The AETHER STREAM Takes San Francisco

There’s no question the Aether pop up shop, which the L.A.-based outfitter has dubbed the AETHER STREAM, is one of the most awesome moveable retail deployments I’ve ever seen. In concept the formula is simple, take a 34′ Airstream PanAmerica (originally made in Jackson Center, Ohio – what what), hire Paris-based designer Thierry Gaugain to make it look like a bad ass hybrid den / workshop and then attach it to an especially made Armbruster WWII canvas army tent.

I caught the AETHER STREAM while it was in New York during December, but I never got a chance to talk about it here until this past week when I headed out to San Francisco for the third stop on its tour.

The Aether collection appealed to me almost immediately. It’s something the that I personally wanted. The line is technically proficient (read: functional), but also simple and suitable for the city. I appreciated the clean lines and the minimal branding. I also liked the limited (and muted) color story in which Aether operated. A few years later and Aether has evolved to include a strong stable of super functional jackets. And the Aether founders Jonah Smith and Palmer West have keep my attention by staying focused on their mission of making great product.

Jonah and Palmer have also become good friends and have supported almost everything I have done professionally in the last three years – including taking part in the Pop Up Flea, supporting ACL and working with me on the Paul + Williams side (full disclosure and all that good stuff). It has been fun for me because, in a world dominated by boring brands and even more boring retail, Aether has enjoyably created something truly unique. It’s refreshing to see especially because Jonah and Palmer are such good people. It goes back to that Cucinelli thing I spoke about not too long ago. The crux of it is: you can make good products, do interesting things and also be good people at the same time. Seems like the Aether guys have it all figured out.

The AETHER STREAM will be in San Francisco at the corner of Octavia & Hayes Streets (at Proxy) for the next eight weeks.

Comments on “The AETHER STREAM Takes San Francisco

    Emma Howard on February 23, 2012 6:53 PM:

    Classy. Beautiful.

    Smith on February 23, 2012 7:54 PM:

    I got to experience the airstream in Nolita.
    It made me want to dump my small apartment and trek this beauty upstate.
    If all I had was Aether clothing to sustain my fall and cold winters. I’d be happy.

    That typewriter is a beauty as well. Ask any 6th grader and they wont know what that thing is…

    Citizen on February 23, 2012 11:01 PM:

    All the right things used in all the wrong way.

    It annoys me past the point of embarrassment that the tools and materials of american working craft have been lifted wholesale and applied as a veneer to every fashion brand with a target market of 18-35 year olds.

    I can picture prop buyers combing flea markets and ebay for the perfect decor objects with with to represent the honest hardworking intergrity of the machine age.

    looking forward to the day when this is all passe, and I can buy a workbench or toolbox for less than my first car cost.

    Citizen on February 23, 2012 11:05 PM:

    Where are Aether products made anyhow?

    Hrmm on February 23, 2012 11:25 PM:

    I do not understand the pairing between slick black(and grey) jackets, and the mechanics wrenches, gears and army surplus. They missed the mark on this one.
    The airstream is cool by itself – no attachment to fashion needed. This Americana blur color theme – sold for Milan boutique prices has to stop.

    Scott on February 23, 2012 11:41 PM:

    Regrettably, I have to agree with Citizen. The experience looks too canned by half. I’m compelled to assume that this company is targeting folks who have never turned a wrench, joined the army, or written for their keep. The answer to such aspirational hunger isn’t consumption, but experience. I’m all for Americana until it turns precious and transparent: “Pop-up.” “Blah Blah X Bluh Bluh–A Very Special Collab.” (To my mind, the collaborational “x” is becoming shorthand for B2B backscratching.)

    But I’m a glass-half-full sort. Aether has what looks to be the making of a solid program: quality, handsome product and an ungodly marketing budget.
    I like this site, particularly for the well-curated link roll.

    Gary on February 23, 2012 11:48 PM:

    heh, if you don’t like canned americana retail experiences, and icons of classic manufacturing being used to sell you $500 jackets that look like slightly better $25 jackets, boy are you on the wrong website.

