When I first visited The LAB in Costa Mesa, CA on a photo shoot for California Apparel News in 1993, the "Antimall" was a revolutionary retail space devoted to "combating retail monotony" -and one of the first of its kind. It was an edgy, eclectic mix of small businesses united in a quest to explore and celebrate urban youth culture and the beginnings of eco-chic.
Last week, almost 20 years later I returned (with my kids!) to revisit the space and find out how the concept had aged. Like most things in Orange County, it seemed The LAB had been nipped and tucked in all the right places -just enough to look young, fun and refreshed in spite of the fact the landscaping had matured and there were inevitable signs of wear. My kids were intrigued.
A news stand and gathering area with communal table for hanging out and chillaxing (mom word?) with friends.
Creme Tangerine, an itty bitty Airstream trailer parked outside of Urban Outfitters sells old-fashioned vinyl (and even 8-track tapes!) for those who believe in kicking it old school. The album covers alone would look cool on the walls of a teen's room.
In fact, I spotted quite a few nifty design ideas that would raise the game of any teen-inspired space. Check out the spray painted polka-dots on the front of the Japanese-themed shop, Popkiller -and the unexpected mosaic on an outside wall that included nuts and bolts in the mix.
Emerging artists are given opportunities to show their work at The Artery, and public art installations are featured prominently throughout. I found this graffiti art by Jennifer Mercede on an interior wall -love it!
The fountain of recycled barrels was just as I remembered although the design is not as novel as it once was, I still like it and the kids thought it was great.
The Mode Bikes trailer was a draw for us -you can buy one ready-made or create your own custom cruiser. Sweet rides! (Hey! Was that an eye roll?)
During our visit, the Cricket Trailer, touted as the "covered wagon for your new frontier" was on display in the community space. Created by Garrett Finney, former space architect for NASA and previously responsible for the "habitation module", the sanctuary on wheels would be perfect for a camp out or perhaps hanging out between surf sets. Lookout Airstream, the competition in the rear view mirror may be closer than it appears. I can imagine these being equally as collectible.
I let the teen and preteen wander in Urban Outfitter while I checked out the super stylish (yet wearable!) frames at Eye Society.
When I went to retrieve the kids, I realized I hadn't set foot in an UO lately...I didn't remember it being this, um, "edgy". When my middle schooler wanted to buy what he thought was a cool looking water bottle (actually a stealth flask) and fake soda labels that attach to cans (Cool stickers! He thought!)...I knew it was time to leave. I won't even get into the book selection. I guess shocking the parental units never gets old.
The LAB, which is actually an acronym for Little American Businesses, offers an impressive array of directional design from the aforementioned eyewear, to sneaker culture, featuring limited edition and hard-to-find shoe styles at Blends and the hat boutique, Arth (a combination of the words Art and Hat). You may have guessed by now, although the vibe is young and alternative, the price tags are not kid stuff.
Dad (AKA Justin) met us for lunch at the Gypsy Den Cafe, a funky, American eclectic coffee-shop with a fresh menu of offerings (including some Vegan fare) -and once again my memory of the place was put to the test. Had there always been paintings of nudes on the art-covered walls? Um...as we waited for our meals, the middle schooler thought it was pretty funny to count them...what happened to coloring our place mats...