One recent Friday morning, Andrew Dryden, one half of the team behind the Los Angeles menswear store Departamento, was sitting at the bar of Maru Coffee in the city’s downtown Arts District, sipping his regular order, drip coffee, no milk. Dryden, a coolly scruffed-up rocker-ish type, clad in a plaid shirt from The Soloist, Old Park reconstructed denims, and sawn-off cowboy boots from The Letters, was taking a quick break from the store’s ongoing construction; the opening was only a matter of days away. Not that he had to travel far to get a moment’s respite. To access Departamento, you have to enter via Maru, then travel along a starkly lit white corridor that Dryden likens to a Dan Flavin installation. But then going between two worlds is nothing new to him. For one thing, he was raised by British parents in San Francisco. And for another, he and his business partner Joseph Quinones (who handles client relations, sales, and public relations) have collided two very different universes: bringing menswear’s increasingly wild and eclectic vibe to sunny, outdoorsy L.A.
Before we get to that, though, the backstory. This is the second incarnation of Departamento. The first arrived in 2017 as a hip insider-y shopping/styling service, working with those dressing some of the city’s groovier art/music/film worlds, then became a physical store in its old location in 2018. That said, why they started Departamento is still relevant; the guys thought of the shop’s name after thinking whatever they do should have different ‘departments.’ “We need to be omni-channel in our thinking,” says Dryden. “We have our store, our website, our stylist business; we work with Farfetch; we work with Garmentory...by doing this, we’re not solely relying on one idea of retail.” As for being located via a coffee bar, he says, “We didn’t want a traditional storefront; we don’t see much value in that. If people want to experience the space, they have to come find us, come visit. L.A. is a destination-driven city.”
The new store (now open) oscillates between raw natural wood and industrial piping to David Lynchian mirrored disorientation and plush/kitsch ‘50s Americana. (Check out the fitting room, which only needs Isabella Rossellini crooning away to be in full Blue Velvet mode.) Designed by Dryden, who studied architecture before he turned to fashion buying, most recently for the London store Selfridges, Departamento conspires (and succeeds) at being considered in its detail and instinctive in its casualness.
You could say the same about the mix of labels. It flips from Loewe to Phipps, Marni to Martine Rose, Camiel Fortgens to Ludovic de Saint Sernin. There are some newish Los Angeles–based names too, like Second/Layer (great boxy jackets and narrow-hipped pants, which pay tribute to the city’s Chicano culture) and 4THSEX (club flyer–like branding stamped on sweats and tees). Meanwhile, Lost Daze, Bode New York, and the aforementioned labels, Old Park and The Letters, both from Japan, are coming this fall. The duo has spent a lot of time considering, Dryden says, “how we could bring our newness and taste to [Departamento]. A lot of stores are narrow in their focus and offer only one type of look. We wanted all different types of people to come in and be able to find themselves.”
Yet let’s be clear; what’s on offer here speaks to specificity in one distinct way. It’s fashion with a capital F (and A, and S, and I...OK, you get the idea). Consider the likes of Ludovic de Saint Sernin, the terrific young Parisian designer who favors lean leather and femme loucheness. (The Departamento customer, incidentally, has been snapping up de Saint Sernin’s silk shirts and low-rise eyelet-lacing pants; “Those have a particular cut for sure,” says Dryden of the latter, “but we sold all of them!”) Ditto Marni, a label he loves, where he’s willing to run with some of creative director Francesco Risso’s more avant-garde impulses.
At the mention of Marni, Dryden turns to the store’s buying approach: “The traditional model is to spend 70% of your budget on pre-collection, and 30% on runway. We’re more like 70/30 the other way. We will buy a little of the pre-collections, but the whole point is to offer runway clothes, the stuff you connect with when you see the show. But it’s all considered,” he continues. “We do think about how it’s going to relate to our clients, and how it’s going to work with everything else in the shop. At the back of my mind, I am always thinking: How will this play out on the street?”
For all the store’s insider status, discreetly located in one of Los Angeles’s upcoming neighborhoods—Soho Warehouse is opening nearby; galleries like Fran?ois Ghebaly and Night are neighbors—Departamento tells a bigger global story; the narrative of how men’s high fashion moved into the general consciousness in a way unknown before. The likes of Demna Gvasalia, Kim Jones, and Virgil Abloh have all played their part in that, as has spiritual style father Rick Owens. So too have Craig Green, Martine Rose, Grace Wales Bonner, and Glenn Martens of Y/Project. All of their messaging and nuancing of contemporary style shot around the world thanks to digital technology, as the culture shifted, making men question outdated and restricting definitions of masculinity.
“Even looking back four years ago at what I was buying, or even wearing...we’re still using the same tools to evaluate and consider the work, but [menswear] has gone down an amazing path,” Dryden says. “I’m relatively conservative today, but I’m willing to wear virtually anything, and I can now assume that of other people.” That’s as true of L.A. as anywhere else, he says. Partly because, as he puts it, “the city has a lot of wildcards”—creative communities willing to experiment with how they look. But it also goes back to what Dryden was saying about L.A. being destination driven. Unlike New York City, with its relentless street life, where everyone is on constant display, driving-centric Los Angelenos show up when they get out of the car, and they increasingly want to make a statement about who they are when they do so. Back in the day, 10, 15 years ago, Dryden recollects, “you’d see one other person in Rick Owens sneakers and give them a nod. Now I can walk through the coffee shop, and you’ll always see someone [in a label]. Awareness of fashion is everywhere.”