A slew of creative San Franciscans banded together to launch Voyager .

    Story — Jason Black
    Images — Brandon Joseph Baker

    At the moment, I’m killing time on the corner of 15th and Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission District, waiting for the neighborhood to wake up. Walking down the street towards my destination, it’s clear that this stretch of pavement has seen a transformation over the last few years. It used to be tough. Real tough. Derelict tough. Now, the neighborhood has been reclaimed by the über-hipster set that’s made the rest of the Mission their borough of choice.

    A teeming assortment of students, bloggers, slackers, bike messengers and perpetually out-of-work trust-fund kids are doing their best to rise and shine, milling about the local coffee joint that anchors the neighborhood. There’s a fresh bouquet of fixed-gear bikes arranged curbside in azure blue, neon green and tangerine orange. Inside, a motley crew of local barista-musicians with perfectly mussed-up hair man the counter as espresso machines hiss and hum along to a mint-condition vinyl copy of AC/DC’s 1979 classic “Highway to Hell” blaring over the vintage hi-fi stereo.

  • Walking next door, fresh cup of hazel-colored heaven in hand, into the stark, cavernous Voyager store, I can’t help but be reminded of a heavily curated American Rag or Fred Segal. Voyager is complete with stuffed busts of elk and wild boar, mounted deer antlers, antique signage, a few dog-eared maps and books, greenery, and rustic wooden crates strewn about for extra storage. The limited-run, limited-production brands they carry reflect this just-so collective vibe, including Japanese-based Workers reconstructed workwear, Yuketen’s modern take on classic American leather footwear, Massachusetts-based Penfield’s vintage outdoor wear and plenty of Free People for the ladies.

    Opened on June 25, this retail collaboration is split into three main spaces: Voyager’s men’s and women’s sportswear and workwear collections in the front; Mollusk, a local core ’70s-inspired surf line tucked into a Jacques Cousteau-like deep-sea submarine cubbyhole in the back right corner; and the sparse Michael Rosenthal Gallery to the far right. For a small, underutilized book section of the main store, complete with vintage library card catalogs and file drawers, there are plans underway to bring in Spartan, a handmade home goods brand hailing from Austin, Texas.

    As a collective concept, Voyager is working wonders for all involved, including its discerning Mission clientele. Its owners, Revolver’s Robert Patterson, Mollusk’s John McCambridge and Johanna St. Clair, and Michael Rosenthal all have separate businesses elsewhere in town. But they went in on this location together so they can share the financial burden of running a retail space in pricey, dicey San Francisco while enjoying all the benefits of a fun, collective spirit. Although shrouded in a deep, daily layer of coastal fog, the future looks bright for this cool store in the heart of the City. Western Civ checked in with them about the launch of the new store, the evolution of their brands, and what the future holds for them and Voyager.

  • Robert Patterson / Revolver
    Today, one thing in retail is crystal clear. The Japanese are eager to buy the laid-back, sun-kissed California lifestyle. Take Ron Herman, the LA-based brand that’s successfully opened retail outposts in Sendagaya, Futakotamagawa and Kobe, Japan. By the same token, Californians’ lust for premium Japanese-made goods like selvedge jeans, leather shoes and luxury goods is well documented. It’s no real surprise. The same cultural synergy has been happening for decades between New York and London, hence NYLON.

    Robert Patterson, the owner of San Francisco-based premium and emerging brand retail purveyor Revolver is just the guy to give both sides of the Pacific Rim exactly what they want, via Voyager. Having grown up in Japan, he’s logged some serious hours in small Japanese stores, appreciates the Asian retail experience, and wants to bring it to the City.

    However, at the moment, he’s a tough guy to track down.

    If running two flourishing retail stores weren’t enough, he’s also in the midst of opening up Ken Ken Ramen, a homemade premium Japanese ramen house right here in the Mission. Originally a pop-up restaurant, the noodle shop is now getting its own digs thanks to overwhelming local support. Fortuitously enough, Patterson met Taka, the restaurant’s head chef, at Revolver, where they bonded over Yuketen, a popular line of American-inspired leather footwear.

    Catching up with him later over email, he agrees that there is a strong and lasting bond between the two countries that’s bore some intriguing fruit. “I think there is a long history between both cultures due to World War II and the positive relations that emerged over the last 60 years,” he says. “There is something special to both cultures and now many hybrid styles are emerging.”

  • With a hawk-eye on emerging trends, he’s successfully brought that cross-pollination of East-meets-West style, and his love for them, to Voyager’s shelves: “We wanted to create a mini-department store that delivers a variety of offerings to our customers. Our selection of homewares, ocean wear, clothing and art is a great combination.”

    As you’d expect, many of the brands they stock are exclusively found at Voyager in the United States or California. A few of Patterson’s favorite labels include Volta Footwear from Italy, Workers from Japan, Hixsept from France, and Denham from Holland.

