YouTube, or sitting next to Kanye West at a fashion show.

Arnold, a native of South L.A. who says he’s “360 degrees of age,” is a music producer-performer. He got his big break when Dr. Dre signed one of his earliest discoveries, a guy named Hitman, at an open audition in 1998. Arnold went on to front production collective Sa-Ra Creative Partners, and to work with West, Herbie Hancock, Iggy Pop, Erykah Badu and others. He’s now working on a solo album, scheduled to be released this summer.

But Arnold’s passion has always been fashion, ever since he was a high school kid “boosting” (shoplifting) Ralph Lauren to feed his collection and to one-up his label-conscious friends. Ironically, Arnold is now on his way to becoming a bona fide style icon, a regular in the front row at designers’ runway shows. He’s heading to the Milan and Paris fashion weeks next month with West and Verbal, a Japanese singer-style setter with a similar pedigree. Arnold goes to the shows for inspiration and to get his picture taken in whatever outrageous hood or poncho he happens to have on that day.

Arnold met West before the superstar released his first record and is now co-designing his forthcoming line, Pastelle. Arnold also has his own line, TI$A (Taz Is So Arnold, $100 “Vote Obama Way” T-shirts, $225 plastic “Love” and “Hood” knuckle rings and $250 re-purposed dead stock ‘80s baseball jackets.

Arnold, who lives in the Mid-City area, also designs luggage, baseball caps and his signature detachable hoods for MCM, the leather goods brand that had its heyday in the ‘80s but is now positioning itself for a revival. Both collections are sold in Japan, and Arnold hopes 2009 will be the year they hit the racks here.

“He’s the most down-to-earth guy with mad style,” says Michelle Webb, co-owner of the Catwalk vintage boutique on Fairfax Avenue, who is eager to carry his MCM jackets. “He’s the guy who’s ahead of everybody.”

For Arnold, style is as much about creation as it is about remixing, and counterfeit has almost as much currency as the real thing. I sat down with him at his temporary downtown L.A. showroom for a few minutes last week to discuss his look.

What are your influences?

When I grew up, there was a hippie thing going on. At the same time, L.A. was a magnet for people who wanted to enjoy the weather. Berry Gordy moved Motown here, all the athletes who got money wanted to move here. I was soaking up the hippie, black consciousness, surf-beach aesthetic. My parents weren’t artists -- my dad was a construction worker and my mother a manager at AT&T -- but they made things like embroidered denim. My mom had magnetizing water, pyramids, rainbows and neon lights in the house. We had a lot of cats, and owls lived in our palm trees. It was like living in an aviary.

Wow, that sounds wild. Who were your style icons?

Early Prince when he would have on underwear with no shirt, Cameo with a flat top and tights, and skateboarders. There was also a scene in L.A. called Ultrawave, which was like Afrika Bambaataa in New York. They would sample records like Kraftwerk. It consisted of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre -- when he used to wear makeup -- and Egyptian Lover.

What did you look like in high school?

In high school I was a booster at South Coast Plaza, and people knew me for having a nice style. You always wanted to get something more exclusive. If all your friends were wearing Reeboks and K-Swiss, maybe you would try to get a pair of Timberlands, Sperry Top-Siders or Cole Haan bucks and flip it like that. Now that I look back, I think I must have been kind of nuts. I was into Benetton, Swatch and the Coca-Cola clothing line.

What else do you collect besides Ralph Lauren?

Chanel brooches, Gucci loafers -- used, women’s, all kinds. And records.

Tell me about Pastelle.

Kanye hired me in July -- we were working together anyway. His eye is very critical. We’re trying to come up with something he really digs so we can get the line off the ground.

How did you hook up with MCM?

For my first record, I wore a bootleg MCM jacket on the album cover. It was not authentic or sanctioned. I think I got it on EBay. I got word that they were interested in working with me in 2007.

What are you wearing today?

An MCM blue leather jacket, TI$A sequined hat, YSL T, cheetah pants I bought in Japan -- I don’t remember where -- YSL velvet loafers and Louis Vuitton sunglasses.

What mistakes do men make when they dress?

They limit themselves. Once you think about what you can’t do, you are in a bad position. You should see everything as an option, then downsize.

What’s the process like when you get dressed in the morning?

I start by thinking about what’s real then put it on acid. Accessories can make your outfit: your watch, a pinkie ring, a white T-shirt with a V-neck that costs a dollar but it’s a sexy fit. Maybe your watch is an Omega or an old Timex. . . . I’m just trying to be as fabulous as possible. I’m excited about what the day has to offer, so I’m going to be dressed for the occasion.