Darren San's Sushi | DrX Celebrates Sushi and Japanese Beer

by Christopher Andrew Armstrong

Darren Romanelli and his brand Dr. Romanelli, or more widely known as Dr. X, have been an absolute institution in the intertwining worlds of fashion, art, and music. From their collaboration with Coca Cola to his work rebranding such classic animated characters like Mickey Mouse, Popeye, and Felix the Cat, DrX has made its mark on the industry while collecting fans such as Usher, Kendrick Lamar, Black Sabbath, and Chris Brown along the way. 

On September 27th, Darren Romanelli celebrates Darren San’s Sushi, a DTLA blowout at the city’s famed Art & Fish restaurant. While moonlighting as a premier fish distributor for trending establishments like Sugarfish and Nobu, for one night only the venue will transform into an authentic Japanese street market with fresh, handmade sushi, street-style influenced traditional Japanese dishes prepared by local vendors, sake tastings by the renowned Soto Sake, and a host of Japanese beers by brands which have never distributed in America such as Karuizawa, COEDO, Waku Waku, Baeren, and Kiuchi. 

Flaunt chatted with the brains behind the brand, Darren Romanelli, in a career spanning introspective interview about his fascination with Japanese culture, the movement he started with Pancake Epidemic, and who he thought was the coolest celebrity shout-out his brand has received. 

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

On September 27th, you’re launching Darren San’s Sushi at the DTLA restaurant Art & Fish, the top fish distributor in the city. What made you choose this venue for the event?

The giant walk-in freezer at Art & Fish was my initial inspiration for Darren San’s Sushi. When I walked in it immediately conjured up feelings of the infamous Tsukiji Market. I felt that the location was both unique to downtown Los Angeles and authentic to Tokyo.

What is it about the Japanese culture which inspires and motivates you?

I've been experiencing Japanese culture firsthand since the mid 90s. Since my frist trip, I've been strongly influenced by the meticulous approach to everything, especially towards fashion. The way that Japanese designers approach their collections has provided me with instrumental lessons in care and consideration. Additionally, Japanese culture has always done a wonderful job of preserving Americana. American heritage and history has always played a big role for me in my work and seeing it from the Japanese perspective has helped me see different possibilities which I've been able to apply to my work.

Has having a brand stationed in Tokyo inspired the way you design clothes?

I’ve always used Tokyo as a testing ground for projects and ideas in fashion over the last 20 years. It has shaped who I am today as a designer. I've always felt that Tokyo forces you to do your best work because it's an incredibly competitive landscape due to the lack of space and the high standards at the consumer level. So in that sense, Tokyo has definitely inspired the way I design clothes. To be honest, Tokyo has inspired how I live every aspect of my life in general.

Besides the great food and alcohol, what else can we expect at Darren San’s Sushi event?

These events are always about discovery and connectivity. My goal is to bring together people from all walks of life and create moments where a diverse community gets together and exchanges ideas and information. For this event in particular, I'm excited to expose my friends to an amazing selection of Japanese craft beers that will be making an appearance in the US for the frist time. I have a strong interest in bringing authentic Japanese culture and craft to Los Angeles through Darren San’s Sushi at same level of electricity and energy mirroring Tokyo's Cat Street.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

At this point in your career, you’re probably used to celebrity shout-outs. Your work has been championed by Kendrick Lamar, Usher, and Black Sabbath. And you’ve collaborated with major companies such as Nike and Coca Cola. Who was the first celebrity endorsement which made you really feel as if your brand had arrived?

I understand the influence that celebrities have and how they're perceived as tastemakers in general. While I appreciate the support from these artists, they've never been my focus when it comes to what I do. From my perspective, I do things that satisfy me creatively and look to a very tight knit group of friends who give me honest feedback. If I can get past those two hurdles then I know that what I'm doing will reverberate with a broader audience because nobody will be more critical of me than myself and my close friends. So to answer your question, I felt like my brand had arrived the minute that my close friends wanted to wear it.

You’ve worked with some of the country’s biggest brands on the market. Converse, Coca Cola, Nike, Disney. It seems like these partnerships keep popping up because you rise to the occasion for each one, creating something unique yet entirely on-brand while still retaining your signature style. What is it about these collaborations which spark such a creative drive within you?

A lot of work we do at our agency is based on our collective passion for the brands themselves. The deeper the brand’s archives and history, the more inspiration we are able to tap into. I’ve always had a fascination with taking something old and making it new, and we’ve been able to keep a consistent practice as an agency of updating these classic brands. It's easy to do what we do when we're such fans to begin with. Our creative team doesn't sit around a conference table trying to brainstorm witty ideas for a corporate brand we have no connection to. We're connected to the brands we work with on a visceral level and the ideas come naturally based off of a lifetime of experiences.

For me especially, there’s a deep childhood connection with the majority of these brands. They’ve infiltrated my perspective via great media campaigns as well as product. I take all these things into consideration when considering working with a brand. I also really never grew up. I’m still a kid at heart and I’ve maintained a relationship with these brands’ iconography in some form or another. Tapping into that affinity for their heritage creates the perfect recipe for success.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

It seems as if music plays an integral part in your creative direction. You’ve directed music videos for Wilco, G.O.O.D music signee Ryan McDermott, and “Sing About Me,” from Kendrick Lamar’s classic album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. To my knowledge, it’s been years since the last music video you directed. Would you ever dive back into this particular artistic medium? If so, what artists would you like to work with?

If the right opportunity or the right artist came along, I would love to. However, it’s not at the top of my list of to-do’s at the moment. That said, I would love to work on a video for King Gizzard!

Let's talk about Pancake Epidemic. Located on the Miracle Mile this project brings together artists and brands. Why do you think it's important to act as the intermediary for establishing this type of community?

I’ve always been community-oriented. I’m happiest and most inspired when I’m amongst my friends and like-minded creatives, connecting and building. I truly believe that we are all at our best when we can communicate and engage with each other. That's why I create these environments for connectivity and a shared experience where we can all learn and grow from and with each other.

This is all reflected daily at our agency, Epidemic. We take a cohesive and communal approach to design and creative process. This approach is integral to our success. It’s a big reason why a lot of brands and artists put their trust in us. Similar to the Pancake Epidemic think tank get-togethers that I would host every Friday morning, we thrive on the idea of people getting together, bridging organic conversations, and creating new ideas and connections.

I love the clothes you make under the Dr. Romanelli brand. Words that come to mind when attempting to describe the style: abstract, patchwork, deconstruction. Where do you find inspiration when designing clothes for the Dr. Romanelli brand?
I spent years painstakingly carving a path for upcycling. The idea of creating a brand based off this was unheard of at the time I started DRx. Patchwork was pretty standard at the time but I was careful to create my own unique approach and language. At that time before Instagram and smart phones, I would use a Polaroid camera to take photos of the pieces before I deconstructed them, and that polaroid would act as a hangtag for the finished product. I wanted the ability to show consumer the narrative of old meets new. That storytelling is at the heart of what inspires me to create.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

As mentioned earlier, you’re celebrating the brand’s 20th anniversary next year, a monumental feat for a business. What advice would you give to any upcoming fashion designers/entrepreneurs looking to build their own brand?
I once received advice from someone I looked up to in Tokyo early in my career: “You’re not a brand until you’re 10 years old, and you don’t have legacy until you’re 20.” So, I think it’s a matter of building a road map and following your plan one collection at a time. Always be authentic to who you are as a creative and/or designer. Consistency and patience is key.