    Even in today’s tough economic times, Patterson jumped at the chance to work with Mollusk Surf Shop and the Rosenthal Art Gallery, two local brands he admires. Partnering offers everyone the opportunity to lower their operating costs and allows him to focus his energy on what matters most: creating a unique, quality shopping experience.

    So far, the response from the neighborhood has been resounding and positive. “We’ve been very happy to be a new member of the Valencia Street Corridor. It’s great to see old customers from our other shops and new customers as well. We’ve tried to create a new fun retail experience and think it’s resonating with people looking for something local, fun and different.”

  • John McCambridge / Mollusk
    Established in 2005 as a creative outlet for the multitude of craftspeople within Northern Californian surf culture including surfboard shapers, artists, filmmakers and local artisans, Mollusk Surf Shop has grown by leaps and bounds from its original San Francisco location in the Outer Sunset near Ocean Beach. Mollusk has added digs in Venice Beach and Brooklyn, and most recently, has joined forces with Voyager’s other owners to add their own deep-sea point of view to the Mission-district scene.

    As the story goes, Revolver’s Robert Patterson approached Mollusk’s main man John McCambridge about going in on a space alongside art purveyor Michael Rosenthal. He was in, and admittedly optimistic: “I like the way some of the cool little mini malls in Tokyo are laid out. I thought we could do something cool like that here.”

    So, immediately, he turned to trusted Mollusk builder and collaborator Jay Nelson to brainstorm some ideas for the blank space. Together, they came up with something workable on the spot. “We pretty much had the idea cooked up in ten minutes. It’s somewhere in-between a Columbian drug sub and The Life Aquatic [with Steve Zissou].”

    Walking around the shadowy, Wes Anderson-inspired space, you get those watery Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea vibes loud and clear while perusing their high-quality, handmade, soft goods including T-shirts, surf trunks, hoodies, sweatshirts and hats as well as the obligatory surfboards and skateboards. Interestingly enough, McCambridge and girlfriend Johanna St. Clair handle most of the assemblage of their line themselves, including screen-printing, cutting and sewing, and labeling. It’s time consuming, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “We do hand-make a lot of the stuff we sell. It’s somewhat out of necessity, not knowing how else to go about it.”

  • Established in 2005 as a creative outlet for the multitude of craftspeople within Northern Californian surf culture including surfboard shapers, artists, filmmakers and local artisans, Mollusk Surf Shop has grown by leaps and bounds from its original San Francisco location in the Outer Sunset near Ocean Beach. Mollusk has added digs in Venice Beach and Brooklyn, and most recently, has joined forces with Voyager’s other owners to add their own deep-sea point of view to the Mission-district scene.

    Looking toward the future, McCambridge plans on continuing to ride the Mollusk swell while keeping it decidedly simple. Hopefully, along the way, he can get in a few more surf trips: “more boards, more bros and more fun.”

  • Michael Rosenthal / Michael Rosenthal Gallery
    In sharp contrast to the rest of the Voyager space, the Michael Rosenthal Gallery is stark and bare, delineated by white-washed walls, wooden-section build-outs and lead-colored cement flooring – the perfect blank canvas for all the beautiful artwork that fills it at the moment.

    Chatting with owner Michael Rosenthal about his involvement in the Voyager collective, he simply says, “When you collaborate, good things happen.”

    And he brings that same simple ethos to help out and develop new artists he discovers. So how does he know when he’s found something new and exciting?

    “I know it when I see it,” he says, casually. “The artist must be committed to their work. And then, we sit down and develop a plan of action.”

    One of the chosen emerging middle-class artists he’s currently working with is LA-based Megan Whitmarsh. In her colorful, playful, hand-stitched embroidery pieces of “organized bedlam,” she’s fond of commenting on ’80s pop culture with a nostalgic menagerie of references. Roaming about her woven landscapes are Star Wars-inspired figures with laser rings and light sabers, Kermit the Frog, neon feathers, 45 vinyl records, and tons of Sasquatch and Yetis. Designer Todd Oldham is a fan.

    “There’s no difference between Megan and her work,” comments Rosenthal. “She likes to make things that make people happy.”

  • Megan Whitmarsh@Michael Rosenthal Gallery

  • And it does. In addition to Whitmarsh, Rosenthal is also collaborating with a few other select American artists including Cleveland, Ohio native Amy Casey and Brooklyn-based Justin Amrhein, who designs insanely detailed schematics for fictional apparatus and mechanical parts. Recently, he had a one-man show entitled “Imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

    Since he’s a shrewd businessman, Rosenthal wants his customers, everyone from first-time buyers to lifelong art collectors to feel good about purchasing a piece from him. So he gives them a simple and straightforward guarantee: “People get excited when they buy art. They feel like they’re getting special and substantial. But, if it doesn’t work out for some reason, I’ll always buy it back for the same price they paid for it.”

    Looking off, he adds: “I love the work. It’s all very satisfying for me.”