By James Maher
Name: Cara Bloch (left), Carmen Ruiz-Davila and Luella
Occupation: Owners, Love Gang
Location: East Ninth Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A
Time: Thursday, Dec. 8 at noon
Carmen: I was born in Barcelona. I was an artist, a sculptor, and 11 years ago I came to New York. I moved to the East Village in 2011 and now I live in Greenpoint. I used to live in the Bronx in the 1980s. In an article [about the store] The Village Voice wrote, ‘Carmen from the Bronx.’ I was like alright, I guess that gives me street cred. Don’t tell them that I went to school in Ohio.
When I opened up the store, I had this crazy idea that I was going to make sculptures, have a store, and have a child, and that didn’t work out. I opened up a store here in 2012, and it was called Deverado, a designer vintage clothing store. It was open for about 3-and-a-half years, and then I had a baby and took a year off. Then I proposed to Cara to have a store here that was a little bit of vintage but more independent designers. She was like, "Yeah, cool. Let’s do it." And we came up with Love Gang. That was in 2015.
Cara: I’m from Miami. I got into art school at the International Center for Photography (ICP). Since I was a child, I was always a music nerd, and after ICP one of my first assistant jobs was with a music video director, Matt Mahurin, and that just escalated everything into rock photography. At the time, going to art school was very competitive, and I’m sitting there like Mrs. Friendly. I needed to make friends outside of ICP, and I became very good friends with a girl named Abby who sang in bands, and we would just go and hang out in Three of Cups, downstairs. I was a big 1980s cheesy rock fan. I love Slayer and Anthrax. I loved all that stuff.
As these bands I photographed were getting bigger, they would start opening for bands like Circle Jerks and Iggy Pop, so they would give me photo passes. One of my first rock jobs was with Punk Planet, and that propelled me to begin a body of rock work, and then I started to drop my book off at various magazines. I was just getting rejected all over the place.
I did my second documentary, photographing rock fans at concerts in front of cars. Then I started to do sports fans, and I submitted that to American Photography — that was my first 2004 American Photography award. I showed this body of work along with my music work, and I got a message that I was going to Boston. My first job was Bright Eyes, and I was like “Oh my god.” I was on a plane for the next 10 years. I did portraiture and live photography. My boss always said to me, once you get in one magazine it’s a snowball effect. Then Spin contacted me; then record labels contacted me. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was 24 or 25, and I wanted to take every job and go everywhere and do everything. I also started to work non-profit for Rock the Vote, and that was a great experience.
Then at 30 years old I got sick. I was sick for five years with something called vestibular migraines. There were a lot of misdiagnoses. Doctors would tell me I was depressed. I said, "How can I be depressed? This is my dream come true." I had this ignorant idea that you’d go to the doctor and you’d be fine. And it just took one doctor, who took a blood test. I was severely deficient in vitamin D. It sounds like a very glamorous job, but when you fly to LA, it’s a red-nighter, you’re exhausted, you’re put in a van pumping yourself with Coca-Cola, and then you’re dealing with an entitled celebrity who doesn’t want you around, and you have to be on. Then you have to turn your deadlines in. I think it just had a big effect, and I was no angel either. I think it just took its toll on my immune system. When you get sick, life changes.
At that time, I met Carmen. I thought, "This girl’s so cool." She was so stylish and friendly, and she collected vintage. I always had a passion for that but nowhere near her knowledge.
Carmen: I’m a vintage nerd. I like the history of it. I like the concept of it.
Cara: I was fascinated. I didn’t know the history and I didn’t know the designers, and she invited me to her house. I said, “I’m going to be friends with this girl.” Sometimes I would work in her designer vintage store. And at the time, I started to work again, but with the iPod coming out, with the music industry, everything changed. I wasn’t making the same money anymore. I also thought it would be really nice to not travel and stay in one place.
Carmen: We had to come up with a concept that we were both amenable to. I had some ideas. I wanted the store to be more about the East Village, whereas the other store was a destination. It was high-end vintage and it was very niche. I sold to a lot of designers and stylists. This store was about creating a fun environment with a lower price point We have pop-ups with local designers as well. We’re the first store that some designers show in.
Cara: We love the history. We have reoccurring customers and it’s great. They hang out and have cocktails and they come to our pop-ups. That’s lovely. What I loved about Carmen’s concept was that it was all about emerging and independent designers — things that are special and unique, that you can’t find – the anti-Zara. We also came out with our own line. Carmen designed a whole beautiful clothing line. To open this store, to come out with our own line, and now she’s working on these amazing candles… She’s turning into a chemist.
Luella is like our therapy dog. We’re all working late and hard and long hours, and she’s great to have around. She’s a good salesperson.
Carmen: On Dec. 16 we’re doing a silent auction for Planned Parenthood [details here], and they’re going to come and speak. We have about 40 donations — almost everyone from the neighborhood and some artists. We just want to raise as much money as we can, and 100 percent of the profits go toward the New York chapter. I was never an activist. I went to my first protest not that long ago, so I think one good thing about all this happening is that it’s really turning non-protestors into protestors and activists.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.