J.C. DE LUNA
John Carlos “J.C.” De Luna is a well-known figure in the East Los Angeles area, a super stylish gentleman dressed in head-to-toe vintage menswear who also goes by the name “Barrio Dandy”. By trade he is a menswear stylist who hails from the Boyle Heights area in Los Angeles, with a penchant for over-the-top zoot suits and anything pachuco related. He’s also a vintage clothing dealer with his own showroom. But it doesn’t stop there. He also founded the Barrio Boogie in 2014, the well-known street fair which takes place in the historic Plaza del Mariachi in Boyle Heights. He’s also played an integral part of the retro style of musician on-the-rise, Leon Bridges. Chatting with J.C., we became aware of “style as resistance” and the pachuco movement. We just love his fantastic style! All images courtesy of J.C. De Luna. http://barrio-dandy.tumblr.com/ https://www.instagram.com/barriodandy/?hl=en https://www.instagram.com/barriodandyvintagela/?hl=en
PONYBOY: J.C., we first stumbled upon you while doing research for our barrio style menswear editorial for Ponyboy. Your barrio-dandy Tumblr is just filled with great images of you, as well as old photos.
J.C. DE LUNA: Yes, indeed barrio style is vital to the larger scope of world trends and youth cultures, influencing high fashion and street fashion trends. As a stylist and artist I chose to connect to what I know best, my heritage that is rooted in the American South west, zoot suit pachuco styles of the late 1930s thru mid 1950s – with a focus on vintage Los Angeles street styles.
PONYBOY: Let’s go back and talk about when you first started getting into style and vintage clothing.
J.C. DE LUNA: I grew up in the projects of Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. I was raised by my grandfather and grandmother, and all my uncles always dressed exceptionally well, even though we grew up poor working-class individuals. We always strived for excellence and part of that excellence was presentation. All the men in my family historically have presented themselves in a very unique and fashionable way, always setting trends. Even my great-grandfather and great uncle who wore the zoot suits and were pachucos always knew how important style was since the end of the Mexican revolution. They set the pace for that tradition of dressing up, of having dignity and pride in oneself through how we choose to create ourselves, and never allowing for adversity to keep us down. I knew if you dress well, you feel good. You have confidence to take on the world and manifest what ever dream we live to create!
PONYBOY: How did living and growing up in Los Angeles affect your sense of style now? You’re really into the pachuco style. Is that your main inspiration? And please do explain pachuco to our readers who might not know what that actually is.
J.C. DE LUNA: Los Angeles and Angelino culture is definitely a driving force in my creative vision. My family has been in Los Angeles for over 80 years now and looking back on my own history allowed me to witness other deep rooted histories like my own. In that sense it really is the “pachuco-zoot-suit-vintage-Chicano-barrio” culture. The pachuco and pachuca are the inception of an identity and a state of mind that was rebellious, strong, self-defining and filled with pride and dignity. This state of being would be the catalyst for the Chicano/Chicana identity. I go back to it because it’s the beginning of a movement of people of color fighting back systematic oppression – “Style As Resistance”. In the book American Me (1946), author Beatrice Griffith states, “the pachuco is a movement of justice for the Mexican American in many ways they hold strength in their drapes”. Nonetheless, it is great inspiration. But I am also very inspired by history, art, music and all the cultures of the world.
As for the last part, the pachuco is the manifestation of a post Mexican revolutionary young man or women within the geography of northern Mexico, mostly Chihuahua Mexico and the most southern part of Texas, El Chuco (also Known as El Paso, Texas.) These individuals were born of the inherent survival of moving within two nations, two languages and two ways of life. Torn in many ways between being Mexican and being American, they were hated and marginalized by both, thus finding solace in defining themselves as outsiders and rebels from both their Mexican heritage and the American state. They would go on to define themselves through a unique cryptic lingual, only know to them called “Calo”, which is a mix of Spanish gypsy slang and “Spanish-ized” English words, with many euphemisms and meanings. Along with language came music, the “Pachuco Boogie” was created as a unique sound infused with American jazz, boogie woogie, mambo and afro cuban sounds of the era that would create a rhythmic balance only the pachuco could love. As music always defines the aesthetics of cultures, it definitely did here. The music with its jazz roots would also inspire the jazz zoot suit style of the era, which traveled from Harlem, Chicago and Detroit, as well as down to the southwest and eventually to the west coast, influencing the pachucos. This fused the pachuco to the zoot suit, which would become America’s first original men’s suit, just as jazz was America’s defining sound.
PONYBOY: There also seems to be a real sense of community with the Latin Los Angeles culture and vintage; wouldn’t you say?
