There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Will Sharp was a D.C. fashion kid, and like a lot of D.C. fashion kids growing up in the ’90s, he moved to Brooklyn as soon as he had the chance. Finally, he was at the center of the street fashion universe—and also at the center of an area that was rapidly changing, with gentrification crackling across the borough as yuppies and artists like himself poured in. “People were making gardens out of old tires and shit,” he remembers. “And I was like, ‘I feel like this is real cool. But I feel like this needs to be your own neighborhood.’”
So the kid came home.
Sharp has been a force in the D.C. fashion scene since 2005, when he founded the popular streetwear brand DURKL. Then in 2015, he co-opened Maketto, D.C.’s only acclaimed Southeast Asian restaurant that also sells high-end sneakers. This May, however, Sharp will open what might be his most ambitious project yet.
Throwing distance from Nationals Park, his new store Somewhere will be the next evolution of the fashion-dining crossover Maketto pioneered in the District. City Paper sat down with Sharp and two of his partners on the project— Dominick Adams (also a partner with Sharp at Maketto, where he’s the lead buyer on the fashion side) and Steve Place (an old friend of Sharp’s, whose career spans everything from video games to hip-hop reporting)—to learn about the new venture and discuss what it means to strive for the highest level of the fashion world when you come from the District of Columbia.
Sandwiched between a luxury apartment building and a long row of fast-casual joints, Somewhere won’t have the fine dining that Maketto offers. It’ll be a coffee shop in the front, and a clothing store in the back—what Place likes to call “the mullet of brick and mortar.” Like Maketto, Somewhere will source its coffee from Vigilante Coffee up in Hyattsville. However, this time around, says Adams, “the fashion aspect is always going to come first.”
Adams is a big man, and when we met, he sported a couture sports coat, a James Harden beard, and camo pants that rose up past his ribcage. He’s a DCPS alum that grew up just a few blocks from Somewhere’s Navy Yard location, and his family has lived in the District since the Reconstruction era. His grandma went to kindergarten in the church that’s now Blind Whino, and he says when he showed her the new arts space there, “she was like, ‘What did they do to my church?’ I told her, ‘Oh, it’s across the street,” and she was like, ‘What? What did they do my church?’ I mean she thought it was cool,” he says, “but she was like, ‘That’s my church.’”
“That’s what’s special about this neighborhood,” Adams emphasizes, “because when we were kids, these were rave clubs down here.” He talks about sneaking out of the house as a teenager to see shows. “Honestly, man, you could pay like an extra five bucks to get in the club when you were fifteen and you were like, ‘OK!’”
And while Adams is fully conscious of the dark side of development, he also wants to bring the best international fashion has to offer back home. “Every time someone does development here—retail-wise, or something cool—it’s always a Northwest address,” he emphasizes. “We were like, ‘Fuck that. We’re going to build something in Southeast, and we’re going to do it in a big way.’ And I can walk back to the neighborhood and be like, we did this… To me, that means everything.”
A D.C. local who wants to work in the upper echelon of the fashion world is faced with a deep-seated tension. D.C. isn’t regarded as a player, nor as a place where players live. Sharp says people always ask him, “What’s the most popular restaurant out there? Cheesecake Factory?” You move with a chip on your shoulder, or, more often, you just move out.
Adams explains the paradox: “Everyone [in fashion] is connected to D.C. Everyone. We were literally in Japan, and this guy’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, my mom’s there. She lives in Greenbelt.’” But that connection tends to be past-tense. “One of the most famous shops in sneakers right now, their creative director is someone we know from here,” he says. “So that guy’s in L.A. killing it right now, but it’s like, ‘Damn. Shouldn’t he have had the ability to open his own shop right here?’”
“People’s dream should be able to be filled here,” added Sharp, “rather than like, ‘How much is the Amtrak to New York? I’m going there; that’s just where it’s all done.’”
Opening their own streetwear shop in the District involved a long struggle with developers used to dishing out their space to the highest corporate bidder. “[Developers] are not like, ‘You know what would be great? If we had some tacos on this block. Let’s get a Chipotle,’” says Sharp. “They’re like, ‘We want $100 a square foot—who can pay?’ The answer is inevitably a corporate chain like Chipotle or Chick Fil-A.”
But even once they found a developer who’d take a lower price for something more interesting than a Starbucks, the pressure to conform doesn’t stop. When you open a new retail shop, Sharp explains, “one of the first things that happens, no matter what, is you open your store, you have a plan, shit gets real, and you have to adjust.” At that point, he says, “you’re like, ‘OK, how many white high-tops did we sell last year? OK, we’re going to order a million of those… And then everyone starts looking like the same store, instead of pushing the envelope.’”
That’s where Maketto’s mixed-retail model comes in. “Having the coffee gives us, business-wise, a good revenue stream to take the chance to really bring the fashion conversation,” says Sharp, “[to do] stuff that’s a lot riskier.”
Indeed, the crew’s vision for Somewhere is ambitious. In addition to carrying their own clothing line, Adams and Sharp spend much of their year shuttling between the fashion hubs of the world—Paris, Milan, New York, Tokyo—chasing down their favorite designers, from big names to people no one’s ever heard of, and trying to convince them to let a D.C. shop carry their clothes.
One of Adams’ proudest conquests for Maketto (and now for Somewhere) was getting Undercover in the store. “I literally followed a dude that I kind of knew into an alley in Paris, who led me into another alley,” he recalls. “And I see another dude wearing Undercover and I’m just like ‘Fuck it’ and I walk into the building with him like I know what I’m doing. And I get in the building, and everyone’s kind of looking at me like, ‘What the fuck is this big, black dude with a beard…?’” He had to fight tooth-and-nail just to walk out of there with a business card, but six months later, he’d sealed the deal.
After spending their adolescence taking the bus to New York to get the brands they followed, Adams and Sharp want to make the highest rungs of snob streetwear available in the District. At the same time, they still hope the store will be accessible to any kid that walks in. “For what we’re doing, price has no relevance,” says Sharp. “When we’re talking about a $2000 jacket, the only reason for buying it is because it’s fucking worth it. We’re also selling Dickies— those are like $30. And we’re doing them because they’re important to the kid who shoots our photos; he wears Dickies.”
The ultimate goal for the Somewhere crew is for the “D.C. fashion kid” to stop feeling like an oxymoron. When it comes to the most hallowed grounds of the international fashion world, Place says the three of them always talk about “trying to get D.C. in those rooms or, like, just, expected to be in those rooms. Instead of now, where it’s seen like, ‘Why are you guys here?’”