It was a fitting gathering, tucked away off a vibrant alleyway in Somerville. A bouncer far too old to be doing his job correctly stood outside the warehouse that was holding the event, even though the list he carried barely held any meaning. Everyone who needed to be inside was already there. It was a one-off—a perfect mishap for this birthday bash.
Bodega, a men’s clothing store located off Massachusetts Avenue, was celebrating its 10th birthday. Hiding in plain sight, this diamond in the rough humbly hibernates off a busy road. Only those who know what exists past the walls and windows stacked with cans and paper supply goods actually enter. The tough exterior turns everyone else away, even if they do happen to need cups or toilet paper. The inside, however, tells a different story, rewarding anyone who does come in with access to an ever-changing selection of coveted goods: sneakers, cardigans, pants, and more. Exclusive is the name of the game, and Bodega cofounder Oliver Mak knows it well.
At Uniun, a skater shop and custom tee shop, Mak shouted calmly over the sound of the stereo. His vision started out as a simple idea sketched out on a napkin by him and his team. “During prohibition we had speakeasies,” he explained. They were hidden, but the people who needed to know about them did. He spoke of clubhouses and how they served as oases of creativity.
“We’re all from hip-hop culture,” Mak continued. “When you’re a B-Boy, you go by a different name. When you’re a DJ, you hide behind the table. There are things you hide behind to be creative.” To make the camouflage noticeable, Mak said, it took nothing but “blind faith.” He continued, “we knew people who needed to find the product would. The product is not for everyone. We carry stuff that there is maybe only one more item of in North America, and this was before the internet.”
Mak said that when the night was in full swing, it was filled with “everyone [he has] known for the past 10 years.” He spoke of ushering “three generations of fashion kids” through his store.
Throughout the course of the night, silk screeners chilled in the corner, printing orange cozies decked out in Bodega branding while notch beer cans, Bart Simpson, and backwards Bodega logos were stamped onto beer blankets. Not one partier in sight was without a splash of tangerine in hand and every beer handed out rocked a personalized jacket.
For his event, Mak asked artists that he had been collaborating with during the past decade to create an art piece to display. The result was the conception of 10 denim jackets that each represented Bodega in a different way. Jackets with images of skulls, moose, bricks, even a plant wearing a denim jacket hung from the center of the ceiling, floating for all to enjoy. Guests climbed under them, pushed them aside, admired their textures with their hands. This mixed media was for them to experience, like sartorial stamps in time.
Another highlight of the night included the production and distribution of Series_, an art zine. It was a commemorative book filled with Bodega history, many thanks, and various artists’ depictions of their own denim creations. The atmosphere was set by the sound of real records spinning as conversation about the art floated through the air and not a soul was staring at their phone.
What makes an event like this possible? “Constant change,” said Mak. “Fashion changes, art changes.” The Bodega gang continues to ride the wave, keep their feet in the ground, and do what they love.
Text by Marisa Dellatto
Photos by Darren Samuels