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Heller’s Cafe is so cool it’s by appointment only

You’ve probably walked by it and wondered – how do I get in there? New York Times Magazine got in there, even though Heller’s Cafe on Olive Way’s winding hill up to Broadway, never appears to be open. There’s no website, no one talking about it on Facebook, but it’s in Seattle. And it’s world famous. So naturally we were curious.

Larry McKaughan is who we have to thank. Without much local fanfare beyond the hyper-informed style junkies, Heller’s Cafe has partnered with Warehouse (a highly sought after Japanese brand) in making lines for J. Crew and hand-selected retailers mostly over seas. In 2011 this line popped up at Ian on 2nd Ave, but it’s long gone now. Books have been written about McKaughan, titled “King of Vintage” a nickname coined by the media, and written by legend Rin Tanaka. If you can’t get the clothes, get the books on Amazon.

In an interview with Styleforum McKaughan reveals a lot about his story, eye for quality and style forecasting. New York Times Magazine called him the man who “anticipated the now perennial trend for rough-hewn work wear and published a book on Americana arcana.” Referring to a now widely-respected international style in menswear which has always been a staple in the Pacific Northwest.

“At first it wasn’t a business. If I had some product, I had to sell it that month to make rent,” McKaughan told Styleforum. “But I scored an entire deadstock store from the mid-60s and we did well enough with that to be able to hold onto things for a while and to sell at a fair price. There’s a sense of art in it to me. Particularly in well-worn-in pieces, there’s real life. Who lived in these, what were they doing? This clothing is more than just this clothing. It’s a cultural history of the United States.”

He doesn’t give much fashion advice but says he tries not to wear too much vintage, saying “one has to be careful not to wear a costume.” His preference is matching new and old in a single look, similar to the high/low fashion of early hip-hop (ie. Lee Jeans with Gucci hat).

“Certain trends are moneymakers. Leather Togs, Peters (leather jackets) from the 30s and 40s,” McKaughan explains. “I like things that are even more rare than that. You used to be able to go hunting, and to shoot a deer, and the tanneries would make you a custom jacket from that hide. So there’s great custom-made deerskin and elkhide jackets.”

Since someone always asks, the newer labels he sees doing it well today are: Haversack, Mister Freedom and Stevenson Overalls.

Call about an appointment if your heart is pure and wallet obese.

1654 E Olive Way
(206) 568-8155



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