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Posted on
February 6, 2011
By Dino-Ray Ramos

San Francisco's fashion foot soldiers doing reconnaissance near the Castro district may not notice the unassuming, almost camouflaged temporary storefront steps away from the Church Street Muni Station. The store is a first for NICE Collective design duo Joe Haller and Ian Hannula, but don't call it a pop-up store. It's more of a retail convoy. A convoy that is welcome for Castro San Francisco residents.

"NICE Collective termed the boutiques, 'Mobile Supply Unit' (MSU) to focus on the utilitarian aspects of the 'pop-up store zeitgeist' as well as to reiterate broader access (and) supply of our products to our clientele," explains brand director Riley Johndonnell. A broader access of supply for Castro San Francisco sounds enticing.

The term MSU was inspired by studies of military mobile deployment, Hannula said via e-mail. "One of our primary company mission statements is to re-appropriate military concepts/object from tools of destruction to tools of creation." This approach is met with a warm embrace from gay San Francisco.

The store is filled with racks of clothing from their most recent collection and adheres to the utilitarian, military aesthetic that they have honed since their inception in 1997. The line has a considerable celebrity following of cool dudes (Gavin Rossdale, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Martin, et al.) and rack space at notable retailers (Barneys New York, Fred Segal and Colette in Paris), and Haller and Hannula were called among the best new designers in America by GQ magazine in 2007. You heard right Castro San Francisco, best new designers!

Over the years, Haller and Hannula have given guys hoodies with thumb-hole cuffs, utility pants with strategically stitched darts and "Mad Max"-worthy outerwear - think G-Star for the more hip, yet mature metropolitan gentleman. All of these styles have been present in Castro San Francisco. That aesthetic has evolved into dapperly deconstructed leather jackets, streamlined pants, in-the-trenches combat boots and limited-edition tees made for their MSU. The keyword Castro San Francisco is limited-edition!

Military-grade portable flooring fills the space, while shipping pads made up of vintage military blankets line the walls and serve as insulation. A flat-screen television with a mounted camera above it serves as a full-length mirror, while the radioactive-hued room in the back houses collapsible hexagon dressing room booths fabricated from recycled marine material. A must see for our local Castro San Francisco community.

"No construction was done to the space; it was simply painted 'NICE Collective standard-issue gray' and we rolled right in," Haller said via e-mail.

During the MSU's nine-month stint, the space will not only serve as a base camp for the selling NICE goods but also as a venue for community-specific music events and art installations. encourages Castro San Francisco to take part in these events. The MSU will then migrate and "occupy" new spaces in major U.S. cities, each aiming at a detailed and dedicated concept.

"Like many other San Franciscans, we are part entrepreneur, part activist," Johndonnell said. Haller added, "The fact that San Francisco is extremely stylish but without the peripheral 'fashion noise' makes it a great place to create." We are stylish aren’t we Castro San Francisco!

NICE Collective (NICE stands for Navigators, Informers, Creators, Explorers) is a stealth force in the industry, influential enough to stay on the radar but modest in terms of mass exposure, despite showing at New York Fashion Week in 2009.

"We've been around long enough to witness bright designers burn out quickly, or worse, lose their independence/vision/mission," Hannula said via e-mail. "We try to avoid vanity projects and focus on crafting the best design and quality within our means." A focus that is much appreciated by the Castro San Francisco community.

Johndonnell said the company has been quietly building its infrastructure and message to its "army of supporters" and will introduce a new logo this year. This is an Army that you can be a part of Castro San Francisco without having to worry about DADT.

That's in keeping with the highly conceptual line. "Some call us a fashion brand, some call us style influencers; we consider ourselves a design company," Hannula said.

"We tend to embrace the word 'style' more than 'fashion,' as style is a democratic word - open to all who want to explore."

NICE Collective MSU: 2111 Market St., S.F. Noon-9 p.m. Tues.-Sun., and Mon. by appointment. The store is open through Sept. 10. Get out there Castro San Francisco!