    Scott on February 23, 2012 11:52 PM:

    I suffer through the more egregious examples you allude to to access some of the more soulful junk found in the links. Lazy, I guess. With maybe a thimble of hypocrisy. Heh.

    cory on February 24, 2012 1:40 AM:

    heh @ Gary

    It just all seems so…contrived..haven’t we seen all this before? (but now it’s in an Airstream! and an old military tent!)

    The clothes just don’t do it for me..seems like it’s gered towards one particular type of person for one particular time of year


    Sir Fopling Flutter on February 24, 2012 3:07 AM:

    I like the Airstream, and the overall aesthetic is attractive. But once you get past that, I’m afraid it falls apart in the details. A half-drunk bottle of scotch and an old shortwave radio, a few old tools that have seen better days (and will never again be used for their intended purpose). And I find the clothes rather dreary.

    Joel on February 24, 2012 10:15 AM:


    Some stuff made in Canada, the rest sadly in South East Asia. The ones made in Canada are the expensive ones…

    Makaga on February 24, 2012 12:43 PM:

    Wow, lots of haterade in this morning’s breakfast. Even if the aesthetics do not appeal to everyone, I still find it very impressive that these guys have started a company and present their wares in uncommon ways. Kudos to them for that! I can’t imagine the complexity in starting an apparel line, and to show it off with conviction shows a certain level of moxie that I wish I had.

    john on February 24, 2012 1:48 PM:

    @ Citizen, @ Gary …

    You guys are spot on.

    (The Grunding reminds me of a radio my pop had when I was a wee bairn.)

    Jeff on February 24, 2012 2:55 PM:

    that’s a nice wood stove in the airstream.

    Alan on February 24, 2012 4:15 PM:

    While I agree the color palate is a bit one dimensional, it’s the fit and feel of these jackets that sets them apart (I swung by on Tuesday for free food – full disclosure and all). I get that doesn’t really translate via web.

    Oh, a the half full bottle of scotch – that’s for people to drink, not just a prop…

    suggy on February 24, 2012 8:25 PM:

    The co-opting of the American working woman and man regurgitated at us with a 500.00 plus price tag. Are the tools some kind of accessory similar to the hatchet and ax craze fro ma few years back when walking around looking like a lumberjack was all the craze? I was looking at a blog that was featuring the company Union Made the other day and thought what an insult to union garment workers. Enough is enough. Call me a hater but wait till the tools you need for work become a fashion trend while you stand in the unemployment line.

    Chris Bedford on February 24, 2012 9:23 PM:

    Clearly I’m of a different mindset… This really hits all the high notes for me, vintage mechanic’s tools, a Grundig AM/FM/shortwave radio, the IBM Selectric to tap out my next manifesto, and a fire pit to ward off the chill that the Scotch doesn’t. Clearly I need to make my way to Hayes Valley this weekend to check out the AETHER STREAM.

    I can’t speak for Aether’s clothing—yet—but I’ll be able to form an opinion this weekend when I drop by to check out the ATHER STREAM in person.

    I’m surprised how much vitriol this company’s aesthetics have spawned, but then to each their own. I for one love that people can appreciate the design and workmanship of previous generation’s tools, whether they’re mechanic’s wrenches, a 70’s era typewriter, or a Grundig’s Satellit 750 radio. The fact is that—given a choice—most of us would pick up a wrench from this era to work on a car—those vintage wrenches are damned heavy! I should know, because I have both a collection of vintage mechanic’s tools handed down through my family, as well as more modern versions… I can tell you which Chrome Vanadium wrenches I most often use to work on my cars. And while I love the design of IBM’s Selectric, this professional writer uses a MacBook Pro these days… When you’re on deadline it’s hard to beat copy-and-paste, spell check, and the myriad other advantages a word processing application provides.

    Kind Regards,

    Bobby B. on February 25, 2012 6:04 AM:

    Citizen, Joel:

    Almost all of their outerwear jackets are made in Canada. Only two models are made in the Philippines, insulated “Space” jackets.

    I really like Aether, really well done design, colours and all that brand vision thing…
    About those wrenches and other tools…maybe that’s because people from Aether seems to really like motorcycles, maybe too much, as you can see on their blog.

    As much as I like Aether I still prefer Arc’teryx Veilance, I would love to see more articles from Michael about them. ;)

    Gary on February 25, 2012 10:22 AM:

    If you ever want to know what a paid PR shill sounds like, check out Chris Bedford’s post above. I like how he correctly capitalized AETHER STREAM.

