Los Angeles, the City of Angels and demons, has a unique history, mudded in segregation based on skin color, ethnicity, and neighborhood. With the perspective changing the narrative from person to person, one thing is clear — one will rarely meet an Angeleno who doesn’t love this city.
One Angeleno proud to represent his city and his culture is Eric Bernard. Bernard was born and raised in Compton but also spent some of his childhood in Leimert Park.
Bernard’s clothing line, “Proper Tone,” represents his life. He wants to share his experiences. He does this through poetry, which he writes then prints on each shirt.
“I wanted depth in all the pieces that I created. I wanted people to see the meaning behind each design and quote and not just the label like many high-end brands do as they blast their logo on their clothes and sell them,” Bernard explained. “I wanted to be different, I want my supporters to be able to feel connected with me differently.”
Bernard described his early childhood years as a moment of maturity that came with a heightened awareness as he realized how dangerous his environment was after witnessing his mom being robbed at gunpoint for her vehicle during the L.A. riots. While most kids would be traumatized after that moment, Bernard learned to understand both sides of the spectrum relating to growing up during the riots and gang wars versus growing up during a calm time in L.A.
“Living out here and probably any inner city, there is always this sense of danger around the corner that you have to prepare for. Whether you live that lifestyle or not, guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” Bernard said when explaining why residents in L.A. move with a certain level of respectful aggression. “This has helped me grow as a person because it made me more aware of people and their experiences, and helped me connect with people who have been hurt or have experienced tragedy or a death by fire kind of life.”
Bernard also touched upon another traumatic event that changed his perspective on life. Learning about the death of his older cousin because of gang violence and having to go to school, and hearing his peers (who were school friends with the shooter) giving sympathy to the shooter and wanting him to be set free.
“That moment shook me, but it also helped shape me and made me realize I wanted better for myself, I needed to move out of my neighborhood because I couldn’t succumb to my environment, I knew there was more out there for me,” Bernard said as he understood his vision must go further than his sight and while he loved his people and culture, he wanted better.
Bernard credits his hard work and hustler mentality to his family, as they set his foundation at a young age when they showed him the results of their hard work.
“My grandfather used to work for 35 cents an hour picking vegetables and was able to purchase his house for $75,000, and now that house is the most expensive house on the block,” Bernard said. “My grandmother taught me how to value the fruits of my labor when I was young by making me do my chores around the house and helping her pick up the groceries and helping her cook whatever meal I desired.”
Bernard dreamed big dreams at a young age deciding between being a chef or an artist.
“I always felt like my heart lied in my artsy, and it wasn’t until I met a group of friends in the second grade who were into drawing that pushed me to develop my art,” Bernard said as he described his early influence of becoming a better drawer. Another influence on Bernard’s art was the late Bob Ross and his show “The Joy of Painting,” which helped Bernard view colors and people differently.
Bernard’s sense of fashion comes from the past as he’s influenced by the 60s and 70s watching public figures like James Brown and Marvin Gaye and taking how they styled their tailor-cuts outfits and implying a modern look.
Bernard also credits his father as an influence on how he wears his clothes.
“I look at my pops on how I should maintain myself and my clothes as a man. His work uniform is always ironed out and hung up. He is always groomed and always smelling good.” he said. “He showed me to take pride in my appearance and how to approach the day.”
Bernard says the current fashion scene in L.A. depends on the location and what people they want to be around.
“L.A. fashion is so widespread and dynamic that it doesn’t have a dress code and you can do and wear whatever you want. Our generation and the ones coming behind us are shaking things up. They don’t want to feel choked up by what they’re wearing and forcing companies like Google and Apple to adapt their work attire.”
Bernard noticed this trend and wanted to include it in his brand as he started thinking about his fashion identity. After three years of traveling to New York, Texas and Atlanta, among other cities, Bernard finally came up with his first concept for Proper Tone.
“My first concepts were centered around the idea of trying to tell people I’m from L.A. without telling them I’m from L.A.”
Over time Bernard was able to create his concept, and when the time came to release, he started with pop-up shops and flea markets to get some exposure.
“It’s so much love out there. I curate videos and sell clothes with the help of my mom at events like Blackmarketflea and BlackxtheBlock, and I also do the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena. I was grateful to be a part of a new pop-up called WestVibes with creator Plant Chica, which was so dope.”
Bernard is gearing up to release the next season of his line in the near future, which can be purchased at the flea markets and other pop-up shops.
“Do what you like, apply passion to everything you do, and shape your world,” he advises.