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Fairfax: from Hebrew Haven to Hypebeast Heaven

Clothing+company+Supreme+resides+next+to+historic+Schwartz%27s+Deli.%0APhoto+by+Avalon+Cole
Clothing company Supreme resides next to historic Schwartz's Deli.
Photo by Avalon Cole

Clothing company Supreme resides next to historic Schwartz's Deli. Photo by Avalon Cole

Clothing company Supreme resides next to historic Schwartz's Deli. Photo by Avalon Cole

Julian Speyer, Staff Writer

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Hypebeast: (N) 1. A connoisseur of “street-wear”- high-end, typically expensive clothing intended for everyday use (See: Supreme, A Bathing Ape).

Apricot hamentaschen in hand, the yarmulke-clad man steps out from the decades-old delicatessen on to the street corner. He reaches down, noticing something stuck to the sole of his black loafer, and removes the sticker depicting a cat with its middle finger raised–remnants of the Rip N’ Dip pop-up from weeks before. Perplexed, the hasidic man rises only to be dazed by a heavy cloud of what seems to be marshmallow-scented vapor, exuded from the mouth of the fellow with strategically-placed holes in his jeans just feet beside him. He looks up to the street sign to get a grasp on his whereabouts: “N Fairfax Ave.”

For more than seventy years, the Fairfax District, a small plot of about 1.5 square miles wedged between Hancock Park and West Hollywood, has been a hub of Jewish culture within Los Angeles. In the years following the Second World War, the amount of synagogues nearby doubled to 12 as more and more Ashkenazi Jews began to move into the area. Kosher butchers and bakeries began to pop up along the block and the neighborhood became something of a sanctuary for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews alike, with the intersection of Fairfax and Melrose at its heart.

The following decades saw Fairfax’s reputation as a Jewish community grow, with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust established in the neighborhood in 1961 and the temple count rising to around 20 by the 1970s. “[In the 60s and 70s], it was mostly just elderly Jewish people speaking Yiddish,” Jacqueline Canter, lifetime resident and owner of the block’s iconic Canter’s Deli said.

Through the 80s and 90s, the Jewish community was still the leading influence on the area, but the neighborhood went into a noticeable decline. Homelessness increased and trash began to pile up. According to Canter, “It was just a bad place. It was horrible.” The bustle of the “Old” Fairfax was lost, along with nearly half of its original storefronts.

In 1996, however, Melrose Trading Post, the flea market at Fairfax High, opened its doors. While not instantaneous by any means, the weekly bazaar gradually breathed life into the dying community. This, along with help from a neighborhood clean-up and fundraising committee spearheaded by Canter and fellow store-owners, brought some livelihood back to the area.

Eight years passed, and with it went some shops belonging to the “Old” Fairfax. One such store, the bookshop which once catered to the bar mitzvah needs of aspiring Jewish adults everywhere, closed down. In its place came an obscure skateboarder-outfitting company hailing from New York City: Supreme. Little did residents know, the odd, nearly vacant boutique would go on to become the face of their neighborhood within a few years.

Although Supreme did not explode with sudden popularity, its opening marked the beginning of Fairfax’s transition away from its strictly Jewish roots. With Supreme came skate-clothing stores such as Diamond Supply Co. and The Hundreds, both of which arrived within two years of Supreme’s introduction to the block.

Teenage skaters, foreign to the customs of the Jewish people, began to migrate into the area, skinning knees and wiping out underneath the awnings of Hebrew bookstores. Included in this influx of new patrons was the then-unknown hip-hop collective Odd Future, with members such as Tyler, The Creator and Yung Taco spending weekends skating and shopping on the block.

This prevalence of kids on the street grew hand-in-hand with the increase in Odd Future’s popularity, with people traveling to Fairfax just to catch a glimpse of Tyler and his posse. This migration boosted sales at stores like Supreme, further popularized by Odd Future’s affinity for the brand. More and more skate-clothing shops popped up, DGK and Crooks & Castles among them, and skater culture infiltrated N. Fairfax. However, “hypebeasts” had yet to make their mark on the street, one that remained almost unarguably Jewish.

hypebeast-maxwel-ruppertMaxwel Ruppert
Around 2011, according to Canter, land developers, never before interested in the area, began to take a liking to Fairfax. They started to buy properties on the block, nearly all mom-and-pop shops and old Jewish-run stores, and increased the rent, occasionally up to four times the original monthly rate. The store-owners just couldn’t keep their heads above water and pretty soon a good chunk of the “Old” Fairfax was lost once again. These empty storefronts would not be barren for long, however, as the developers intended to cash in on the latest trend in the fashion world: pop-up shops.

Storefronts open for two days then gone forever began to appear, along with thousands of (yes, truly) hypebeasts to accompany them. Teenagers and twenty-somethings, garbed in $500 sweatshirts and over-sized T-shirts wrapped around the recently vacated nosheries*, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to deplete their latest paycheck. Stores complete with two racks of clothing, all lacking price-tags, popped up and ducked out before the old men at Schwartz’s Bakery could turn to see. The goys* had laid their claim and North Fairfax was up for grabs.

Today, the block has yet to be commandeered by either faction. Elderly Jews and adolescent hypebeasts live in harmony, flocking to perform their respective religious rites: the Jews attending their Sabbath day services, the hypebeasts making the weekly pilgrimage to a Thursday afternoon Supreme drop. While a rabbi enjoying his day-off probably won’t fall in line at the Kanye pop-up, squeaky-clean Yeezy’s are no stranger to the tiled floor at Canter’s, showing that the two cultures have developed a formal, if not lukewarm, relationship with one another.

Perhaps the most remarkable quality of N Fairfax isn’t that one can cop a jacket worth that of a black market-kidney or nosh* on some chocolate-chip rugelach or do both at the same time, but rather that one can watch Los Angeles roll by in all its absurd, mish-mashed glory.

*Yiddish Translations:

Nosh:  eat

Goy:  non-Jewish person

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Fairfax: from Hebrew Haven to Hypebeast Heaven