RVCA is outfitted with a boxing ring, skate ramp and rotating art gallery
RVCA founder Pat Tenore says “long story short” a lot. When we meet in his corner office, inside the lifestyle sports brand’s 70,000-square-foot Costa Mesa headquarters, he introduces the tale of his unlikely career trajectory this way, nodding to the “nerds and misfits” on his high school wrestling team, the Beastie Boys, the Chanel logo and Bruce Lee’s yin-yang-rooted philosophy. The disparate references eventually dovetail into his role as founder and president of an internationally beloved, distinctly Californian brand (pronounced ru-kah), launched when he was only 26.
The brevity of the anecdote is relative; Tenore’s aptitude as a raconteur is fairly irrefutable. As he sinks into a leather chair, the air permeated by the scent of Kuumba incense burning in a lump of ivory surf wax on his desk, he confesses he’s running on two hours’ sleep—just off a flight back from watching a surf contest in Hawaii and already a half-hour late for an appointment with his renowned Japanese-Italian tattoo artist Koji Ichimaru, to be followed by a meeting with skateboard legend Christian Hosoi, with whom he is working on a touring exhibition of one-off painted hammerhead boards (Hosoi pioneered the shape 30 years ago). Still, Tenore is chill personified, cloaked in camo pants and a stylishly hole-riddled cashmere sweater.
Downstairs, everything that usually happens to keep an apparel business humming is happening, along with many things that don’t: a rotating art gallery is staged with work by artists including painter Kevin Ancell, while employees are on the skate ramp and working out in the boxing ring in the gym, with a mural by RETNA (Tenore’s friend) as their backdrop. Part of the brand’s mission from the start has been to foster careers for emerging and established talents they refer to as “advocates” (this diverse group includes jiujitsu star BJ Penn and electro-R&B musician Nylo); today Oahu-based 18-year-old pro surfer and newly fledged MMA fighter Kona Oliveira is downstairs training with RVCA coaches and senseis.
“I’ve always wanted to blend and incorporate things that I appreciate; from artwork and music to skateboarding to surfing to mixed martial arts to boxing to jiujitsu,” says Tenore.
Raised in and around S.F. and Corona del Mar, Tenore opened his first store when he was 18, stocking work wear by the likes of X-Large and Ben Davis. After selling half of the business to buy a house, prompted by the birth of his first son, Joseph (who is now 23; Tenore also has another son, Ethan, 14, and a daughter, Marley, 13), he took up freelance graphic design from his garage, where the inspiration for the label was born.
“There was no need for another clothing brand, but I wanted a platform for artists,” says Tenore, who was struck by the lack of recognition he observed for creative work.
RVCA’s limited-edition collaborations with everyone from the Jean-Michel Basquiat Foundation to Cinelli bicycles struck a chord—eventually attracting Billabong, with whom Tenore brokered an all-assets purchase seven years ago.
He’s candid about the ups and downs that come with what he refers to as “the 900-pound gorilla on our backs.” For him, staying on post-acquisition was a no-brainer: “My thing is to make sure that we keep the DNA of the brand…the democratization of a vision or a great idea dilutes it completely,” says Tenore, whose gaze is resolutely future oriented. His full slate of projects also includes books with surf patriarch Herbie Fletcher and photographer Estevan Oriol, and collaborations with premium denim label Agolde and cult Japanese brand Bedwin & the Heartbreakers. “I’m here because I’m obligated to be here. And I like being here for that reason.”
Written by MELISSA GOLDSTEIN.
Photography by SAM FROST.