    Gary on February 25, 2012 10:32 AM:

    A more important question is why does Aether think that they need to surround their products with a bunch of artifacts for branding? It’s stage props. Ralph Lauren did this in the 80s, every clothing retailer does it now. Flea markets would go out of business if it wasn’t for retail stylists arranging typewriters or old leather football helmets or whatever around their products to give them a sheen of authenticity. Regardless of how legit the antiques are, it’s still fake as hell.

    Will a clothing retailer ever dispense with this bullshit and treat its customers like grownups?

    Michael Williams on February 25, 2012 10:38 AM:

    Gary — I think you are taking it a little too far.

    Gary on February 25, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Michael Williams, I know it’s your job. That’s cool. And I appreciate a lot of what you do on this site. I’m just asking questions. :)

    Rob on February 25, 2012 5:09 PM:

    IMHO… a total waste of a perfectly good Airstream. :(

    I’m biased.

    Tina on February 25, 2012 8:41 PM:

    “Will a clothing retailer ever dispense with this bullshit and treat its customers like grownups?”

    Maybe when the customers behave and react like grownups instead of image-conscious guppies?

    Tina on February 25, 2012 8:54 PM:

    BTW, I like it – love Airstreams, and like the vibe of the clothes. I don’t mind people “using” stuff I grew up with as symbols of nostalgia or as a part of a marketing “lifestyle” image, that’d be a bit ridiculous of me and precious as well. I’m glad people now see the value of things that came before what they have now, even if they wouldn’t use them.

    Rich on February 25, 2012 10:51 PM:

    Look at the tools and look at their color palette. They may not be saying “wear this jacket while you work on your car”, rather that they are inspired by the colors and shit. Things like the book with the diagram aren’t representing literal ideas, they are representative of getting shit done.

    Don’t think so obvious with your dismissals. There is plenty of shit to complain about beyond expensive jackets.

    (all that being said, the typewriter is kinda bullshit.)

    Gary on February 26, 2012 12:20 AM:

    Tina – well, it is true that image-conscious guppies spend more on clothes so I’m guessing that’s a “never”.

    R on February 26, 2012 12:32 AM:

    They spend a lot of money on cultivating an image. This lets me know that their $45 T-shirt is of superior quality compared to a $10 T-shirt from any other store.

    Jared on February 26, 2012 5:18 PM:

    It’s simply an experience. If we had it many folks’ way on here, every clothing store would be cookie-cutter, white-walled blandness–to go further, why even have a store when you can simply buy it out of the warehouse that it was made in? Arguing about this is similar to arguing about the difference between eating at Taco-Bell or eating at your local $25/plate+ restaurant–if all that mattered was simply eating to get full, then it’s pretty simple right? However, SOME people like the overall experience (mood setting, presentation, flavor samples, etc.) that the more expensive restaurant brings, and they’re willing to pay for that.

    I don’t understand why there’s even bitching over this. OK, you can go buy a $10 t-shirt, and there are many, many different places in this country for you to do that. These guys (and other brands that Michael features here) have found a price point that works for them. If they can’t move products off of the shelves, then the market will dictate that they either go out of business or move to a different price point. If they’re willing to sell the products at a certain price, and are willing to spend the marketing dollars to get their brand out there in a unique way, who cares?

    Alan on February 26, 2012 5:23 PM:

    Well said Jared.

    Gary on February 26, 2012 11:08 PM:

    -why even have a store when you can simply buy it out of the warehouse that it was made in?

    Why not indeed? I’d love to do that.

    david himel on February 26, 2012 11:55 PM:

    omg made in Canada…that is socialism lol……what will we do…poor exploited Canadians….whats next Nigel Cabourn and Eddie Bauer…Canadagoose, Viberg…look out canucks are coming to get ya

    Jared on February 27, 2012 10:14 AM:

    That’s absolutely fine, Gary, and there are many “expensive” brands that offer such a thing. The whole point is: why can’t there be both? Why can’t there be both the brands that afford the opportunity to purchase something no frills, straight out of the mill, AND, the brands that offer up the experience and concept-driven approach while browsing for clothes? No one ever said that we can’t have both in this country. No one says that we can’t have both the taco truck and the high-concept, prix-fixe, white plate restaurant.

