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"I haven't been measured for anything in years," says Charlie Brown. Denver City Council's resident cowboy is standing in Suavecito's, the Santa Fe Drive boutique run by former social workers Craig Peña and Jay Salas, and he's looking a little bewildered at the prospect of being fitted for a suit. Particularly a zoot suit.
But Peña and Salas excel at measuring up politicians and other celebs. When John Hickenlooper was running for mayor, he and his one-year-old son, Teddy, donned zoots made by the designing duo in honor of Cinco de Mayo, and Hizzoner Hickenlooper just picked up two new suits from the store last week, thereby nearly doubling his inventory. "He previously had three suits; now he has five," says mayoral spokeswoman Lindy Eichenbaum Lent.
Even more bewildering for Brown than being sized up by Peña and his skilled tailor's tape, however, is the idea of a tie. "A what?" Brown laughs, when the subject of a neck noose is broached.
Not to worry, they tell him. You'll look fabulous. And there will even be a hat.
"I already have a hat," the councilman says, pointing to his trademark cowboy chapeau.
We know, we know.
If there's one thing you can't miss about Charlie Brown, it's his distinct sense of style. His hat. His jean jacket. His boots. Ranchwear, he likes to call it.
Last month, the North Carolina native told the group assembled at the Buffalo Bill Museum for the opening of Boot Hill, an exhibit of cowboy boots that have graced celebrity feet (including those of Elvis, Liberace and, yes, Hickenlooper): "I'm not from the West, but I got here as soon as I could."
And once he arrived, he immediately started dressing the part. At the November 13 gathering on Lookout Mountain, for example, Brown was wearing a cowboy hat, a black Western shirt, black jeans, and black, white and silver cowboy boots by Liberty -- exactly the outfit he'd worn to a council committee meeting earlier that day. "I'm the only one on city council who wears a bolo tie and boots," Brown told the crowd.
And that's just not enough: How can our council representatives kick ass if they're not garbed appropriately? As it is, most members look like they're heading to a meeting of the Milwaukee Rotary. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
But before the rest of the council can be convinced to go West, we figured it would help if Brown showed how very flexible he can be, too. So we called on Peña and Salas, Denver's toughest designers, who'd just gotten props for their new, Latin-inspired, fight-themed Chingaso Wear line in the November 30 New York Times Sunday Styles section. (For a designer, getting a Styles mention is like being called up to the majors.)
"Everybody faces battles in their daily living, whether it's a man working a job he doesn't like to put food on the table for his kids or the person who has life by the tail but still has battles to fight, so that's kind of what it's about," explains Peña, who has seen many battles in his own life, especially while working with AIDS patients in the Bronx. "It's a Latino brand name, not just a Latino-owned business. It's not so G'd out that you're going to think it's norteño. Will gangsters wear it? Hopefully, because we have a positive message. We have fighters wearing it. But it's not for gangsters. It's for people."
Still, we're making over Brown for Denver, and this city is more than a few seasons behind the Coasts when it comes to fashion. (Note: Satin cargo pants were on the runways in 2000.) So Brown chooses to explore his inner zooty tough-guy self rather than don the orange, prison-inspired jumpsuits and boxing robes that make up much of the Chingaso collection. But the Suavecito team lets Brown know what he's missing: Sitting on the counter is an eight-by-ten photo of the councilman, taken from the city's Web site and Photoshopped onto one of the Chingaso models -- tattoos, piercings and all. Brown looks so bad-ass in the ensemble, he can't believe it's really him. But it is -- and he wants a copy to take home. To show his wife. Who happens to be the Denver Post fashion editor.
That's not the first practical joke that Suavecito's pulled off with the help of Chingaso. In August the crew went out to Vegas for the MAGICconvention -- a supremely important menswear trade show -- where they debuted their T-shirts, hoodies, garage shirts, robes and jumpers alongside Phat Farm, FUBU and other bigs of urbanwear. Masters of both self-promotion and a good time, Salas dressed in one of the line's boxing robes while Peña started calling him Champ. Soon the whole convention was abuzz with gossip of the famous boxer trollin' around with an entourage of recently escaped convicts.
Although that buzz has yet to reach Denver's streets, Peña is sure that interest will increase once he and Salas can devote more time to the Chingaso line. They're currently in discussions with potential investors and add new retail accounts daily, whether it's 32nd Street Gear in the local malls or boutiques in New York's West Village. "We are so proud to be out of Denver, not out of L.A. or New York," says Peña, who, along with Salas, won Hispanic Businessmagazine's Entrepreneurial Spirit award. "This is where our people are. Us being smack-dab in the middle means we're able to touch the pulse of everyone in between."