The vast city of Los Angeles has a rich cultural legacy that has, in recent years, given rise to creative communities and a vibrant art scene downtown.

Two generations of Angeleno creatives – legendary photographer @EstevanOriol and breakout talent @JuliusCaesar – come together in this lookbook to represent downtown LA and mark the launch of the Formula 23. Oriol and Caesar tell us how they landed in downtown in their respective careers and what the area means to them.

 

Estevan Oriol has built a career documenting culture at its realest, from Brazilian favelas to Hollywood film sets. One of the first to present Chicano culture to the world, Oriol’s work is synonymous with the city of angels.

EO: “I’ve been in downtown since the 1980s. I used to doorman, DJ and do security at different clubs. Then I ended up moving there in the mid 1990s. I started becoming familiar with the environment and the people. Started doing photo shoots and video.

Back then there were very few people down there. There were some artists. There were some factories there – industrial type stuff, clothing manufacturers. A lot of homeless and drug addicted people in the downtown area. There weren’t too many places to eat. There were no supermarkets. There were no coffee shops like there are today. There was no place to go shopping. It was pretty much run down like some other big cities. Somehow, someway they ended up turning it around. Now it looks like they’re going for the whole 42nd Street in New York type of vibe.”

What’s happening with the development downtown?

EO: “Downtown there’ll be places that don’t have a lot of money invested in them, and they’re not built out and up to date. Artists move in those areas because it’s cheap and then people who like art galleries and art think it’s cool so they start moving down there. Then once that evolved then you just start seeing the money flowing in.

Like Julius Caesar says, he likes hearing the life that downtown has and he likes even seeing the griminess of it. He is one of those younger guys that gets what downtown is supposed to be like. It looks very old school, it looks grimy, it has a dark side to it, that’s what I like.

I like alleys, fire escapes, all that type of texture, rather than being in the studio with 10 lights and a DJ and some lettuce wraps. I want to smell some downtown smells, maybe see a few rats, too, running down the alley, chop it up with some homeless people. To me, that’s what downtown is.”

Why is the 7th street bridge important to you?

EO: “The 7th street bridge is important to me because the first loft that me and [Mister] Cartoon moved into was on 7th and Santa Fe. That’s where the 7th street bridge starts. The other end of it is 7th and Mission. We shot on the 7th and Mission side just because there’s less traffic over there and you can get a view of the downtown cityscape.

My favorite bridge to shoot on was the 6th street bridge, but as everybody knows that bridge got taken down because the city said it had some sort of cancer in the concrete. They’re building a new, fancy one. I like the old school version, but that’s just me. It adds a better layer to the city, so it’s not just all new high-rises and pop-up buildings but old school architecture.”

How about lowriding?

EO: “Whittier Boulevard is the heart of East LA and the heart of lowriding. Right under the Whittier Boulevard sign, where Nike opened up a new store. That’s one of my favorite spots. Also I just like going down Broadway Street. It still has the old LA downtown vibe to it, the old buildings with the marquees on the front of them, movie theaters and stuff like that. I like driving my old car down the old-looking street and trying to feel that vibe, but it’s slowly diminishing because of the way they’re doing downtown now. Pretty soon it won’t look anything like the old downtown.”

Julius Caesar is a highly sought after barber and part of a new wave of creatives and business owners to open up downtown. Renowned internationally for his hair cutting and on the education circuit, DTLA is Caesar’s home base.

JC: “I was born in Oakland, grew up in San Francisco. I moved out here a little over four years ago, but have been in California my whole life. For me, moving to LA I never wanted just to be on the outskirts. Coming from San Francisco, it’s all very metropolitan and that’s what I’m used to. Moving downtown [LA] a few years ago was the closest thing to comfortability of being in the Bay.

When I first moved to LA, coming from the couch in the valley of Van Nuys, it was very humbling. There were these apartments I’d always see off the freeway [near Chinatown] and I wanted to live there. I’m a big believer in manifestation, and when it was time, I finally was able to move there. When that happened, I was like ‘Okay, after this I’m gonna get myself a warehouse loft, really industrial, really grimy but really creative.’ I had six bedrooms. Everyone I lived with were all creatives; tattoo artists, clothing designers, models, everything like that and then there’s me with my barber chair. After that spot I moved into this one four years later. You’re 20 stories up. It’s a penthouse so you’re literally overlooking the city. I definitely have a love and a connection with LA now.

 

How did you get your start?

JC: “I’ve been cutting hair 15 years, 10 years professionally now. Everyone at home – my dad, my little brother and my grandfather – always needed haircuts.  My mom was tired of paying the little salon up the street. In order to save some money for bills and everything, she ended up buying a cheap clipper from the department store and made it a chore for me. Literally, she said ‘You’re going to cut your own hair and on top of that you’re going to cut your little brother’s, your dad’s and your grandfather’s hair’. Fifteen years later, here I am.”

What does the 7th street bridge mean to you?

JC: “Everybody, when they first think of LA they think of the Hollywood sign, they think of the stars on the ground. But then there’s dope spots like the 7th street bridge or the 4th street bridge where it’s literally the connection into the city.

You see that bridge all the time in different movies and things. You literally see the whole city up ahead and you know you’re entering the core of LA downtown, where I live now. That’s where I live, where I work. I travel all around the world but to be able to come back here is very special. Although I’m from the Bay, LA is an extension of home and downtown holds it down for me like that.”

JC: “Some people work hard and they want to buy gold chains and do all that stuff. I work hard to be able to progress in life. It’s not a mansion but it’s definitely my peace of mind. The view means a lot to me and I don’t think I’d ever really would want to live in the suburb in a big house. I think I’ll always want to be in the city with a dope view of the city. Right below me I hear it all. I hear the people yelling. I hear all the noise. I hear the fire trucks and police sirens and I see the helicopters pass by. I like that feeling. It’s just a reminder of what it means to be alive, really. It’s movement. It’s dope.”

How do the Formula 23s feel on foot?

I am constantly on my feet and on the go so it’s important to have a mix of comfort and fashion – the Formula 23 does this for me. Without a doubt a definite shoe to keep in my rotation.

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