Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Through the Looking Glass: R+D Hipster Emporium

One of the defining traits of hipsters is that they never admit to being hipsters. It's a fact that's held true since the current definition of the word took root (sometime around the release of the first Strokes album and The Royal Tenenbaums). It's like the Higgs Boson (or the definition of porn): you and nobody you know is a hipster by any means, but you'll know one when you see one.
That seems to be changing a bit as of late, as American Apparel-clad, Animal Collective early adopters who once rolled their eyes at people who were ostensibly the same as them  and labeled them "such a hipster" are now starting to own the term. At least in my limited view of the people I know, more and more people are admitting: "yeah, I live in a city, I like DIY indie rock shows, vintage clothes, and weird indie movies, I guess I'm a hipster." This admission is made with as much self-mockery as pride, but the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem you're a hipster. (You see what I did there? I created an ironic detachment from the idea of admitting hipsterhood by equating it with 12 step programs. +10 hipster points for me? Or whatever. I'm over it.)

Now a new Urban Outfitters-like boutique has opened in Las Vegas that has the audacity to admit in its name that it's for hipsters, by hipsters (FHBH has no ring to it, I know). R+D Hipster Emporium, located in the otherwise unhip Boca Park Fashion Village shopping Center on Rampart, is (as you can plainly see from their Tumblr) is everything you'd expect from a business with such a name. The place carries the edgy and indie-leaning fashions, faux vintage T-shirts, Tom's Shoes, Native American inspired jewelry, and... Juicy Couture. (The inclusion of the sorority girl brand seemingly complicates the message of the store's target audience, yet it's actually kinda shrewd and brilliant. Non hipstery girls might be intrigued by the store's name in a Common People-like fit of cultural tourism only to find comforting fashion options they'd buy anywhere else, while snarky hipster girls can buy a pair of Juicy sweatpants ironically. In this regard, their strategy for stalking JC clothing is possibly a masterstroke.) The storefront has a faux faded facade and Yelp reviews praise their decent selection while criticizing their prices (which are not especially high for a boutique of its ilk, really).

But I'm not writing this post to apply a critical eye to the style on display at the store... I have no dog in that fight and don't really have much of a sense of fashion anyway (as much as I'd like to believe I've been able to fake it for years, I'm pretty sure most people are well aware of my style, which is to say my total lack of it). I'm mostly marveling at the through-the-looking glass meta-moment we're living in when a word that became a pejorative at basically the exact instant it was given its current definition has turned back into a buzz-word powerful enough to be used in the name of a store in an extremely commercialized city that's still finding its footing with the subculture the word represents. While most vintagey boutique stores in neighborhoods like Los Feliz, Park Slope, and (yes) Downtown Las Vegas are designed to appeal to groups that could be lumped under the dreaded H-word label, they always come with cheeky and heavily coded names like Squaresville, Odd Twin, or Electric Lemonade. R+D Hipster Emporium is one of the few instances I've come across where a business has brazenly embraced the word in its very name.

Does the fact that the store is openly appealing to hipsters as a demographic mean that hipsters have stepped out of the closet as it were and proudly "taken back" the word from its negative connotations? Or is the fact that the place exists in Las Vegas the shrewdest move by the owners of R+D, as they invite people who wouldn't normally admit to hipsterdom at home to indulge in the same "what happens here, stays here" behavior that Vegas has turned into their proud city slogan for the better part of the last decade?

More surprising is the fact that the store, while aimed at a hip indie consumers (down to their Instagrammed exterior photograph featured on their slick Tumblr) doesn't seem to be using the term hipster as some ironic  po-mo meta-knowing double meaning. They seem to be saying "yes, this is a store for hipsters, period." And as when dealing with anything involving as a subculture as self-aware as modern hipsters, that very straight forward approach to the naming of their store has of course inspired in me a spiral into ironic po-meta knowing analysis where I look for what it all (double) means.

My conclusion? The owners of R+D Hipster Emporium might just be brave progressive pioneers, pushing a maligned subculture to acknowledge who they are and stand up proudly and say "Yes, I'm a hipster, and proud of it damnit!" And inviting members of said subculture to step into their store to buy some fashionable, fair-trade shoes.

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