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Shag rags: New men's line mines the artist's oeuvre

May 4, 2010 |  3:00 pm

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Shag, the Orange County artist known for his colorful paintings of midcentury Modern lifestyle – cocktail lounges, tiki bars and sleek, glass-walled homes filled with Shriners, lounge lizards and hep cats cavorting with winsome wahines, and dangerous damsels -- has, over the course of his 13-year career, licensed his artwork for a whole host of household products including tiki mugs, stationery, mouse pads, salt and pepper shakers and the occasional piece of clothing (including a limited edition Toes on the Nose aloha shirt we got our hands on at last summer's Tiki Oasis).

And, next month, the world of Shag moves into the rag trade in a big way, with the launch of a full-blown  men’s apparel collection that includes button-front wovens, track jackets, sweaters, trousers, blazers, outerwear, headgear, and T-shirts.

As a hardcore fan and collector of all things Shag-related (in the interest of full disclosure, the design on

my checks is a reproduction of “Wives with Knives,” painting, a print of which also is the focal point of my kitchen), my first worry was that the line would simply turn out to be little more than a strip mining of the artist’s archives that slapped graphics and images on trucker caps and screened T-shirts the way it's happened with so many other California creatives in the past (two that spring to mind are car customizer Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard and tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy).

But after a having a chance to check out the inaugural fall/winter 2010 collection up close, and meet the driving force behind it – another longtime Shag fan by the name of Kevin Rheault – those fears were put to rest.

“I wanted it to be the opposite of Ed Hardy.” said Rheault (whose last name rhymes with "row"). “Something clean and simple.… This is for the 18- to 34-year-old guys who don’t want to look like [they’re wearing] Paul Frank.”

Rheault is the president and creative director of the newly formed Long Beach-based Shag Apparel label, which has licensed Shag’s artwork for the label, and he’s got an apparel industry resume that stretches back two decades, including stints at BC Ethic, Rampage, Third Rail and, most recently, Ezekiel. He said his goal for the line was to “have people look like they’ve jumped out of a Shag painting.”

That means keeping the silhouette hipster slim, keying in on the bright colors and bold geometrics that are the are a key part of the artist's aesthetic. Toggle-button sweaters sport eye-catching triangular leather appliques, short-sleeve woven shirts have retro-looking jacquard pattern designs inspired by actual vintage finds, and plaid-patterned cotton twill khakis and corduroy trousers boast just a bit of stretch. 

If there's one complaint about the debut collection, it's that it's heavy on the plaid pieces and the outerwear at the expense of some other categories -- but it is a fall/winter collection after all.

One of the categories that shows particular promise is the short sleeve button-front shirts that managed to both pay homage to the artist and evoke the era that influences so much of his art without being slavish to it. Rheault, who says all the fabric patterns are exclusive to the label, noted that several of them were inspired from vintage shirts he'd found.

While some pieces in the slim-fitting, brightly colored, retro-flavored collection (which does include an assortment of T-shirts and trucker caps)  does borrow liberally from the recurring motifs and elements of the Shag ouevre (think rows of liquor bottles, a '60's flagstone fireplace pattern or a slice of Sin City skyline), other pieces bear no overt connection beyond a barely noticeable tone-on-tone embroidered logo of the artist’s distinctive signature “SHAG” (a pseudonym of Josh Agle, the moniker comes from combining the last two letters of his first name with the first two letters of his last name).

But like Shag's paintings themselves, there’s always a lot more happening just below the surface. The linings of jackets are printed with subversive scenes; inside one jacket the devil holds court at a cocktail party surrounded by lady friends, inside another a carved tiki head smokes a cigarette with three bat-winged skulls floating out of the smoke, and the allover pattern inside a third, on closer examination, turns out to be composed of minuscule martini glasses and tiny tiki mugs.

Retail prices will range from about $34 (for a T-shirt) up to $350 (for a heather gray pea coat), with woven shirts running between in the neighborhood of $70 and $99.

The first pieces start shipping to retail accounts -- which currently include R & R Menswear in Palm Springs, Disney Vault 28 in Anaheim, and Hansen Surfboards in Encinitas -- on June 1 (additionally, the collection is expected to be sold online through Posterpop.com and at Shag Apparel's own site by mid-July).

But if you just can’t wait until next month to immerse yourself in a Shag painting, grab your finest fez and a suitably sultry sylph and head out to Palm Springs, where the first-ever bricks-and-mortar gallery and store dedicated to all things Shag-centric is is throwing a grand opening party. In addition to exclusive and hard-to-find prints, original artwork and merchandise (although not the upcoming clothing line we’ve been told), the interior is a full-on swinger’s salon set piece straight out of Shag central -- complete with a tiki head mounted dead center on a vivid orange faux flagstone wall, and a retro-mod pod chair perched on a small round rug.

Oh, and if I'm not mistaken -- it's a shag rug.

-- Adam Tschorn

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Photos: Key looks from the debut season of a new menswear line, inspired by -- and licensing the artwork of -- Southern California artist Shag, which should hit store shelves in early June. Credit: Shag Apparel.

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