Dave Ortiz Talks BMX, Branding, and the Artistic Process

by Russell Howe, Fashion Publishing

photo 4 (2)

Dave at Dave’s Wear House

World-renowned BMX star and former Zoo York designer Dave Ortiz has no definitive profession. Artist, athlete, designer, and business owner are just a few of the titles that make Dave one of the coolest New Yorkers in town. Having just wrapped up a twenty-year art retrospective at the prestigious ArtNowNY gallery in Chelsea, Dave continues to focus on collaborative branding projects and growing his business downtown at Dave’s Wear House. Hailing from East New York, Brooklyn, Dave conceived the famous Dave’s Quality Meats (DQM) that became the original model for the concept stores that are popular today.  Dave invited me into his store after wrapping up a shoe release with Nike and BMX athlete Nigel Sylvester for some insights on his background and his artistic process.

Russell: You mentioned you had a background in the 1980s Meatpacking District Club scene. Can you talk about your experience and what that means to you now?

Dave: All of those experiences really shaped who I am today. Going to the clubs, back in the late 80’s, was a really mixed, eclectic group of people.  There were straight, gay, and trans people all over the Meatpacking District. There were bankers, artists, high fashion models, bike messenger guys, and skateboarders. We all hung out amongst one another, and you knew people by going to those clubs all the time. I would go to these nightclubs called Mars, 10Eighteens, Manhole, The Tunnel, and at all of these places you would meet people and hang out. Now, I am used to having a conversation with someone who is a banker or a lawyer, because I did it as a kid and I hung out with them. When you’re in this kind of gumbo soup, everybody is with everybody, so it makes life a lot easier to meet people and understand the way they work or what makes them tick. That is all super helpful for what I do today because these people are my customers now.

R: What do you think about the Meatpacking District now?

D: It has changed—it’s really glossy and superficial. It’s really a lot of people spending a lot of money, and throwing money around and flossing, but they’re not really getting anything out of it. Before in the Meatpacking District, you had this vibe that was centered around dancing and getting to know people. Nowadays when you go to these clubs you see people standing in booths, texting and being like, “We have the most bottle service,” and it has become this gluttony of excess. There’s really nobody having a good time. Before, they would let in a lot of interesting people. Now, it’s all about labels and what you’re wearing, and that’s lame. It’s just a little bit out of my league.  It has really become a pissing culture of excess.

Skateboards for sale at Dave's Wear House

Skateboards for sale at Dave’s Wear House

R: As an artist, designer, and business owner, where does your research usually begin when you begin a new collaborative project?

D: I start by talking a project over with my friends, and we kick the idea back and forth. We say a bunch of dumb things and then we say, ‘Oh that’s nonsense, maybe we should tone it back or go in another direction.’ After that, we look at what we are trying to sell and who the end user will be. We work our way back and then we start thinking about the history of the thing we’re trying to sell or make. We always want to see if we can incorporate something from the past and make it new. I like to also start piling images into an online folder and then go back and look at them. In process painting, I have one idea and I paint, and then I turn the canvas around and the idea continues to grow and I paint more. I use this same method with projects, building off of a small idea until it is complete. 

R: Biking and skating are obviously huge outlets for you. What about those activities help to fulfill you?

D: I mostly like to ride my bike. You get to go in your own head and get a lot further. With a bicycle you can cover more ground and really go places. Biking is easy, anybody can do it, and you can go more places more quickly. I always say if you can see it, it can’t possibly be that far.

R: Are you familiar with Bill Cunningham, the street style photographer who travels everywhere on his bike?

D: Yeah! It’s funny you say that because a friend of mine told me to make a Bill Cunningham bike because he buys these cheap bikes and puts a basket on them, and he locks them up but they always get stolen. And then he buys another one, and another one, and my friend told me to sponsor Bill Cunningham. I could make the bike blue and sell the jacket he wears and maybe even a camera with it in a project with Lomography or Polaroid and do a whole Bill Cunningham inspired collection! 

R: From your store to the outfits you choose every day, how would you define your style?

D: There’s no defintion to my style, I pretty much wear anything. Now I’m wearing Jeremy Scott snowboarding pants and a Keith Haring sweatshirt. I just try to put on whatever is comfortable, and I always wear the wackiest things. My style makes me happy and my girlfriend and I are a little offbeat and I don’t really care what everybody else thinks. I just want to feel comfortable and wear crazy socks all the time, and that’s just how I am. I’ve always been the oddball kind of dude who never really fit into the mold. I was always a mess, and that works for me.

R: You’ve created a few quality brands. How do you start to think about each brand identity?

D: It all evolves. It’s almost like raising a child, and you’re growing it and instilling your values into it and then you have to let it stand on its own. When you sell it, you have to realize it has to become its own identity, its own person. You see the brand on its own and you always say, ‘I did that. I can’t believe its still going.’ But that is what is cool and it’s definitely like seeing your child grow up. In the beginning you think of it on a smaller, more personal scale, and then it spreads to more people and grows from there.  

R:You just released a new line of shoes at Dave’s Wear House; can you talk a little bit about that?

D: It went well. We opened at noon; BMX athlete Nigel Sylvester designed the line for Nike. It’s called SOMP: Standing On My Pedals. Nigel was a kid from Queens who picked up a BMX bike and became incredibly talented at his craft. Nike, Gatorade, and G-Shock sponsor him now. I think it felt special for him to open his line at my store because I am a part of the history of BMX. Most stores, when they get shoes in that are limited edition, and I think there are only 500 pairs of these shoes worldwide, raise the price. I kept it fair, at suggested retail price and I let everybody get a pair, and if they wanted a second pair I let them get back on line and buy a second pair. Everybody was really stoked about that, and the kids were happy. I have a good day when everyone has a good shopping experience and people treat you right.

R: Speaking of BMX, do you remember the first time you rode a bike?

D: Yeah, I remember. There was a girl on my block that I used to like named Rosemary who taught me how to ride a bike. She had a brown and white Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat and monkey bars. Another kid up the street had a cooler Stingray, and we used to get a tire and a piece of wood and jump the bike like Evel Knievel. Later on when I was 12, I got my first BMX bike and took off from there in 1982.

R: You just finished an art show at the prestigious ArtNowNY–how did that come about?

D: They saw my paintings on Instagram, and the owners of the gallery came over and saw my stuff and asked me to do a show. I have a studio on St. Marks, it’s really tiny but I just sit in there and paint. I go every morning and work for three hours or so. They sell art, and I have art, so it worked out.

R: What would be your biggest advice for a young designer?

D: Keep working. The more work you have, the bigger the body of work that you can show and develop into a style that is instantly recognizable. When you look at a Picasso piece, you automatically know who did it. When you have a large body of work, you can pick and pull little chapters of this huge novel that you are developing into a whole story. The key is to keep working and figure out your craft and get better and better at it. By that time, if you are really serious about your work and you do it religiously, people will take notice.