J.C. DE LUNA: I believe that definitely has crystalized in the last few years. Many latin Chicanos have been part of subcultures rooted in nostalgia and the past such as the demographical dominance within the American rockabilly culture. But what my work has fueled and inspired is the permission to break from the “rockabilly” subculture that is rooted in the white american south that would have not allowed for people of color to have been part of the underground rockabilly scene of the 1950s era. America was incredibly segregated due to Jim Crow laws in the south, where most rockabilly music was being recorded. So, I had a moment of clarity and said, wait Latinos/ Chicanos existed in America always, and we also have roots. I asked myself what did we listen to in the 1940s and 1950s? How did we talk? How did we dress within our communities in those tumultuous times? I asked my family. I became obsessed with recreating the latino Chicano vintage experience through cultivating our historical music and style, thus creating a new movement where latinos were proud to be latinos and wear vintage by honoring their own American experiences and style. This gave way to the “Barrio Boogie” and many other boogie events I curated, thus unifying and creating a tighter sense of community rooted in style as a form of resistance.
PONYBOY: You are primarily a menswear stylist?
J.C. DE LUNA: Yes, styling and wardrobe design is a definitive part of my resume. I am a trained artist and photographer as well, as I deal in men’s vintage clothing and have a showroom in L.A. I do many things as a means to create and have sustainability. I am teacher. I am a barrio fashion historian. I do creative consulting, art curation and historical menswear preservation.
PONYBOY: Tell us about your showroom.
J.C. DE LUNA: I have a uniquely curated vintage menswear showroom in Los Angeles, just minutes from the DTLA Arts District, where I house over 1,000 mens vintage pieces from the 1920s through the mid 1980s.
PONYBOY: We see on your Tumblr that you have a long standing professional relationship with musician Leon Bridges. Tell us about that collaboration/friendship.
J.C. DE LUNA: Yes, Leon Bridges and myself have been working together for about two and a half years. I met Leon right before he got signed to Columbia Records. Leon is one of the most humble and talented individuals that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We were a perfect match to work with together, as we both had very unique and collective visions of how we wanted to create a mutual aesthetic. It would be powerful, connecting his own history, as well as use style as a form of resistance – creating an aesthetic that was deep rooted in nostalgia around American rhythm & blues music and rock ‘n’ roll. Leon definitely embodies these deep histories that define what American music is today. I believe that the aesthetic and style has definitely offered him much success, as he conjures up something unique in our own psyche that sees the beauty and power of our histories in America, especially during the Civil Rights Movement of the late fifties and sixties. He definitely captures that moment through the style we built together.
PONYBOY: How did the Barrio Boogie street fair in Los Angeles come about?
J.C. DE LUNA: The Barrio Boogie was a vision I had as an artist, where I wanted to create a piece of art in a sense that was multi-dimensional, and it would undeniably engage its audience and create memories that empower people. My vision was to create an event that would allow for all people of color, especially those in my own community that are Chicano and Latino, to dress up and define their own style, while at the same time looking in the mirror and feeling good about themselves. It’s a reason for people to get dressed up, especially in a way that pays tribute and homage to our grandfathers and grandmothers. We are creating our own heritage in reflection to the past history of our own ancestors, which is very powerful. The event started with about 500 people; the second event grew up to about 1,500, while the third drew about 3,000. By the time the 4th event came about, there were close to 10,000 people that came from all over the Southwest and Northern California, even as far as Texas. Latinos, Chicanos and many others came to partake in this moment in time that celebrated those roots as Mexican Americans and Latin Americans, with the music, style and attitude that has made us who we are today.
PONYBOY: Do you have any plans of designing menswear? Or are you doing this already?
J.C. DE LUNA: Yes. I’m already in the works on a few projects for 2018. I am to recreate specific and unique pieces from historical Barrio Fashions such as true authentic pieces from the 1930s, 40s and 50s Zoot Suit era that were definitive to the development of Barrio Chicano Style – pieces that are made with craftsmanship that can create an aesthetic that truly honors the authenticity of that time and experience.
PONYBOY: Tell us your thoughts on the “Chicana” spread in Vogue magazine’s 125th anniversary issue.
J.C. DE LUNA: I believe it was an important feature and that it was about time that Vogue magazine recognized some of the street style influences that have been appropriated by high fashion in the last 40 years, particularly styles that are from the barrio and Chicanos. Vogue came to me to consult on their article and asked me to provide the context to their editorial and to make connections on the historical level. I did that, but it was only the tip of the the iceberg actually. I would have liked to see and read something that was more in-depth, delving into the history of these styles and how it all came about, creating relevance to historical street fashion and the exchanges within it, as well as barrio Chicano style.
PONYBOY: Do you have any plans for collaborations or a retail store in the Los Angeles area?
J.C. DE LUNA: Currently I am open and would love to collaborate with other designers, stylists, musicians, film makers and photographers. I also would love to work with and collaborate with folks in New York, as well as San Francisco and, hopefully, London and Japan. As for a retail store, that might happen in the near future, but for now, a “by appointment only” showroom works so much better for my clients and myself. I enjoy the opportunity to build real relationships with my clients, as well as the one-on-one interactions which make for a better overall experience. What I do is open up my creative fashion space to allow for my clients to experiment with vintage fashions and collaborate to create looks that are uniquely original and fitted to them.
If you all are ever in the L.A. Area dm me on instagram @BarrioDandy and make an appointment with me. Thanks again, Ponyboy Magazine! Keep on keeping it fresh!
J.C. DE LUNA