    It seems to me that many of the comments on a number of Michael’s posts here reflect simply a difference in what people are willing to pay for. Can’t we all take the perspective that people are just different, and like different things, instead of the name-calling and disrespect (from both sides)? Not everyone is going to enjoy or appreciate the strange, outsider-esque exhibit at the art gallery, but someone might, and vice versa.

    randall on February 27, 2012 11:12 AM:

    I think that some of the vitriol comes from the fact that there are people who are genuinely passionate about things such as shortwave radio, mechanics, scotch whisky, old army stuff, old tools, americana, etc. and who have no interest in a high end fashion line. In my life I presently have absolutely nothing to do with marketing, but even I know about the concept of brand dilution, so now imagine that you’re someone who is really into something and you in part identify yourself by that passion and now you’re seeing that passion being used as a prop to sell clothes, like it or not, your identity has been somewhat diluted because someone is trying to make a buck off of your passion without necessarily understanding or perhaps even trying to understand what it is about that thing that makes you so passionate about it. In an attempt at authenticity, It just seems a bit disingenuous.

    @ Gary – That’s exactly what the old factory outlets used to be. I suppose you could buy all your stuff at Costco if you’re looking for the warehouse experience.

    Jared on February 27, 2012 12:08 PM:

    On a purely emotional level, I can certainly appreciate that, Randall. But who’s to say that the designers are not into at least some of those things themselves? I’m not going to sit here and even attempt to read the minds of the people involved with this project, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt if they’ve used those items or those passions as inspiration for their clothing line. If they’re being disingenuous or fake, then we can critique them on those merits, but isn’t the experience involved with going to the Airstream set-up merely our own reaction to it?

    A personal example (to relate) is this: I’m from the deep South, and I absolutely love Billy Reid. But I don’t love Billy Reid because I can afford or even LIKE all of their clothes (I’m a poor law student with simple tastes). Even though I hate targeted marketing, I can appreciate the “brand” that they are selling because it moves something in me that connects myself to my family, heirlooms, the “Old South,” etc. Walking into a Billy Reid store is a step back into another era, deep nostalgia. Now, Billy Reid and his cohorts CAN be critiqued for the fact that harkening back to the Old South is recalling a dark time in Southern history, doesn’t represent the demographics, yada yada. And those critiques mean something. However, there still exists the experience that I had the first time I ever stepped into the store, and it keeps me going back (for t-shirts only, haha).

    None of this might mean anything, to anyone, I just have seen so many comments on other posts with disparaging remarks about this brand or that brand, varying price points, exclusivity, hipsterism, etc. Just thought I’d add my two cents — I’ll hang up and listen.

    Platt on February 27, 2012 2:04 PM:

    No need for the Americana branding.. the imagery alone makes this brand. Why must they depart from the beautiful photos! That’s Aether! :(

    jiheison on February 27, 2012 4:58 PM:

    Two comments:

    1. “Members Only” jacket (not nec. a criticism)
    2. Putting any of those wrenches in the pockets of any of those jackets would likely end in. . .ahem. . . tears.

    great zamboni on February 27, 2012 5:21 PM:

    why the hell are we so excited about grey and black windbreakers, jesus people, the emperor is frickin nude already

    Michael Williams on February 27, 2012 5:24 PM:

    Honestly, this comment chain is what I find the most boring.

    Noah on February 27, 2012 11:14 PM:

    That wood burning stove totally makes it. You know, along with all the damn nice jackets and shit.

    randall on February 28, 2012 9:09 AM:

    Maybe if you’d stop shilling for boring companies the comments would be a bit more interesting.

    Michael Williams on February 28, 2012 9:17 AM:

    This coming from the guy that misses factory outlets. Maybe you are in the wrong place?

    randall on February 28, 2012 10:54 AM:

    Just adding a little spice, guy.

    henrik on February 28, 2012 12:37 PM:

    @MW the reason I come to this site is for the comment chains! Puts a smile to my face durning a dull day at the office.

    Michael Williams on February 28, 2012 12:41 PM:

    Does anyone remember my comment ways of old?

