Coming Up Clinton Hill: Charnier Corey of Leisure Life
Words by Janell Hickman, December 29, 2016
When it comes to describing the Leisure Life customer, designer and owner Charnier Corey is not short on words. In a time where both vagueness and uncertainty loom, Corey describes his shopper so vividly you’ll instantly feel a magnetic urge to “meet” this magical person. “He grew up when hip-hop was ubiquitously promoted in TV commercials, so the culture is fully ingrained through his choice of music—but, he also has a world view and is educated in the classical sense,” Corey wrote to me via e-mail. “He shines without attention-seeking or being a billboard for fashion labels. He is stylish in the classic sense and always smells good. Cologne is one of the things he always wears.”
A mash-up of art, music, fashion, and travel, the lifestyle boutique (a short walk from Pratt Institute) effortlessly straddles the fine line of not feeling new, but not entirely old either. Impeccably designed and decorated, the space boasts perfectly worn rugs, stacked vintage luggage, and taxidermied deer heads, for the ultimate, “come-in and stay awhile” vibe. It’s no wonder Leisure Life counts Bilal, Wyatt Cenac, and Anthony “The Twillite Tone” Khan, among cool, laid-back locals as fans. We caught up with Corey before the crazed holiday season to get schooled on what’s next for Clinton Hill, wardrobe 101, and of course in true BevelCode style, his grooming secrets.
BevelCode: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started?
Charnier: I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I played high school basketball and football, [but was always] very interested in art and design. I went to college in Rochester, NY and played college basketball for two years before devoting my time to art. During my time in undergrad, I worked in the art studio, multi-media library and art library. The time was crucial for self teaching and learning about artists, their work and their lives.
I moved to NYC in 2002, then worked for Vibe and Spin magazine for a couple years in the accounting department. I met some people there who helped me learn about punk culture and the DIY nature of the movement. It was something that resonated with me. Some of the people I worked with, we’ve worked together on projects since and I consider [them] real genuine friends.
I began conceptualizing the idea for the shop in 2010 and I was working a corporate job, while painting and creating artwork. My wife got pregnant and when the baby was born, I stayed home while she returned to work. During this time I was really starting to visualize the shop. I told my job, I was not going to return and I started the process of business planning and preparing for the shop. We discussed the idea of opening a shop for a while before we found a small loan and began looking for a location in 2012. We worked with Kenyan Paris Lewis (RIP) and A Noble Savage to help create the interior decor and aesthetic direction of the shop and on June 22, 2013 we opened our doors at 559 Myrtle Avenue.
BC: What inspired you to open and curate leisure life?
Charnier: Leisure Life is my direct reaction to the life around me. It’s me carving out a space for myself and like-minded people to live. It’s me promoting a lifestyle that I aspire to live; one where you have time to read a book, or go to a show, or visit the museum.
BC: What exactly is the “leisure life” in a society that promotes hustling hard & grinding?
Charnier: Leisure means you can do what you want. I aspire for a life where I have the freedom to make the decisions I want to make not predicated on any other thought than, “If I want to do it, I can do it.” It does not mean not working hard, it’s more applicable to working so hard that it gives you the liberty to take time for leisure.
BC: Why did you want to be located in Clinton Hill?
Charnier: I think Clinton Hill is an untapped area for an idea like a men’s shop and we think it is on the verge of becoming the next “It” neighborhood in Brooklyn. Myrtle Ave is a historic street in Brooklyn that housed many “mom and pop” businesses in the past. Now, we [Leisure Life] see a resurgence in the neighborhood in the time since we’ve opened. We also think that the proximity to Pratt Institute and the young creative minds there make the neighborhood appealing for a men’s shop with an artistic point of view.
BC: What does the neighborhood mean to you and what do you see for it in the future?
