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Long before Claudia Gold entered the retail realm, she was better known as Claw Money, the famous graffiti artist standing out not only for her kick-ass designs, but also for being the only girl in a predominantly male culture. Her career started in 1992 when she created her signature claw and started painting it on trucks and buses throughout the city; ten years later, Gold turned her infamous stamp into a logo for clothing and started to collaborate with big brands like Calvin Klein and Nike. Flash forward to 2015 and enter Claw & Co, her very own store that opened in March.
It's appropriately situated in the heart of the Lower East Side, where NYC graffiti art was basically born, and carries things far beyond graffiti-clad sneakers and tee-shirts. It's actually mostly a vintage shop, and a really good one at that — it's the sort of store you'd go to to find a 1970s Bill Blass denim jumpsuit and a pair of tricked-out Fila sneaks, and then wear them at the same time.
We sat down with Gold to talk all things fashion, vintage, illegal graffiti, and what it was like to be the only girl tagging the streets of New York in the 90s.
Tell us about your transition into fashion design.
I was always in fashion design. I studied fashion illustration at FIT, and after that I worked as a design assistant at Anne Klein outerwear under Narciso Rodriguez. At night, though, I was painting illegal graffiti. I sort of had this Clark Kent persona, where I was a fashion designer by day and graffiti artist by night, but they always went hand in hand — in 2002, I made my graffiti into a logo for clothing.
When did you decide that opening a store was the next step in your career?
I was going to sign this big deal where we were going to make Claw Money into a streetwear brand, but I ended up getting cold feet because I felt like I was setting myself up to be exploited by a bigger company. That's when I decided that I should just open up my own store. I just so happened to mention my new idea to a friend of mine, who ended up hooking me up with their good friend who happens to be the landlord of this space. I mean, it was always something that was in the back of my mind to do, but in this case it was a right-place, right-time sort of thing.
"There's really no more exciting place than the LES. It's still the old New York mixing with the ever-changing new New York, and it still feels real."
It seems like there isn't a more appropriate neighborhood than the Lower East Side for Claw & Co. What do you love most about it?
This was my stomping ground. When I was in college, I lived down here. I spent the late 80s through the early 90s down here, and there's really no more exciting place than the LES. It's still the old New York mixing with the ever-changing new New York, and it still feels real.
How has the store evolved since it first opened in March?
My store is ever-changing, and that's what I like about it. Sometimes it's an art gallery, sometimes it's super-sportswear/vintage, sometimes it's only designer vintage — we change the merchandising in here every two weeks. I feel like I'm ever-evolving, so the store kind of adapts to whatever my staff and I are currently into.
Who are your customers?
Claw Money has a very interesting customer — I wish I could just say that it's 15-to-30-year-old women, but it's 15-to-30-year-old women and the men that love them, and soccer moms, and old-school graffiti guys, and young girls into feminism...We can't really put our finger on it, but I guess the world is our consumer. Actually, the universe — why stop at Earth?!
There's a lot of meat to eat with this brand, and it's not one-dimensional, which is really cool. It's a New York brand, it's a pro-women brand, it's an art brand, it's a graffiti brand, it can be so many things to so many people, and it should be. I want it to be fluid.
How many people who come to the store are Claw Money fans, would you say?
It's only about ten percent, and a lot of times they do not recognize me. They just ask me right to my face, "Does Claw ever come in here?" And I say, "She's never here, but take a sticker!" Ha!
"I started thrifting a lot as I was working my way up as a stylist...Everything we sell here is still from that huge collection, and there's tons more on ice."
How do you decide on what other brands to carry at the store, and where do you find it all?
I started thrifting a lot as I was working my way up as a stylist — I was actually a little thrift-crazy, so I ended up wheeling and dealing a lot of the vintage I found. I sold to all the best vintage designer shops like Decades, What Goes Around Comes Around, Resurrection, and Atomic Passion, and it sort of just became its own business.
But after 9/11, New York kind of dried up, and my vintage customers were no longer coming to the city to buy. I was painting all this graffiti again, and people were asking me to make claws for their brands and to put The Claw on tee-shirts and stuff, and so I put all the vintage stuff I'd collected into storage. And so everything we sell here is still from that huge collection, and there's tons more on ice.
I also have tons of friends that have brands. It's also a lot of just our brand for now, but I do foresee us one day carrying high-end streetwear and fun novelty stuff. Right now, though, I'm really focusing on the vintage stuff, because vintage is really good again.
