G'larri

by Christie Chisholm, LocalFlavor Magazine, November 2010

Gerald Larribas’ art, in both his fashion designs and his paintings, centers around the notion of strength. He chooses bold lines and bright, overt hues. In his paintings, stark female, usually Latina, faces are juxtaposed against seas of color or clouds of ebony mane. The clothing he designs—primarily leather cowboy boots and miniskirts—is made with these women in mind. It’s slick, tough and feminine. This is the lens through which Larribas prefers to view the world.

Larribas is a rare breed—he’s managed to never need a “day job,” instead making his living solely off his art, which also includes jewelry, interior design and music. This is due in part to talent and in part to his love of marketing, he says. Still, he hasn’t completely avoided the starving artist stereotype. “There were times when I lived in my galleries,” he says. “I’d eat a bologna sandwich one day and nothing the next.” He pauses before laughing and blurting out, “I’m serious!” as though he’s not sure the statement is believable.

It’s a moment indicative of Larribas’ nature, which is at once utterly frank yet somehow unpretentious and just a little bit silly. It’s a combination that likely stems in part from his childhood. The Albuquerque native became enthralled with drawing in elementary school, and although his teachers encouraged his natural abilities, other kids teased him. (Perhaps he wasn’t mainstream enough after spending three years of his adolescence in Casablanca, Morocco, when his father was stationed there with the Air Force.) “My teachers said not to listen,” he says quietly.

If he did listen, he doesn’t show it. He laughs often and without restraint, almost giggling, as though in constant revelry over the fact that he succeeded. Surrounded by art of his own making in his semi-private empire, no one’s teasing him now. Larribas has owned four galleries, including his most recent, The House of G’Larri, which opened in Nob Hill three months ago. The new undertaking comes on the heels of his last business, the Windchime Champagne Gallery, which closed in 2008. G’Larri signals a new direction in Larribas’ career, one that for the first time focuses more on fashion than painting.

Although Larribas remembers always being fascinated by the way people present themselves—he recalls his pivotal developmental years in Casablanca, when he’d study people on the streets and then run home and dress up in turn like guerilla soldiers, flamenco dancers and cowboys, trying on different personalities like hats—he only truly began his exploration into fashion in 2000. He started with cowboy boots, flourishing his designs with vivid Southwestern waves and swirls from of his trademark bright color palette, and later transferred the same theme to black leather miniskirts. 

All of Larribas’ clothes are handmade, designed by him and constructed by a small production company. Along with traditional leather, he uses goat- and lambskin in his creations, and the results are impossibly soft. Miniskirts start at $200 and boots, which Larribas heralds as the “sexiest ever made,” are priced around $650 but can go as high as $2,000 for custom work.

The artist’s hands are also in jewelry, designing Western-style silver necklaces, earrings, bolo ties, conchos, belt buckles and lapel pins. His older work revolves around subjects like abstract cowboy hat-topped women and horses, a theme he calls Desperado, which is a name also given to a line of paintings as well as clothing. His most recent work is more Spartan-like, forgoing identifiable imagery in favor of heavy, powerful shapes and sharp lines.

The G’Larri brand is about to get a lot bigger. Larribas now has his eye on handbags, a new line of cotton and wool clothing, and a children’s line of kiddie-sized cowboy boots and skirts. He’s also setting up a screen printing station in the store, wherein kids can draw motifs that Larribas will print on shirts, “jazzing them up,” he says, if requested. An idea that has him especially excited (he rearranges himself in his seat and quickens his pace as he introduces the topic) is a Medieval-themed family crest line of miniskirts. 

Larribas’ new venture is successful so far, he says, adding that his clothes generated a lot of attention at this year’s Fashion Market in Los Angeles, which was his first major fashion show. He sold some work as a result of it, and the high drama and flair of the fashion show scene meshed well with the nature of his designs. He plans on doing more of them, starting with a show he’s putting on in November to coincide with G’Larri’s official grand opening (the date is still to be determined).

Further plans include opening more galleries. His business partner, Meme Filomena DiNardo, is Italian, and the two are discussing starting a gallery somewhere in Italy, as well as in Nashville and Los Angeles.

He’s possibly busier than ever before, and although all the marketing and planning and general shopkeeping he’s doing take away from his studio time, Larribas’ easy laugh and nearly constant smile don’t let on that he’s anything other than thrilled.