total luxury spa is using streetwear to uplift their community
i-D talks to Daniel DeSure and Hassan Rahim about building one of LA's coolest brands.
Photo by Daniel Regan.
What comes to mind when you think of streetwear? What does community mean to you? Wellness? These are all questions designers Daniel DeSure and Hassan Rahim want you to consider through their zine publishing imprint-turned-clothing brand, Total Luxury Spa. Based in Los Angeles, the label focuses on pushing the boundaries of streetwear through community building and products that shine a different, more positive light — and give back to — the hood.
Their neighborhood is in South LA, just behind Dorsey High School — an area that not only serves as the foundation for the designs, like the Crenshaw Wellness series inspired by a local vegan restaurant that recently closed, but represents their main goal. “The landscape here is changing so quickly,” Rahim says. “Even in areas I thought would never get touched. Because of that, there’s a real sense of what’s sacred..." “And the importance of lifting up communities that have been ignored for far too long,” DeSure adds.
“A lot of people start a brand and then try to build culture,” Rahim continues. “But we had our community first. And it’s all about people sticking together.”
For Total Luxury Spa, that means sharing profits with the people and community that have influenced and supported them (for example, 50 percent of the proceeds of the Crenshaw Wellness series go to Mr. Wisdom) and creating spaces, like their LA storefront, for local youth to hang out and bring their ideas to life.
“There are a lot of brands out there that get involved with politics just for the sake of it,” Rahim says. “But we’re more concerned with our community and the politics of uplifting each other, rather than making a larger statement about the country or the world.”
With a new lookbook shot by Daniel Regan, featuring Sanam Sindhi and singer Kelsey Lu, the designers sound off on the changing world of streetwear and the importance of finding of your tribe.
How did Total Luxury Spa come about?
Daniel: I have a studio called Commonwealth Projects located here in South LA. We were always working on these longer term projects that were meant for cultural institutions, and they involved a lot of people and decision-making. In response, Hassan and I started Total Luxury Spa, where we didn’t have a lot of people to answer to, and we could work with artists that we found, that didn’t really have any representation. It started as an imprint publication in the beginning, but with those publications we started doing shirts, and that’s how the whole clothing project started.
Hassan: In my eyes, everything we do and develop for Commonwealth Projects on the design side is very pragmatic, and the idea of doing something more fantastical is what attracted us to start the concept of Total Luxury Spa.
Do you see yourselves as more than a clothing brand?
D: What’s interesting about fashion right now is that it moves so quickly, and you can bring attention to things, and challenge ideas, and help raise a lot of awareness for causes that you’re passionate about. It reminds me a lot of punk rock and [the practice of] making zines — how you can put a graphic on something, put it out in the world, and all of a sudden it’s everywhere. But unlike a zine, people are wearing your message, and they photograph each other with it, and it gets shared instantly. It’s just a very interesting medium through which you can put things out in the world — it’s about challenging a lot of the ideas of traditional fashion and bringing up larger conversations about how to change things from inside.
You obviously have your ‘Crenshaw Wellness’ series, which is great. What role has LA had on shaping the brand?
D: We’re located right behind Dorsey High School, and we are really involved in the community through Total Luxury Spa. The neighborhood is changing really quickly, which is something we are very aware of and want to bring attention to. But LA has always been our home — both Hassan and I are from here — and it’s something that we have always taken a lot of pride in. Many of our designs reflect on our place in the city — things we have been involved or interested in, like music, or more geographically-based elements. All of these things play a constant role in our design process. That’s something we’ve always been interested in — this idea that you can involve the people around you and bring awareness to problems in your home.
I’ve noticed a lot of that sort of spiritual, healing imagery in your work. Aside from "Crenshaw Wellness," you have others that mention the fountain of youth, space, and serenity. Why has that been so much a part of your designs?
