Cool clothes are often either very expensive, as in the case of luxurious jackets made by European houses or overpriced athleisure for wealthy teens, or very inexpensive, such as those gorgeously faded jeans you find at your secret thrift store deep in the Numbers of East Portland. But unless you're buying band merch, cool clothes rarely fall in the sweet spot between "I had to fly to L.A. to pay $900 for this sweatshirt with a hole cut out of it" and "This Pendleton was $14 because a farmer was kicked to death by a horse while wearing it."
Enter Ira LaFontaine. In August, the mind behind Trillblazin, the irreverent Trail Blazers/pop culture mashup that gave us Rasheed Wallace as a Simpsons character, and pastel-goth athleisure brand Tabor Made, opened Unspoken with business partner Gabe Figgs. Unspoken is a sparse boutique dedicated to street fashion that costs neither too much nor too little.
"I've worked in classic streetwear environments and really high-end environments, and neither of them really fit who I am as a person," says LaFontaine. "I like both worlds. So I want to do something that's kind of in between those: More accessible price-wise, but we're still bringing unique brands, and in an environment that's really easygoing and approachable, because that's where I think a lot more elevated stores suffer."
Around the corner from sneaker resale boutique INDEX in Old Town, you'll see the shop's atom logo—designed by Adam Garcia, the creative wunderkind who worked on Nike's Air Yeezy II—on a blue shingle hanging across the street from a dispensary and the Barrel Room nightclub. Head inside to the austere space, and on one side you'll find LaFontaine's Tabor Made and Trillblazin lines, plus a new in-house line of understated hoodies ($78) and tees ($32).
On the other, you'll find collections from a new wave of mid-range streetwear brands that blend fashionable fits with modern graphics. Tees and long-sleeves ($50-$60) from Australia's Bow3ry play on '80s sci-fi sleaze and The Smiths. Portland mini-brands I Love You So Much and Cafe Nyleta carry minimalist menswear and modern incense accessories, respectively. Biggest of all, LaFontaine's boutique was the first in Portland to carry Los Angeles-based Pleasures, whose '90s-grunge and post punk-inspired streetwear ($36-$80) blew up into one of 2016's most hyped labels after they put Kurt Cobain's suicide note on a T-shirt.
"For the past month, I was thinking, 'Why isn't anyone carrying Pleasures here?,'" says LaFontaine. "Even at that time, it was a clear trajectory of where they were going, and there were people in Portland looking for them. So they were the first brand that I hit up."
And Unspoken is already ringing in the ears of Portland's heavy hitters. Open for three months, Nike tapped LaFontaine to host the local launch of their new NBA jerseys. The party saw Unspoken stocked with custom-made pairs of Air Force 1 sneakers from Rasheed Wallace's collection—created by Portland-based show customizers—inspired by Trail Blazers history. Weeks later, Unspoken hosted a talk from sneaker news site Nice Kicks about breaking into the footwear business, and it booked out in 20 minutes.
For the immediate future, LaFontaine is focusing on new products and community building, with a new pouch bag (like a camera bag, but you can put your weed in it) dropping before Christmas and a collaboration in the works with I Love You So Much. "We want to focus on building Unspoken as an idea, and focus on the smaller, community-based events," he says. "I think that's something a lot of stores neglect."