words by gina young. photos by erica rae brown.
I lost a job recently. Actually I lost a succession of jobs, which is enough to put a girl in a tailspin. Can I take solace in the fact that there’s a recession on, that the unemployment rate is only 2 percent below the all-time high; it’s not me, it’s the economy? Or should I blame myself for my every faulty choice, for repeatedly square-pegging myself into the round hole of various ill-fitting paychecks, for failing to re-envision what employment could be, a different model, a community-based endeavor?
Marisa Suárez-Orozco and Rachel Berks re-envisioned what work could be and created a clever new hybrid business that is part retail space, part graphic design studio: Otherwild.
Tucked in a crevice on Hollywood Boulevard, on a courtyard at number 6727 7/8, Otherwild opened in June 2012 and is already drawing clientele as interesting as the neighborhood. In one week alone, they had visits from an L Word star, a stylist from 90210 and a “totally normal” guy who was “smelling and listening to the crystals…”
Hollywood & Highland might seem an unlikely location. If you live around here, you know; it’s our equivalent of Times Square. Tourists come to a dead standstill in the middle of the sidewalk. Costumed superheroes and gutterpunks with dreds and dogs jockey for position. That unsettling Marilyn Monroe IS, in fact, wax, although you’d swear she was a real human. Proselytizers with angry signs say the end is coming because you have sinned… it’s loud and there’s lights everywhere.
In contrast, Otherwild is sweet and homespun. “Mari always pulls out a piece of paper before she gets in front of the computer,” says Rachel, smiling at Marisa, “Handmade is a huge thing for both of us. Most of the stuff in here is one-of-a-kind handmade.” Many artists might be reluctant to sell on consignment at an unproven space, but 70 out of the 73 they personally reached out to jumped at the opportunity.
I’m visiting Otherwild for my second time ever. This time there aren’t multiple bodies in front of the racks and cases, so I can really poke around in the jewelry, potions, zines, bags and clothes. Rachel continues. “The store was Mari’s idea; to carry friends’ wares, because so many talented people in our community needed a venue to sell their stuff.”
Rachel and Marisa had scores of jobs between them before embarking on this venture: dancer, waiter, dance teacher, vintage poster restorer, intern for NYLON magazine, artist assistant (Marisa: “I cut thousands and thousands of flowers out of paper for him”) head of the art department at Ford Models for 8 years. ( Rachel: “I was always, like, on the floor cutting moss into rectangles.”) They both imagine that Otherwild could ultimately be more fulfilling.
Both lived in New York for a time, but they met here in LA. Both are graphic designers. Both think along the same lines.
Rachel: “I think in general, people are reinventing business models…”
Marisa: “—mostly because of the recession.”
Rachel: “…so we thought, what if we decided to do both, and have the graphic design business feed the retail business, and have the retail business feed the design business? We got really excited. It just felt like it made a lot of sense to not rely on one of those things; to try to capitalize on both ideas. That happened in January, and in March we found the space.”
They found their petite boutique on LoopNet, a commercial real estate site. (Rachel’s first impression: “Is it too weird?”) They gave themselves a deadline to open in June, and did just that.
Your opening night party was wild.
Marisa: “All night people kept saying, I can’t believe you got all these people out!”
Rachel: “The attendees had more fun than we did, because for us it was our first night of business, so it was a little scary. It was absolutely thrilling though.”
I see “Closet Case” shirts featuring Darlene from Roseanne or Joan of Arc, and lavender tees emblazoned “Legalize Gay Divorce”— did you set out to create an intentionally queer space, or was that just a byproduct of your extended community?
Marisa: “I was just really interested in creating a venue for the many amazing artists that are in my life and don’t necessarily have a lot of exposure. There are a lot of really amazing queer artists who don’t have a lot of attention or press.”
What’s your favorite thing in the store, right this second? Sorry, I know that’s like Sophie’s Choice…
Rachel: The cocoon dress by 69. I just special ordered it in black, for a wedding.
Marisa: I can’t do it! I can’t choose! Okay, this blouse… (she pulls a fluttery sleeveless Shaina Mote with a high-low hemline from the rack) …is the first thing I’m going to buy.
Favorite song to listen to while you’re working?
Rachel: The Yacht album definitely gets a lot of play in here.
Marisa: We also share a passion for 90s girl bands. A lot of Belly, L7, Sinead O’Connor…
What do you drink on a day this hot?
Rachel: I’m a beer girl.
Marisa: I’m a margarita girl. But we haven’t been super boozy yet. We’ve been taking our lives too seriously to get too boozy.
Otherwild is located at 6727 7/8 Hollywood Boulevard, or online at Otherwild.com. Their next special event is on August 12, 2012 and will involve dancers, desserts, and clothing by James Kidd Designs.