“Hey,” Eli Gesner calls across his kitchen to me, “you can’t write about any of the tech stuff I do.”
I look around Gesner’s apartment. A phone charger with an aerospace logo is plugged in by the sink; a clearance badge hangs from a key hook. It’s hard to know if my host is being secretive for the sake of national security sake or simply to cultivate mystique.
“Fine,” I say. “But you’ve gotta let me use that line. I mean, who says stuff like that?”
Gesner laughs. His voice has the habit of hitting a higher octave when confronted with life’s absurdity. “Well…I guess I do.”
It’s a fitting answer. After spending more than ten hours bouncing around Venice Beach, CA with Gesner, helping him prep for his new role as editor of Uproxx Style, I’ve heard enough stories to make his nebulous aerospace work seem bland. Any talk of rockets has been shoved to the margins by tales of hanging with Rosario Dawson on the set of Kids and casual snippets about bombing graffiti with Shepard Fairey. Many of Gesner’s sentences somersault across generations. Movie stars and style icons become sidenotes in the grander epic: How Eli Morgan Gesner became the Forrest Gump of the streetwear industry — a master of surfacing in all the right places at all the right times.
“Look,” he says, “the real story of my success is about timing. It comes from being creative during a very particular moment in history.”
That moment was the dawn of the New York City skate scene — when Gesner and his teenage friends put the world on notice that kids raised in the wildest concrete jungle on earth might just have something to say about the Cali-dominated sport of skateboarding. In the process, Gesner found himself steering the creative direction of two of the most iconic streetwear brands on the planet — Phat Farm and Zoo York.
Though skating is the tendon and sinew supporting Gesner’s style-maverick status, the backbone is New York City. As a young adult, he was posted up at the nexus point of a massive convergence that encompassed the slow fade of punk, the birth of modern hip hop, and the ascendency of skateboarding. Over the span of a few years, all of counterculture seemed to collide in Manhattan’s East Village.