Thirtysomething outdoor sports enthusiasts Palmer West and Jonah Smith grew so tired of wearing brash youth-oriented sports clothing on the ski slopes that they established their own counterculture outdoor clothing brand known as Aether. The Los Angeles-based clothing line provides a variety of thoughtfully designed shells, shirts, and jackets along with an eclectic collection of high end adventure and urban exploration gear and gadgets. West and Smith’s laser-like focus on function and form also led to their adoption of a singularly unique retail platform – an iconic 34-foot Panamerica Airstream travel trailer – that has helped Aether bring their zeitgeist clothing label to the streets of US cities from Los Angeles to New York.
For those unfamiliar with the outsize Panamerica – Airstream’s eye-catching toy hauler – the travel trailer incorporates a spacious 11-foot garage that can handle up to 2,500lbs of toys like motorcycles and ATV’s. Constructed using Airstream’s signature semi-monocoque construction – an inner and outer layer of aluminium stretched and riveted to the frame – the stylish European style living quarters include stainless steel appliances and mood lighting whilst the garage incorporates a textured floor with storage cabinets. Access to the unit is provided through a side door or via the gull-wing exterior door (with fold-down ramp) at the rear – think Mercedes-Benz 300 SL or Gumpert Apollo – whilst a pass-through door in the bulkhead allows you to travel between the garage and the living space.
Aether’s flash retailing vision for the Airstream called for a floor up redesign of the entire trailer but Airstream Inc., a division of Thor Industries Inc., don’t sell bare bones travel trailer shells so Smith and West sourced their Panamerica through an RV dealer in Denton, Texas. Then they sought out Bellflower, California-based C&G Trailer to carry out the task of returning the unit to its original bare shell. “We’re an Airstream Service Center, all we do is work on Airstreams” said Rod Beltran who, along with his wife Darlene, has been doing just that since 1964 – which makes C&G Trailer one of the oldest Airstream Service Centers in the nation.
Rod’s dad worked for Airstream in California following his return to the US after WWII. “He started right after the war in Van Nuys when they (Airstream) worked at the airport and then they moved to Los Angeles…and then he moved with them to Santa Fe Springs. He worked there seventeen years and he and Airstream parted really good friends. Wally Byam (the Airstream founder) even took him on trips,” said Beltran who added that, “Airstream has been part of the family for the last sixty something years.”
Rod has undertaken work for a variety of Airstream owners over the years – including Aaron Spelling and Matthew McConaughey – and has seen a number of unusual Airstream conversions from barber shops and beauty salons to Martini bars. When former film producers Palmer West and Jonah Smith arrived on his doorstep with a visionary blueprint – drafted by Paris-based designer Thierry Gaugain – calling for their Airstream to be gutted it probably didn’t strike him as odd, though he likely considered it to be a tad sacrilegious.
“They brought me in the brand new unit, the 34-footer, and they me wanted to strip everything out of it except for some recessed lighting…and the rear door…We took out all the appliances, all the furniture, the walls, everything!” said Rod. “We built a little cabinet for the converter because that has to stay to run all the 12 volts inside the trailer.”
After a few extra mods that included leveling the garage floor, removing the wall outlets, patching holes and running new AC wiring the Airstream shell was sent to Final Touch Coach Work – to add a matte black finish to the nose of the unit – and then it was despatched to Carlisle Wide Plank Floors who installed a reclaimed rustic hardwood floor.
Dobkin Construction – who also converted Aether’s warehouse space in Los Angeles – built the interior elements in the travel trailer using reclaimed and sustainable materials and then added a variety of specially designed pieces like the Chimenea style hanging fireplace from Focus – bolted to the ceiling to stop it moving about whilst on the move – and Gaugain’s selection of atmospheric Parisian props like vintage lamps and cabinets along with a framed copy of his original design renderings. The end result is a stunning retro mobile retail space that blends seamlessly with the iconic Airstream shell in which it is contained.
The Aether refit bears comparison with those of renowned designer Christopher Deam whose private Airstream commissions proved so popular with travel trailer aficionados that he was subsequently hired by Airstream. Indeed, the Aether remodel harmonizes so well with the original shell that it would likely have received Wally Byam’s seal of approval – including the matte black paint!
To find the current location of Aether’s Airstream check out the Aetherstream blog.
Aether Apparel, 6100 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038 •Tel: 1-323.785.0701• C&G Trailer Service, 9241 Sonrisa Street, Bellflower, CA 90706-2815 • Tel: 1-562 634-6286 •
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