"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.
Nationally, such luminaries as Snoop Dogg look studly in Suavecito wares ("Zoot Allure," March 6).
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 MAGIC convention -- 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 Business magazine'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."
Maybe Brown can become their new poster boy: If we can make Charlie Brown look baad, imagine what we can do for you!
Because when the councilman emerges from the store's basement wearing a silver zoot suit and then dons a pair of dark sunglasses and a fedora with a three-foot pheasant feather, he looks cool. He looks like he could take Rick Garcia or any of those other bleeding hearts on Denver City Council down.
A few days later, though, Brown says he doubts he'll be making over his image. "It was interesting," he says. "I got a feeling for the '30s, but I'm going to stick to my conservative Colorado ranchwear; it reconnects me to the land. I enjoyed them -- I had a good time. I like to see any new business survive in Denver. I hope they do well."
"Charlie looked very dashing," Peña says. "He's a good-looking guy. I think the suit really accented his features and his coloring. He knew he looked good; he just didn't want to admit it, because he likes that cowboy look. But I think it's always good when you add a new dimension to who you are as a person."
Speaking of which, don't miss the new dimension that we'll be putting on Brown's political and sartorial opposite, Doug Linkhart, in next week's Off Limits. After a decade in the Statehouse, Linkhart moved to Denver City Council as an at-large rep this July, bringing all the style of an insurance agent along with him. But, gals, get ready: You'll never look at him the same way again!
A motto citizen: Local boosters might want to reconsider whether Denver really, really needs a new slogan -- or "brand," as you say if you happen to be a creative consultant paid a lot of money to come up with these things.
Pittsburgh, the city that brought us Richard Florida and The Rise of the Creative Class, earlier this year forked over $200,000 to replace its rusty but revered "Steel City" nickname with this: "Accomplishment through connected individuality -- linking vital individuals, vital communities and vital resources."
At less than $17,000 a word, you might think that's a bargain. But now Pittsburgh's about to get another label -- and this one would be free. In order to avoid bankruptcy, Mayor Tom Murphy has asked the state of Pennsylvania to consider Pittsburgh "distressed," a designation that would give the overextended city time to come up with a recovery plan.
Are you a man or a spouse? No, Neil Bush isn't the brightest of George Bush's offspring, as quickly became evident during his time in Denver with then-wife Sharon in the '80s, when he served first as a frontman, then as a fall guy, for Silverado Savings & Loan, a scandal that resulted in a $1 billion government bailout -- and got Neil banned from banking.
But you gotta make a living, right? And among the revelations spilling out of files from the now-finalized Neil/Sharon Bush divorce is the fact that the current president's younger brother has a $400,000-a-year contract to provide business advice to a Chinese computer-chip manufacturer -- and on earlier business trips to Asia, had sex with women who came to his hotel room, no questions asked, no payment demanded.
Yellow streak: While shop owners this time of year look forward to scrubbing all the green off their fingers, a few unlucky Denver merchants will be scrubbing yellow off their windows instead.
Last Tuesday morning, a stroll down Broadway revealed a smear of bright-yellow graffiti that stretched across almost every storefront window from First Avenue through Ellsworth. Every few feet, a trail of spray-paint was punctuated with a graffiti tag. Over a dozen popular shops and clubs, such as Crown, Blue Ice and the newly opened Hi-Dive were stricken by the amber-handed vandals.
"We get these on occasion," says Liza Salazar of Denver Partners Against Graffiti, the city's official anti-tagging task force, referring to them melodramatically as "bombings." "Usually the windows have to be replaced, and the city has an ordinance that requires businesses to remove graffiti within ten days. If they don't, they can be held in violation, and the city can actually take them to court."
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Matt LaBarge, co-owner of the Hi-Dive, already learned the hard way what a pain in the pane graffiti can be. "We got tagged right when we bought the place a couple months ago, so we replaced all the windows and put film on them to protect them," he says. "I don't mind a little graffiti, but it's just uncool to do windows."
As forgiving a victim as he may seem, though, LaBarge has his own kind of justice in mind should he ever catch someone tagging his venue: "I'll beat the hell out of them."
So who was it that got away with wandering down one of Denver's main streets in the middle of night, casually inflicting thousands of dollars' worth of damage? Was it a lone paint man, or part of a deeper, gang-related conspiracy? And even more cryptic: Why did these fluorocarbon Picassos decided to spare Lu Jac's Liquors and Freaky's head shop?
After all, as an anonymous passerby was overhead saying, "Those are the places where all them little punks go."