Following the recent post on South Paradiso Leather, THE LOOK presents an exclusive on how Paradiso mainman Romulus (formerly Joel) Von Stezelberger launched his amazing clothing range.
Only last week Romulus was a guest on the best radio show in the world, Jonesy’s Jukebox on Indie 103.1FM, hosted by major Paradiso customer, Sex Pistol Steve Jones.
Here, Romulus tells how his life was irrevocably changed one rainy San Francisco day eight years back, not long after he had first come across examples of the hand-tooled leatherwork of East West Musical Instrument Co, whose incredible stage and streetwear was worn by a range of artists in the 70s, including Elvis and Janis Joplin.
//Romulus engages in a fitting session//
Just this week Fashion Incubator focused on an East West “parrot” jacket which is currently up for £1,250 on eBay.
Not that Romulus’ motivation has ever been money (he once gave away a whole bunch of original EW to goodwill stores) as evinced by his tale told here: “I was planning to go to a flea market early one morning. I got up, leaving behind my sleeping girl. It was pouring outside. I stood there looking at the cold rain, and back at the bed and that nice warm girl, and made my decision. I climbed right back in and cuddled up with Sleeping Beauty, only to be disturbed by a voice inside me which repeated: ‘Today you will find one.’
“I knew this was no delusion. It could only mean that I would find one of the rare ones. So I got up again, splashed water on my face, and called a taxi. On the way to the flea market, the driver kept me entertained with a story about being robbed at knifepoint. As I stepped out into the dumping rain, he asked me, ‘What are you looking for, anyway?’ and I replied, ‘You know, vintage guitars, amps, vintage Levi’s, Hawaiian shirts, East West jackets…’
The driver stopped me: ‘You mean East West Musical Instrument Co?'”
“Incredibly, it turned out that his wife had worked at East West for years and still had some pieces lying around.
“I gave him my number, got theirs, and got out,” says Romulus. “I was so excited that I couldn’t even look around the flea market. I sat in the back of a friend’s van and waited until noon to call her and was amazed when she told me that, among a few others, she had a prototype design for a jacket which was never produced.
“She’d made it for her sister, who she described as a ‘garden hippie’, a girl who did not want to wear the really flashy East West stuff. So she’d created a simple jacket in dark green suede, with very, very intricately cut and appliqué-d dragons of silver, olive green and cranberry leather twisting and twining around the collar and the cuffs.”
Romulus say that by this time he was close to tears. “This jacket was absolutely stunning, a masterpiece. I convinced her to sell it to me, and became the owner of a one-of-a-kind East West jacket, one no one had ever seen before.
“Such things simply don’t ever happen to anyone ever, unless there is some sort of fate at work. I took that jacket back to my live/work space and hung it up on the wall. I rolled a joint, went to the store for a nice tall bottle of Chimay, came home and sat on the floor in front of the jacket, in reverent awe at this majestic sight. I felt myself literally gazing into another world, a real rock & roll paradise, built by the hands of the East West Gods, but now neglected and forgotten.
“I looked into the window of this jacket and felt myself being called into this place, a magic kingdom that was waiting for a new king to come and continue what the East West Kings had left behind. I knew it was my calling, to become this new king.
“After that day my whole life shifted gears. I quit my design company and started to put all my energy into collecting these great works of art, while thinking of ways I could make leather art myself. It was as if the East West Spirit came to me through the Dragon jacket and guided me to my true destiny.”