    Chris Bedford on February 28, 2012 5:42 PM:

    From @Gary on on Feb 25th, 2012: If you ever want to know what a paid PR shill sounds like, check out Chris Bedford’s post above. I like how he correctly capitalized AETHER STREAM.

    Actually Gary, I’m a technical writer for a software company. I have no professional connection with Aether. Sorry you feel the need to criticize my correct representation of the AETHER STREAM name, but then I suspect that speaks volumes about who you are.

    Jacob on February 29, 2012 11:56 AM:

    I checked out the shop last weekend. The collection is boring and expensive. Only neat item IMO is the bathing suit with piping.

    Rob Winterer on March 2, 2012 7:36 PM:

    This is what I don’t like about using old mechanic tools and other blue-collar related items to sell very expensive clothes that look “outdoorsy” or “rugged”: It conflicts with my sensibility, because the people that used those tools would never buy these clothes. They bought practical, well-built clothes that lasted and endured the hard use put to them. And over time, that functionality and durability allowed those clothes and design elements to set a certain aesthetic. But that aesthetic is backed by authenticity. A pair of Levis, a Pendleton shirt. Just give me something well-built and designed well. Isn’t that possible for less than $500?

    That being said, hey…if you can get people to pay $500 for a jacket, and it’s made in Canada…all the more power to you. Personally, I’ll check back in 10 years from now, and buy one at a vintage shop.

    David Himel on March 2, 2012 9:18 PM:

    whats wrong with Canada….oh and btw you guys dont realise how retailing works…let me inform you…you cannot sell items to a retailer for less then 2 x markup….i.e. it cost 100 to make…I make 50 dollars profit…150 and the store needs at least oh lets say 450 that way if they have to put it on sale for at least 50 percent off they can recover money. Now lets look at China…i make the same jacket for 4 to 5 dollars. I mark it up to 100 dollars making 94 dollars profit. The retailer then marks up to 500 and can put it onsale down to 125. So as a maker …how do you expect anything to be made in the u.s.a. or canada and sell for under 500 as a jacket. Oh and dont forget that here you pay fair wages, health, environmental disposal, saftey, insurance, full fare on fabrics and all sub produced goods, etc.. etc.. etc… It astounds me how vitriolic you people are to domestically produced garments. Accept it is a fact of life that if you want organic free range chickens you can not pay 33 cents a pound….hey thats freakin life, and Canada just happens to have good factories running really nicely made clothing production b.t.w.

    Emma Howard on March 2, 2012 10:06 PM:

    Jonah Smith and Palmer West have produced films:
    Right at your Door
    The dog problem
    A Scanner Darkly
    The Clearing
    The United States of Leland
    Waking Life
    Requiem for a Dream

    I admire their work whether in the film or clothing industry– seeing the Airstream environment as a sort of extension of their independent films.

    Nicely done, gentlemen!

    cory on March 3, 2012 5:16 AM:

    David you have NO CLUE what you’re talking about. Throwing around numbers like that..

    David Himel on March 3, 2012 6:17 AM:

    yeah your right Mike can you delete my comments from this chain Im going back to my cave

    S-Flavor on March 15, 2012 5:46 PM:

    Nutty thread of comments. Good blog. Not sure what most of the people on here are talking about. I already own multiple items from Aether and it’s basically become my number one go to spot for everything clothing outdoors – non suit related. The fit is usually perfect, the materials are of a very high quality and regarding the production (all of my items are stamped made in North America – Canada), I don’t see what the issue is. Pricing is fine. Arcyterex is just as much, if not more, and their stuff has a funny fit. Same for James Perse, which really fits very poorly if you’re an athletic guy that’s 5’10. They have size small = super small and then medium = very large and fits someone that’s 6’6. Never understood what’s up with that. Stone Island, while awesome stuff, is twice as expensive as these items and not always conservative. Maramot, Patagonia, sure all passable stuff, but maybe it’s just me, I feel like a yuppie dick wearing that stuff, plus that’s all made in China proper. What else is there out there? Aether stuff is pretty masculine, which in this day and age, is very much welcome. Who cares about the items used in their van. It’s just there for contrast for the items. It works for me as everything feels more organic.

    Plus the gentlemen that run the shop got to see a 30 year old Jennifer Connelly, nude, full frontal, 70’s style. Not sure what’s cooler than that..

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