What's something that typically sells out really fast?
When we do a drop and alert all our channels, it goes really fast. We just had a Fila collaboration, and it's already gone. But there's so much different stuff in this store, so you never really know what's going to sell first.
What are some of the pieces that you're really excited about?
I'm really feeling the 70s right now, especially that tough-girl look. I'm obsessed with these studded denim suits — I'm always into denim. I'm also into that 70s prairie patchwork look.
Do you think there could be another store down the line, in the city or elsewhere?
Yes, I would love to expand to a second location eventually, but right now my focus is really here. If I were to expand, I'd love to carry fantastic brands. I'm starting a jewelry line that we're going to carry here, but I'd also love to carry other non-Claw products that I love.
"Honey, my name is Claudia Gold, and they just been calling me Claw Money because I'm a hustler."
Speaking of, tell us about that famous Claw.
The Claw developed from my name, Claudia, and I've been painting it for a very long time. I think people get really excited when they see it, so I just keep giving it to them. It started out when I used to paint graffiti on trucks. I'd paint my name C-L-A-W, and then I went and added nails over the W, and then I just shortened it to CW. Then one time this other graffiti artist that didn't like me went and scratched my logo off one of the trucks I'd painted — I happened to see it go by, and I was completely shocked. But then I noticed that the W was still hanging out, and I loved it, and I was like, "There it is."
Don't you love it when people throw their graffiti over your graffiti and something really amazing happens?
Yeah! That's the thing about graffiti, it's ever-changing; it's keep up or shut up. And so first I was pissed, but then I was like, "Yeah!"
So we know why the first part of your name is Claw — but why Money?
Honey, my name is Claudia Gold, and they just been calling me Claw Money because I'm a hustler.
Ha! Were you always into making art?
Always, even when I was a kid.
When did you first start to do graffiti?
When I started going to FIT. I was a late bloomer, and when I moved into the city and started going to clubs, I met all these crazy guys and they used to have spray cans and just pull 'em out. And I was Claw and I wanted to write my name too, but the guys weren't so keen on it. So I just started doing it by myself.
Have you ever gotten into trouble while in the midst of a project?
Me? [Laughs] Yeah, there have been some incidents, I've been arrested a bunch of times.
What was it like being basically the only girl in a male-dominated culture?
It was interesting. You can really weed out the boys from the men, who's a real man and who's a jealous child. I think my tenacity set some standards for women, and from that there was this outpouring of love, which is really great. So mostly, it's just been love — first it's hate, then it's love.
That's not too bad.
Yeah! I love the boys!
You've done so many collaborations, but which of them really stuck out as your favorite?
I loved my collaboration with Calvin Klein because we made so many different products, and it was really fun having my logo on bras and underwear.
"I think my tenacity set some standards for women, and from that there was this outpouring of love... first it's hate, then it's love."
That sounds so cool — how long ago was that?
It was so long ago, girl. Maybe you can find it on eBay. It was super cute, and my friends and I would actually wear the bras and panties as bikinis. My Nike collaboration was also really important to me, because I was the first female artist to collaborate with Nike on an artist series — that was a real honor, and I think it brought a lot of light to women in sneaker land. My G Pen was also super fun. But I love them all, you know? Oh, and my Filas — they're the best!
Tell us more about your vintage collecting. What are your biggest vintage scores?
I have it all, it's ridiculous. I have Zandra Rhodes, Ossie Clark, Donald Brooks, and Giorgio di Sant'Angelo couture. We also just found quite a few pristine Halston dresses. I'd say the stuff that I love the most is the Dapper Dan custom luxury brand hip-hop stuff, because those things you can never find, and I own a few of those pieces.
I just love to thrift. I get excited when I find a great mug. I find tons of treasures and sometimes even things that may not be that important. I have this pair of jeans that somebody hand-drew from the 60s and it's so beautiful, but it's really just somebody's doodle on a pair of jeans.
What's next for Claw Money, both the artist and the storeowner?
Who knows, honey — stay tuned!
Wanna do a lightening round?
Okay, tacos or burritos?
Summer or winter?
Lip balm or lip gloss?
Books or magazines?
Wine or beer?
Flats or heels?
Tattoos or piercings?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Damn, girl! Chocolate.
Cats or dogs?
Kanye or Jay Z?
Keith Haring or Basquiat?
Ooh, Claw Money!