meet the man creating custom leather for beyoncé, rihanna, and britney spears
In 1986, L.A. Roxx started selling leather jackets to local rock bands — including a newly signed Guns N' Roses. 30 years later, it's still one of Hollywood Boulevard's best-kept secrets.
There are two stores called L.A. Roxx off Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. One is a Forever 21-priced boutique specializing in sexy party dresses and handkerchief tops. The other is a leather brand that has been creating custom stage outfits for music industry MVPs since 1986, with clients ranging from Axl Rose to Beyoncé. Sharon Rahim, the sole owner and manager of the latter business, probably isn't even aware the first exists. In fact, he isn't even aware of whether or not Beyoncé wore the custom leather bodysuits he made for her Formation World Tour. "I have started to check a little more recently," Rahim says over the phone from Hollywood, "just because it's become a little more exciting and fun now." It's not like he doesn't care where his designs end up, just that he has his hands quite full with reams of heavy fabric, countless metal studs, and industrial sewing machines of the sort he recently lugged around the set of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" video after being given five days to help outfit her entire squad. "I personally like to keep a small team," Rahim says. "I feel like once there are too many hands involved it gets a little out of control."
It would be impossible to name every iconic outfit L.A. Roxx has helped create since Axl and Slash rolled in to the store having just signed a deal with Geffen Records. But a few of the author's favorites: the red jumpsuit Britney Spears wore in the video for "Oops... I Did It Again," the leather corset from the L.A. leg of Rihanna's ANTI tour, and the bodysuits for Beyoncé's backup dancers at the 2014 VMAs. There's also a custom studded leather jacket that Wiz Khalifa has worn with many a pair of his cool pants. i-D spoke to Rahim about his sex store beginnings, his favorite memories, and being Hollywood's best-kept secret.
You've been around since 1986, is that correct?
Well, sorta. I was only three years old at the time. I had just moved to Los Angeles from Israel and we had no money, so my two older brothers started the brand back then with some help from my dad. They were around 15 and 16. It started out as a store on Hollywood Boulevard back when rock 'n' roll in Hollywood was really big. I grew up watching my brothers make and sell jackets. I would shadow them at meetings, hang out with the seamstresses and salesmen, and eventually started selling jackets when I was 13. I opened up my own lingerie and sex shop on the block. Then I was 22, I pretty much took over [my brothers' business] and made it my own. As cliche as it may sound, fashion and clothing is in my blood.
So you started off just doing leather jackets?
Yeah. It started just as a leather jacket shop. My brothers used to buy jackets back in the 80s, then they started making them based on what was going on in fashion and what was going on in the scene. People would ask for a certain thing and they'd just start doing it. Airbrushing and studding jackets was their thing. They would just experiment. Then next thing you know they're making jackets for Guns N' Roses, Motley Crue, Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. The thing about Hollywood Boulevard back then is that it was a rock 'n' roll haven. Stylists and costume designers would come out there and pull stuff or buy stuff for their clients, who happened to be rock 'n' rollers. All the movies and music videos and hair bands and studios were all based in L.A., and the record labels as well were all based in L.A. My brother once told me about Axl Rose when he was handing out flyers for the band's shows — when they were first starting out. It's funny, I had the pleasure of making some pieces for the new X-Men movie that's coming out, and Louise Mingenbach, the costume designer for the films, used to buy jackets for her and her clients back in the early 90s.
Are there any particular memories that really stand out to you?
I met one of Lady Gaga's stylists, Brandon Maxwell, back when I had a store on Hollywood Boulevard. Just coincidentally he was asking me for a lighter, and he asked me where he could get a leather jacket from. I said, "Inside," and he just came in and we started this relationship where I started doing lots of pieces for Lady Gaga and then Rihanna, and Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé — it really snowballed into something bigger after that. Recently I was on set of the Taylor's "Bad Blood" music video and I made almost all the leather outfits that were used. It was a five-day shoot, and Joseph Cassell (Taylor's stylist) came to me just a few days earlier and needed outfits for pretty much all the talent. Given the time and resources needed, I grabbed two of my best sewers and built the outfits while on set. We had to lug these industrial sewing machines with us to each location. The pieces worn were literally made on the spot, sometimes just minutes before they had to be shot. I work best under pressure, and in the entertainment world things are usually needed immediately or last minute. I'm good and fast at what I do and I have a good team to back me up.
Do most of your relationships with stylists happen that organically?
Yeah, it's all word of mouth. I'm so bad at Instagram. We only have 1300 or 1400 Instagram followers. And working with a lot of stylists and creatives, you notice how small the community is. Everyone knows each other. Also I think some of my clients are very secretive about me. Like, they know they've found something good and they don't want anyone else to know. [Laughs].
What about working with Rihanna on the ANTI tour?
It was a collaboration with Mel Ottenberg. I was mainly in contact with him. He and Rihanna's team had a vision, and we came together and collaborated on ideas for how to get her what she wanted. I like the kind of low-key, underground vibe that we have going on. It's cool because sometimes it's a collaboration, and other times they'll give me free reign to do whatever I think is best. I really enjoy the collaboration process with Mel. [Rihanna's] team is so good, and they know exactly what they want.
You mention working with Beyoncé — did you help design for her?
The first time I worked with her and her team was for the VMAs. I don't know if you remember but she pretty much had a mini concert. We did a bunch of stuff for her dancers then, and we recently did about 75 different things for her Formation tour. There were a lot of leather and vinyl bodysuits, pants, and other things. Hopefully she wore a few of them.
What else are you working on at the moment?
We just did some jackets for Gigi and Bella Hadid, Ariana Grande, and Tracee Ellis Ross, plus a couple of other projects that I currently can't talk about. I'm also working on my own line. I don't know what I'm gonna call it, but it's gonna be everything that is my vibe. There will definitely be a heavy leather influence, but a little more minimal in terms of silhouettes. A lot of punk, rock, goth, camp, and sport vibes. In the past I've tried to appeal to the masses, and I've realized that as much as I like pleasing others, I don't want to turn into a Forever 21 or an H&M. Mass merchandise is not my vibe. I just want to make statement pieces that I like to wear, and want to see people wearing. Im planning to open up a store in the fall somewhere in Silver Lake or Echo Park.
Text Hannah Ongley