Off the Wall

From Tony Alva to Gwen Stefani, Vans has been outfitting L.A.’s iconoclasts for nearly half a century. The company’s creative director, Jon Warren, explains the attraction

IN 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jeff Spicoli tumbled out of a smoke-filled VW waving his checkered Vans in the air. That’s when the rest of the country got an up-close look at the canvas shoes made for the kids of Southern California. Thanks to the Z-Boys, Paul and James Van Doren’s kicks with extra stick were brought along for the ride on the skateboarding swell of the early ’70s. Within a couple of decades, the Anaheim-based company had grown to 70 stores across the state and the styles had evolved to answer the increasing demands of enthusiasts, which included surfers, punks, and metalheads. By the 1990s, says creative director Jon Warren, “Vans had been a-dopted by all the different subcultures of California.”

Since 2008, Warren, along with the rest of the design team, has been responsible for satisfying the needs of new fans while keeping one foot planted in the empty swimming pools of Orange County. Warren created the “California Collection,” which uses heritage leathers and premium fabrics. “It’s designed for people like me, who grew up in the culture and are still a part of it but who are in their thirties or forties now,” says Warren. When the fashion set wanted in on the action, he collaborated with designers like Marc Jacobs, Comme des Garçons, Luella Bartley, and most recently, Kenzo.

“With fashion, collections are never rooted in a time zone and they change each season, but with surfing, skating, or snowboarding, there is a history and a function to connect the fashion to. Designers look to us for youthfulness; we look to them for sophistication.”                

Typically Warren works three seasons ahead, and he has to predict future trends well in advance. “I look at young kids to see what the next thing is going to be,” he says. “You go to music festivals, where kids put together clothing you would never see on the runway in a million years, and that’s as inspiring to me as high fashion. When you look at it all together, you can see we are all vibe-ing on each other.”