We sat down with Carl Louisville, a man whose storied career in fashion and retail led him to found his concept store Guerrilla Atelier. Located in the booming downtown neighborhood of Los Angeles, Guerrilla Atelier offers a thoroughly unique experience – engagement with carefully-selected luxury brands, the stories behind them communicated through a warm, informed staff – in a beautifully inviting warehouse space; here, Louisville explains the philosophy behind the products, and modernizing the Parisian atelier style of the 1920s.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how the Atelier got its start?
I had just bought my first home in downtown Los Angeles, and I was so excited about what I saw coming. It felt like a new frontier, and the energy, well, you could cut it with a knife. It was the most alive place that I had experienced in years, and my building had housed everyone from major celebrities and entrepreneurs to professionals. It was very clear that all those people had made a “choice” to live downtown. I immediately thought, ‘I’m sure that all these folk don’t want to drive to Beverly Hills or the Westside every time that they need a shirt or a candle, a book or a gift,’ These were people who would appreciate a luxury environment that was particular in the same way that their choice to live downtown was particular. For me, it wasn’t just about being downtown, it was about understanding the people who were starting to fill up these residences.
Why ‘guerilla atelier’?
I always had the ambition to create my own retail environment. We initially only took the space for 30 days because the building that we were in was supposed to start construction within 30 days. The construction didn’t start as planned, so the developer offered us to stay until the construction started, as I had already committed to a space once the project was completed. Well, the construction didn’t start for another year and a half. At that point, we were selling high end luxury product basically a couple blocks over from Skid Row, had also gotten a lot of press and had been very well received for the most part by the community. There wasn’t a store like us anywhere near and frankly, nearly four years later, there still isn’t. So, to me, it was a win win for everyone involved.
Guerilla was a reference to how I started. Basically out of my own pocket; I sold my house, and nearly everything in it, and the business model was “what I can, when I can, with what I have”. I only did what I could at the time, and that has led to ‘Guerrilla relationships’ all around the world, with like-minded people who appreciate luxury offerings.
Atelier was a reference to how people shopped in Paris in the 1920s. Back then, there were no ‘stores’: you went to an atelier to learn about an artist, designer or a creative. Generally, someone who was already part of that atelier invited you to visit, and I love that old world storytelling environment. Most of the brands we stocked at the beginning were unique to our space, so storytelling was essential in assisting our clients, ensuring that they understood the brands, and establishing ourselves as a retail space with unique brands and a unique luxury experience. We are not a ‘fashion’ store, we are a lifestyle retail gallery.
People now come from all over the world because they’ve heard about us, without us having done any formal social media, PR, or marketing. That said, I am starting to think about how to use those tools for the people who have visited us and want to continue learning about our environment, and our new offerings and collaborations.
You have a broad assortment of brands and products in store. What brings everything together? How do you choose what makes it in onto the floor?
My intention was to create a real environment, where beauty is the continuum across all our offerings. We are collectively about craft, fabric, fits, and execution. What ties everything together is that, for me, what we carry are the best offerings in each category. In many cases, I use the products and brands personally, and therefore have a personal relationship to them and their representatives. I no longer choose; like-minded people, artists, designers and creators, are finding their way to Guerrilla Atelier because we’re very clear about who we are. We provide a stage for our collaborators, a space where love and beauty exist completely uncompromised.
What’s the connection between Atelier and Immunocologie?
Well, I met Immunocologie’s Ryan Knowles last summer through a mutual friend and client of the Atelier. At the time, my skin was a disaster, literally. I was maybe four different colors in the face, pink and peeling all over, with crazy sun damage, probably mixed with a healthy dose of stress. We had a great conversation, and Ryan left some samples with me. I was at my wits’ end with the fortune I had been spending on skin care over the years. I immediately sprayed the Vital Ionic Mist on my face and felt immediately refreshed. I then applied the Face Serum and that felt great, too. The next morning, I washed my face with the cleanser in the shower, and it was the first face cleanser that did not irritate my already-raw face. Essentially, I felt the effects of the products immediately, and within days I had friends and clients beginning to comment on my skin. I became addicted. While I never really imagined selling skin care products, to say I was sold on the brand would be an understatement. Immunocologie is the truth in skincare, and I am a living witness to its effectiveness. We are now connected forever, and my skin could not be happier.
What does the future hold for you and Guerilla Atelier?
The immediate future is for Guerrilla Atelier to settle into our new permanent home in the Arts District after a five-year journey here. We are not necessarily interested in adding more brands as much as we are interested in expanding the relationships with the brands that we have in our space now, and have housed since the beginning.
Longer term – which, for us, could mean six months — we would like to expand the Atelier experience around the country, and the world, but only in a way that allows us to stay committed to our original intention of creating a new kind of luxury gallery experience. We are settling into our new space with our eye keenly focused on the future… but we’re taking our time, and enjoying the journey.
What is the most important piece of advice that you would give our readers?
Stay in your lane. Understand who you are and the experience that you want to create for people, and do not move from your mark. Everyone who enters our world is a ‘celebrity,’ so everyone gets the red carpet treatment. Everyone matters, so treat them as such.