Raise your hand if you (or your mom) remembers Contempo Casuals, the California-born trendy boutique chain that, alas, went to retail heaven along with many other Gen X- and Xillennial-beloved '80s and '90s mallrat stores. Unlike those bankrupt brands, its spirit lives on in the form of Contempo Tees, and its Los Angeles-based Gen Z founder already has a fashionable formula for success.
The revived label is the brainchild of Max Rubin, the 21-year-old grandson of Contempo 1.0's original co-founders. For Contempo Tees' latest collection, Rubin translated TikTok's mid-pandemic tennis skirt obsession into a spring range ($45 to $74) of collegiate-inspired beanies, sweat shorts, sweaters, hoodies, and yes, a pleated miniskirt.
To reduce its carbon footprint, the sustainable brand is produced entirely in L.A. at energy-efficient, fair trade-certified factories and Bluesign-verified dye houses that use seven times less water than other manufacturers.
The recent release marks the brand's third collection since launching in October 2020. "I'm the most excited about [this one] because we took bits and pieces from the original artwork and really customized them and made them unique," says Rubin. Contempo die-hards might even recognize a familiar floral motif on the logo that was inspired by a vintage leather jacket from the brand's archives, he says.
Then-married Wil and Dorothy Friedman launched the company in 1962 and sold it in the late '70s to Neiman Marcus; the retail chain then passed hands from the luxury department retailer to Wet Seal, which rebranded all of its 293 stores, as L.A. Times reports. Due to trademark laws, Rubin can't use the intellectual property (a.k.a. the original brand name) as it's still owned by Wet Seal, which filed for bankruptcy in 2017.
Clearly, the fashion business runs in Rubin's blood. His grandmother, Dottie, later founded the boutique Ice Accessories, where Rubin says he learned the ropes of retail. In the mid-'80s she was remarried to Marvin Chanin (who sadly passed away earlier this year), an L.A. retail legend in his own right. "All of my grandparents were [in the] fashion business and [into] entrepreneurship as a whole. I learned a lot from them," Rubin tells WhatRivaWore. "A lot of that was the inspiration to take on any kind of business."
The idea to bring back the brand began a few years ago when Wil Friedman "noticed that Contempo Casuals was still a name," says Rubin. His grandfather pulled original sketches and advertisements from his archives, and the duo turned those 1960s drawings into graphic tees. (Friedman passed away at the age of 88 in 2019 and gave control of the remaining designs to Rubin.)
The entrepreneur says Contempo 2.0's customer base is an even split of people who remember the brand and throwback fashion-loving Gen Z. He recalls hearing stories from shoppers who used to work as retail managers at Contempo Casuals, including those who still remember the original store phone numbers listed on the back of new brand's Charlie hoodie.
Currently a business major at Chapman University, Rubin decided to take a year off shortly before the pandemic hit to focus on the brand. "This year has turned out to be so unfortunate in so many ways," he says. When in-person classes transitioned to computer screens, the slowdown at school offered an opportune time to spin Contempo into a full-fledged clothing label beyond basic tees.
"I'm lucky enough to have an incredible set of friends with diverse skills," from graphic design to modeling to photography, Rubin adds. "While a degree is important, I've gotten a lot more enjoyment [from learning] the whole creative aspect and starting from scratch. At the end of the day, I've learned I'm more than capable to teach myself."
Scroll through the gallery above to see more from Contempo Tees' latest collection, and shop the goods online here.