This week, Style Fetish features Steve Mendias, longtime Durango man-about-town, musician, drummer and motorcycle enthusiast. I’ve been a fan of Steve’s style since way back, when he was the drummer for Lawn Chair Kings. He currently fronts the elusive band Papa Otis & the Primitives, playing greasy, gritty garage-rock. Steve’s response when I asked about his style was “I’m just a dude.” We dug deeper to learn more.
Steve told me he grew up in Texas, riding Sears mini-bikes as a little kid and jumping them on the BMX bike track. An early sighting of his first biker gang formed a lasting impression and made him want to get into motorcycles. “Six or seven 1970s hippie chopper dudes roaring by a scared kid on a tiny motorcycle by the side of the road. My jaw dropped, and I thought: Holy. Shit.”
Two films that have influenced Steve’s biker style are 1969’s “Easy Rider” and 1953’s “The Wild One,” both classic motorcycle films. He appreciates both Peter Fonda’s all-black leathers and Dennis Hopper’s hippie cowboy vibe in “Easy Rider.” Lee Marvin’s rival gang leader Chino was crazy, antisocial and “more interesting” to Steve as a style influence than Brando’s Johnny in “The Wild One.” The Chino character rocks a bold, black-and-white striped tee, goggles and a tight leather vest along with a military surplus leather pilots hood.
In a motorcycle jacket, Steve personally prefers the sleeker, collarless European cafe-racer style. “It has a cleaner look, and you can add a scarf easier than with the Ramones-style biker leather,” he said.
Do you have any style icons and or favorite vintage style era ?I like to draw from rockabilly culture, motorcycle history and biker culture, old-world gypsy, traditional Mexican culture, Native American Navajo and Apache tribes and Old West style. I like to wear patterns and fabrics like the stripes, pin-dots and paisleys as seen in Old West movies: silk neckties and long scarves, boots worn with slim, three-piece fitted suits with a cool collared vest that never covers up the belt buckle.
Lately I’m really into the vaquero, the Mexican cowboy. They wore this long scarf around their necks, but when it warmed up it was worn hanging down tied from the waist – a little more panache.
I fixate on the old photos up in the Durango library; even when people were poor they were well-dressed and well-accessorized. Everyone wore hats.
I also love contemporary Native Amercan designer Bethany Yellowtail.
Where do you get your clothing?I love the stuff you get at the Sideshow, used clothing shops, thrift stores and so forth. I found the coolest pair of old 1950s pointy toe Tony Lama cowboy boots that fit as if I wore them in a past life.
If I can’t find something, sometimes I’ll make it. I have a bunch of old work Levi’s and an idea to work them into augmented denim “Papa Otis brand” jeans, customized for motorcycle riding. They will have ribbed denim patches on the knees and shins, some leather, additional pockets and will be upcycled from old Levis.
Tell us about your Harley Davidson Shovelhead motorcycle you built.I love my rat bike. Found it in an old pawn shop. Harley Davidson and Indian both made bikes for WW2. When the war was over, the servicemen brought their bikes home and began customizing, racing them and starting bike clubs [Intrigued? For more about how and why motorcycle clubs were formed check out Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 book “Hell’s Angels” and the 1953 film “The Wild One.”]. My bike is in this classic style of stripping the bike of everything unnecessary. They call them “bobbers.” My friend, Mike Kunz, of Bear Mountain Motorcycle Shop in Durango, helped me get it together. I’m about ready to paint a pinup girl on the oil tank. True love.
How does the motorcycle influence your style?It’s very therapeutic to head out on the road on a bike with just bedding and a tent to sleep in the high desert. It dictates what you wear and how you wear it to keep warm. I choose a certain look and pieces that have a history and romance with the nomadic travelers like the Biker, the Gypsy and the Vaquero.
Does the music you listen to inform your style ?I love garage punk, rockabilly and Mexican folk to name a few. I just got back from a trip to Albuquerque and saw garage punk doo-wop duo, King Khan and the BBQ Show at the Sister Bar. They wear strappy S&M outfits and masks with blond wigs. WILD! Didn’t know that Sundays are cruise night downtown Central- Route 66. Lots of classics and low riders doing burnouts. Very inspiring.
Heather Narwid owns and operates Sideshow Emporium, a vintage and modern clothing store for men and women. Sideshow is located in Durango at 208 County Road 250 (west of Bread and north of Rocky Mountain Pawn at 32nd Street, in with the Vault and Core Value Fitness)and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. She has had a scar on her shin since 1986 from a fantastically awkward 6 mph moped “crash.” Questions or comments about style or clothing? Email her at [email protected]
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.