H: It’s a desert in this neighborhood. In any place that’s considered the hood, you only have a Wienerschnitzel, a fucking McDonalds, an El Pollo Loco, a 7-Eleven, and another 7-Eleven. So, even if people do want to do better for themselves in these impoverished areas, it’s really difficult. The idea of the Crenshaw Wellness graphic itself started from the dichotomy of what people might associate with the word Crenshaw, and actually taking care of people and doing better for the hood.
D: And that really transitions into our name, Total Luxury Spa. Hassan and I have sort of different approaches to it, but the way I think about the name is by thinking about a spa or bathhouse as a space of rejuvenation and re-upping your energy levels. I like the idea that culture itself — and all its different creative mediums — is the thing that can rejuvenate you, as if you were at a spa with different rooms for music and the most amazing artwork. It’s taking this very utopian idea of a spa and pulling from that aesthetic.
Right now, there are so many young, community-focused streetwear labels in Los Angeles, like your brand, Come Tees, Born X Raised, and No Sesso. Why do you think LA is a place where community and clothing go hand-in-hand?
D: I think it’s happening here more because LA is geographically so spread out, and if you’re invested in and come up in a neighborhood, you have more of a nuanced conversation with it, and you understand the characters that make it up. Because of that, I think there’s a different connection to it.
H: It’s funny because the clothing comes as a necessity for a bunch of like-minded people to have something they are all interested in. So, it’s about community, but it’s also a lot about geography, which is why LA is very much home to gang culture—because it’s a way that people stick together, for better or for worse. With the geography of Los Angeles and how people navigate that space, you really are clustered in different neighborhoods. And there are a lot of different local scenes that I am always discovering.
How do you describe the Total Luxury Spa aesthetic?
D: We just move from our gut. Aside from our community, we’ve always been really interested in the history of LA. and the characters that make up the fabric of the city. We pull from those ideas quite a bit and want to represent and champion them. So, we do pull a lot from the past, but we also always look to the future. The issues we want to represent are really what plays into our design process.
H: Categorically speaking, though, in terms of streetwear, I think it’s everyone else’s job to label us. We just do our thing and it’s funny because all those lines are getting blurred every day. It’s becoming an ineffective description for things that transcend the genre.
Hassan, you come from a skateboarding background, and of course, skating has played a huge role in streetwear culture as a whole. Does it specifically influence your designs?
H: Honestly, sometimes I open my phone and see social media and realize that skateboarding is the last fucking real thing we have. Anyone can pretend with clothes, but skateboarding is either really a part of your life or it isn’t. You don’t even really have to be good — it just means that you are dedicated and it’s a part of who you are. Because of that, I think streetwear has always been authentic, and it also incorporates workwear, like Dickies, as well. Workwear serves a function and that DNA carries into streetwear. You can take a Ben Davis shirt, put an embroidery on the pocket, and that’s your streetwear brand. It’s about realness, and it comes from purpose — it’s the ultimate art versus design argument. A lot of people believe that design exists to serve a function or solve a problem, and art is the opposite.
What is Total Luxury Spa made for, then?
D: Our purpose is a method that no matter how culture changes, or the speed at which the human condition changes, there are really important issues within any given community that need to be protected and kept safe. If anything, that’s our real foundation as a brand. But at the same time, it doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. In fact, you can have fun, and grab people’s attention, then show them the real issues. That playful nature — whether it’s through design or something else — is the best part of art.
Other than the people in your neighborhood, who do you see as being part of the Spa community?
H: I think the ideal customer is the person who is most moved by what we are saying or doing. Our references are never going to be made by an aesthetic decision — there’s always going to be a story behind it and when people connect with that, that’s who we want to rock our brand.
D: Right, and because everything is so accessible these days, for us it’s interesting to be able to dial certain things up and down. So, with our pieces, maybe not everyone can get everything, maybe certain things are meant for the kids who come by the store everyday, and maybe there’s something you can only get if you’re in a specific part of LA. That’s an important element for us. I mean, I don’t want to sound elitist, but there seems to be a real imbalance in the world right now, especially when it comes to fashion. So, if we can do anything to create a bit more balance, that’s what we want to do. Fashion shouldn’t just be for the people who can afford to buy it.