Luda Khanlari | He Tells Stories Short Film
Loudvik Khanlari’s charger is in his closet. Not the one for his iPhone; I’m talking about the place that fuels his creative output as a designer. After a day at the factory where his eponymous line’s fourth collection is being stitched to completion in downtown Los Angeles, I head back to his home and dip into his chest of vintage clothing.
watch He Tells Stories’ Luda Khanlari doc short here | Story Told & Executive Produced by Brad Weté | Produced & Edited by Sir Fleming
There’s a pair of well-worn, thick red leather motorcycle pants Luda (what friends call him) bought when he was 16. A tattered Nike tee with a caricature of hoop god Michael Jordan taking flight by famed illustrator Philip Burke from the early ‘90s. A decades-old flowing baby blue Yves Saint Laurent shirt that looks like it’s fresh out of the French atelier. Those and—no exaggeration—hundreds of other How did you find these? pieces line the walls of his closet, a vault of garms once worn by folks looking for a taste of luxury, or simply just repping their high school, as is the case for the grass green and mustard varsity cheerleader jacket he proudly yanks off a rack to show me.
Since his teenage years in the early 2000s, Luda (born in Iran and an Angeleno since age 3) has been thrifting, frequenting L.A. consignment shops for, well, nothing specifically. Sometimes Khanlari would cop threads he could wear immediately to flex on peers at school. Back then kids at Glendale High were rocking Armani Exchange or FUBU tees, baggy Solo jeans, and Air Force 1 sneakers.
But Luda says his favorite high school ‘fit was “a classic Mickey Mouse tee I got from [vintage store] Wasteland” and “a pair of 501 Levi’s that I bought off my neighbors at their garage sale. They were selvage before I even knew what that was.” He slit the bottom of the legs because they were too tight for the two-sizes-too-big days of yore. Unsurprisingly, he still has the jeans.
All of these finds have ripened into inspiration and tools that power the Luda Khanlari clothing line. Bed sheets he found on eBay likely will become jacket linings. Long discontinued rugby shirts coincidentally boasting a color scheme matching the Armenian flag will function as the foundation to a nascent project. In 2017 he dusted off old Champion sweatshirts, snipped them at their sides, and added Italian double-layered mesh side vents. All that is to say: Luda innovates through transformation.
For his new cut and sew offering, called ENSÉ, he’s introducing a custom patchwork that was inspired by a trip he took to Ensenada, Mexico.
“The mixture of colorful prints I saw there fascinated me so much that I had to recreate my own patchwork fabric,” Luda says. “I chose six woven fabrics for their unique patterns and color. The fabric was then pieced and patched together by over-locking each by hand.” It took one year and four variations to develop his. The result is an unprocessed capsule that’s equal parts contemporary and hippie era funky.
For this season’s reworked vintage capsule, team Khanlari mixed the aforementioned custom patch fabric with vintage Levi’s 501 denim shorts. Each pair was reconstructed using elements of the shorts—portions of the side seams, pockets, and rivets. No two are alike, but all feature Luda’s Five Star brand logo embroidery and label along with the original Levi’s inside tags. Also out now is a limited run of Luda’s Levi’s Reworked Vintage Merrill Cardigan. They use 501 pant legs as trim for the two side pockets, front placket, and hem. A peek inside reveals that they’re lined with burgundy silk.
He Tells Stories visited Luda at his factory as production wrapped on ENSÉ, learning about his path to becoming the designer he is today. It's one that included losing friends who didn't support him, loved ones questioning his sexuality, and doors closing on him after leaving his safe 9-5 at G-Star. Much like this collection, it took a far-out perspective and good tailoring to stitch together the happiness he feels today. Luda’s resilience has taken him far. So has his competitive spirit.
“I get mad when I see something really nice,” Khanlari says in HTS documentary short above, referring to the frustration and eventual respect he feels for creators of brilliant clothing he had no hand in. “I should’ve come up with that,” he thinks to himself typically, with his face comedically scrunched. “I’m angry, but that’s good.”
He laughs, then gazes at his museum of classic apparel. With Luda, an idea is always brewing. It’s only a matter of time before he turns another bygone gem into something that will be treasured tomorrow.
all pieces featured here from the ENSÉ and Reworked Vintage Levi’s collections are available at Luda.co now.