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Authentic, Updated Vintage
by Jialin Luh on Jun 10, 2005
Open only Friday through Sunday, a charming gift shop cum art gallery sits on a quiet block of Market Street under the moniker of National Product. Sundry adorable and coveted oddities await the lucky shopper in a thoughtfully decorated space where handcrafted and limited edition objects reside alongside authentic vintage accessories, laughter-fit-inducing greeting cards and almost-nostalgic plastic figurines.
This cheerful establishment opened its doors to the public in 2002 under the watchful eye of graphic designer Doug Domonkos. Working in the design industry for a number of years, Domonkos found himself a link in a substantial network of artists and illustrators who crafted original goods outside their professional lives. National Product was the answer, providing a retail space where these creative minds could make their "obscure" creations available to the public.
The shop and Domonkos' National Product line of merchandise allow him to pursue the illustrated side of his own work and his interest in vintage graphic design while showcasing the work of fellow artists. Vintage and retro are key themes here, reflected in not only the selection of items for sale but in the décor and layout of the space, which has been fashioned after the concept of an old-fashioned general store. A retro mural on the right wall, hand-painted weathered-looking signs and vintage home accessories add to the nostalgic and cheery feel of the store.
A veritable selection of T-shirts fly off the shelves at National Product, priced affordably from $20 and above. Domonkos' designs include the classic logo hoodie with "National" emblazoned across the chest ($38), a bright orange tee with an old-fashioned record player and a tee with a screen done from a photograph of the old Fascination Arcade on 6th Street.
Jen D'Angelo's tasty articles under the Nooworks label are wildly popular. Monochrome silhouettes of antler racks, bicycles, swordfish and hearts are only a few of the designs printed on soft blank tees for men and women. D'Angelo uses both basic cuts as well as some more interesting blanks employing elements like inverted seams and puffy cap sleeves. Miniature versions are available for baby, for $20. Her silk-screened tote bags come in several sizes and colors with the same prints and cost little more than $20.
Stylish folk on the prowl for clever, sharply designed t-shirts that don't explode from mass production to mass consumption will find more than satisfaction at National Product. For the ladies, Littlepants Industries' wares include silk-screened boyshort undies, pretty oilcloth bags and shirts that are simultaneously cute and sinister. The "Dance of Death" tee portrays a dancing couple, girl wielding a gun and boy with dagger.
Killer Tee makes fantastic shirts for both sexes on fun fabrics with flocked appliqués -- unicorns, birds and skulls are a few to choose from. These go for $24.99. Twisted tees from The Wrong Element include such warped depictions as Lord of the Rings' Gollum sitting atop a globe with President Bush's face and a speech bubble saying "My precious… It's ours it is, and we wants it!"
Local artist El Rey's t-shirts for men are mostly sold out at the moment but there are a few ladies' tees left that feature Chimp Bot, Surly Squid and Space Monkey. Despair not, fair shopper, merchandise here is constantly being replenished with fresh new designs. El Rey also does spray stencils on paper and wood with content ranging from Chihuahuas to stiletto-clad legs.
In addition to T-shirts, the National Product line includes vintage-like logo plastic hotel room keys for $2.99, journals with recycled food packaging covers for $6, and irresistible greeting cards for $3. The greeting card selection is quite vast and evoke either irrepressible giggling or gentle tugs and twinges of the heart. Domonkos imports Dean Morris cards from London which feature cheesy 80s characters with taglines like "Sex Bomb", "Wayne was a Wanker" and "Katie Loved it Kinky".
National Product touts itself on its website as "San Francisco's Art & Odd Gift Superstore", a statement hard to argue with. Where else can you find a Change-"O"-Matic cap with a clear pocket in front for inserting your own graphic ($14.99), assorted primate and colored mice figurines for 75¢ and chains adorned with patches and car accessories to be worn as jewelry for under $20? Domonkos' own Aunt Alice knits beanies, fingerless gloves and scarves for the store.
Across the street at The Orbit Room, bartender Alberta Straub is the source of various airline themed apparel and flight bags. National Product also peddles authentic vintage leather travel bags for under $40. Kaori Kasai's popular totes are offered along with Adjowah Ky's pricier hand made silk handbags and local label Crease's feminine bags. Kasai makes super fun and unique space dolls with removable fanny packs.
In addition to various wearables, shoppers will find various literature in the form of books, magazines and zines with the common intersecting themes of vintage/retro and design. ReadyMade Magazine is on hand for those inspired by National Product's merchandise to join the D.I.Y. movement.
Domonkos is all about affordable and accessible art, making National Product a great place to pick up affordable pieces. Works of various mediums are very economically priced. The back room of National Product houses art installations that change monthly. Right now Brian Behnke's show "Dust Bunnies" features adorable but sharp-toothed bunnies with a penchant for blood. Plush bunnies are only $14.99 and the pieces for decorating walls start at $60. The next exhibit kicks off July 22nd and features local comic artists Lark Thien and Pien Pham.
Though the name "National Product" may imply mass production, most of the items offered in the store are made on a small scale. Just one more reason to come on down before that limited edition print you've been dreaming about is snatched up!
by Jialin Luh on Jun 10, 2005
Storefront, photo credit: Jialin Luh
Inner store view, photo credit: Jialin Luh
Brian Behnke's "Dust Bunnies", photo credit: Jialin Luh