Charnier: The neighborhood [has been] very supportive of what we bring to the table and everyone has been more than welcoming since we’ve opened. We work with the local MARP, (Myrtle Avenue Business Association) and host annual events. We also partner directly with students from Benjamin Banneker Academy for their annual fashion show. Currently, Pratt Institute industrial design program students are creating projects that will help benefit the shopping experience at Leisure Life. In the future, we see the neighborhood becoming a thriving hub of business in Brooklyn. There is a lot of construction on Myrtle Avenue and we see the neighborhood changing. We [Leisure Life] think all of these upcoming changes will help support our business as we grow.
BC: The boutique has a few quirky details, i.e. bathroom being a dressing room. What else sets you apart from other small retailers?
Charnier: The bathroom is not a dressing room anymore. We’ve created a changing room and the door is made from an old harp case. It’s really nice. Another thing that sets us apart is our in-house brand and ability to produce our garments (and bags) locally in NYC.
BC: The store has a mix of new and emerging brands, what’s your criteria for on-boarding a new retail partner?
Charnier: The path of least resistance. Most often the brands are friends and people who are introduced to me by someone I respect. But at the end of the day, I only do business with people I like. It doesn’t mean 100% agreeable, but people who I like to work with and make things easy—not harder.
BC: Decor also plays a big role into your aesthetic, how long did it take you to create your interior vibe?
Charnier: The interior is a mix of things I’m into, plus some things we use as selling points. The accumulation of much of the items in the shop started when I was a kid (and will continue for the rest of my life!) One thing we like to do is look back—we worked with some of the best people who taught me how to look back at the best. Kenyan Paris Lewis was one of the most talented builders ever. We were able to work with him to create a lot of the atmosphere. He and Ali of A Noble Savage taught me a lot about good and bad vintage and presentation.They definitely set us up so that the bones were great so it would support the structure of the brand. The buildout took over six months of literal blood, sweat and tears, but I would not trade the experience for anything in the world. It taught me that I could execute at the highest level, there is always “a way” and to not accept any excuses.
BC: What’s your personal style mantra? Does it extend into what you bring into your shop?
Charnier: Style is putting on your clothes and forgetting about ’em. My philosophy is: subtle bling, which is the art of styling on ’em without being overly attention-seeking. First and foremost, I pick the things I like. Whether it’s a vintage jacket or something I design for the shop, the ultimate determinant is, “do I like it?” Because if I make a decision based on anything else, it becomes harder for me to sell.
BC: Grooming has become a bigger conversation for men, how do tackle maintaining your personal look?
Charnier: I get a haircut every 10 days or more frequently if I have engagements. I like to keep my beard maintained and groomed. I think the barber I have used for over 10 years makes me feel like the best version of myself. A barber is one of the most important people in a man’s life because you have to trust that person to make you look your best. I like to get a cut on an off day and alway, always call to get an appointment. I’ve been getting the same for a while now. I get the baldy, no razor up top, but let him razor my beard and mustache on the top and sides—but not underneath my neck. Sometimes [I] trim the beard a little bit.
BC: What are five fashion or grooming must-haves for the winter season.
Charnier: Our new line will be available and we are extremely excited about the new output of garments we are releasing for the holidays:
Look One: Wool Multi-Color Anorak ($595) & Babe of Brooklyn Beard Balm ($35)
Look Two: Waxed Canvas Kimono ($365)
Look Three: Myrtle Ave Ping Pong Club Hoodie ($80) & Century Club Coat ($895)
Look Four: Vintage Leather Jacket( $495) & Vintage Shirt ($75)
Look Five: “LIFE” Crewneck Sweater with Hand Appliqué unraveling letters ($95)
BC: What does the term “community” mean to you? How do you hope Leisure Life plays into that?
Charnier: “Community” means the people who are like-minded and share similar experiences. In that regard, we [the store] always try to serve our community. These are the people who understand all my music (and movie references) when I post to social media. The people who come into the shop and have a moment because they find that piece that they were looking for. The same folks people who see a card on the display case or a Medicom box and freak out because it made them feel like I was speaking to their experience. That’s what “community” means. We hope we can always find ways to service and provide new experiences for those people continually.