- Photography by Mr Clement Jolin
If you're in Los Angeles this July and can't stand the heat, forget air conditioning - pay a visit to Aether HQ instead. In the Outpost, the brand's onsite showroom, not only will you find a selection of the world's best outdoor gear, but you'll also find a walk-in freezer in which to try it on. Set to a cool seven degrees Fahrenheit, it was built to give customers a place to test the limits of Aether's performance outerwear - even in the middle of a southern California summer.
When laying out plans for their new office, Messrs Jonah Smith and Palmer West, who founded Aether in 2009, never actually intended to include a retail space. "The Outpost came about out of necessity," say the ex-film producers, who moved into their new HQ on Melrose Avenue in 2011. "We started out as, and still primarily are, a web-based business. We're not a retail destination. So when people started showing up at our office asking to try stuff on, we didn't really know what to do."
Though flattered at first by the attention that the brand's sleek, highly technical outerwear was receiving, Messrs Smith and West quickly realised that they couldn't keep customers waiting in the lobby while they rummaged through the warehouse for jackets for them to try on. An "upcycled" storage room provided the answer, and the Outpost now sits at the front of Aether's HQ, offering customers a space to properly interact with the brand's products - and somewhere to chill out, should the midday sun get too much to bear.
MR PORTER travelled to LA to meet the founders and find out more about their unique space. Read on for the interview, and click through the gallery, above, to see more.
The California way of life is probably best summed up by the fact that people ask each other 'where are you going' rather than 'what are you doing' this weekend
You're clearly both outdoor enthusiasts. Are you a product of your environment?
Mr West: We've both always loved nature. We grew up in New England, so we're familiar with falls, winters and springs - that's not so much the case in LA, where you have to travel to see weather. But there's so much within striking distance here.
Mr Smith: The California way of life is probably best summed up by the fact that people ask each other "where are you going" rather than "what are you doing" this weekend.
Mr West: We're both weekend warriors, as it were.
What inspired you to create Aether?
Mr Smith: Mostly personal frustration with what was available in the marketplace. We couldn't find highly technical gear that keeps you warm and dry but looks appropriate in the city.
How did you go about achieving it?
Mr Smith: We looked at fit and material - even the sound of the jackets as you wear them. And we tried to be subtle with our design. There are a lot of highly technical brands out there that feel the need to emblazon their products with NASCAR-style logos, whereas we wanted to consider both function and fashion.
We'd like to think that Aether is the brand that people graduate to when they are done with that youthful, brash-and-bold aesthetic
Did you have a certain customer in mind?
Mr West: Most outdoor brands are focused squarely on the 18- to 25-year-old market. We asked ourselves, OK - when you're done with that, where do you go? And we felt that the choices out there were very slim.
Mr Smith: We'd like to think that Aether is the brand that people graduate to when they're done with that youthful, brash-and-bold aesthetic.
Is this your first office?
Mr Smith: It's certainly our first proper one. When we were in the process of switching careers we operated Aether out of the offices of Thousand Words - our independent production company. But we outgrew that place very quickly.
Mr West: That was 2,000sqft; our new place is 10,000.
How much work did it need to get it into shape?
Mr Smith: It was a complete overhaul. The building is an old warehouse that was built in the 1950s - we stripped out pretty much everything but the original wooden ceilings.
Mr West: When we first saw the space, we noticed that nobody was working along the south-facing wall because it was emitting so much heat. One major development was to shade the wall with a canopy of solar panels - we solved that problem, and as a bonus, we now get 50% of our energy from the sun.
How does the space facilitate the creative process?
Mr Smith: We have very few doors and walls. The desks aren't nailed down, and the walls that we do have aren't structural, so they can be moved, too. We pride ourselves on the ability to be flexible - after all, we have no idea where we're going to be in five years.