Photo by Theo DouglasGeneric Youth is maybe the kind of store your coolest friend would have had in high school, if you'd had money. You could have done a lot of things if you'd had some money or a dad who saw the value in old Paint by Number paintings, Polo rugby shirts, Pierre Cardin hoodies, fiberglass chairs and jars of old buttons.
Coco Yokoyama has that kind of dad, and it just so happened that last year around this time, her dad, Jeff, sold his clothing line Modern Amusement to Mossimo, right before her high school let out for the summer. He told her he wanted her to do something with her life that summer, so she designed two graphics for 100 T-shirts that sold as fast as they were put out. And then he went looking for backers.
Generic Youth is the result: a small, casual, sun-washed store in Newport that's just up the hill from Pacific Coast Highway. It's only six weeks old (father and daughter took the fall off to think about things), and they still haven't hung the Paint by Number masterpieces yet—but a lot of thought has gone into the results, which are backed by the three Paul Frank partners.
“Paint by Number represents the generic youth,” Jeff Yokoyama explains, folding a formerly mundane maroon hoodie souped up with variegated buttons sewn around the hood, velvet-taped seams inside and sewn-on graphic panels. “They've been done by generic people, but they're very special. That's the point of it, that you see the kids of America doing so many remarkable things, not just [surfing or skating or snowboarding].”
So they're generic because they're unsigned, these paintings, but they're remarkable because of their quality and detail? Exactly—just like everything else at the swap meet.
“Why can't we be who we are?” Yokoyama says, quoting the store's mission statement, which is appliqued to the display window in sticky white-vinyl letters. “Let's be generic.”
Armed with this paragraph, he imbues the ordinary with new life. Like other cognoscenti, the Yokoyamas see the value in America's cast-offs, from 1960s craft projects to 1970s surfboards (old Lightning Bolt boards hang in the store's rafters) to 1980s track suits.
All find a place in Generic Youth—either as store decoration or in the line. Luxurious vintage scarf swatches line sweat shirts; boardshorts are made from stripey interior textiles—curtains, perhaps—that no one wanted. Someone's grandmother's skeleton-key collection hangs in a vintage display case at the back, and each hoodie comes with a door key clipped to its zipper pull. Each would have been someone's key, Yokoyama explains—but they went unclaimed at the locksmith until he bought them.
Generating the symbolism to sell the line comes easy: “The key to someone's heart,” Yokoyama throws out, padding around the store in white, lowtop Converse, white shorts and a green paisley dress shirt worn untucked. Where it will take them is tougher. He doesn't want this to get huge like Modern Amusement, Yokoyama explains, so he and Coco are purposely keeping production numbers low—200 of a shirt instead of 2,000—and treading water.
Coco's ponytailed silhouette is the store's logo, but she's back in school and her dad's running the show—though he says she still signs off on designs and ideas.
“We have the opportunity to turn it up, but we're taking it easy. We're not going to step it up just because we can,” he says. Instead, they'll keep tinkering with the product range, adding things they don't have, like handbags, which will be next.
“And as our store grows, so does the kid,” Yokoyama says. But will the kid sell the store to Mossimo? Depends.
GENERIC YOUTH, 2602 AVON ST., NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 631-3943.