For Lisa Eisner, ‘Money Never, Ever Motivates Me’

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For Lisa Eisner, ‘Money Never, Ever Motivates Me’

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LOS ANGELES — Lisa Eisner is trying to get us killed. We are in her Lexus wagon, slicing through three lanes of high-speed traffic from Interstate 605 at the Interstate 5 interchange. I am daydreaming vaguely about another Los Angeles road scene: barefoot Mariah Wyeth in her Camaro and the famous Hollywood to Harbor freeway lane-change passage in “Play It as It Lays.”

Ms. Eisner is flicking her eyes from the road to Waze on her iPhone when suddenly I glance up and notice that the car in the lane ahead of us has come to a halt. Cue an adrenaline rush and a shout of terror. Visualize high-speed swerve. Imagine woman wearing an embroidered cotton Mexican shift, just like the one Linda Kasabian wore to court in the Manson trial, and pony skin Tomas Maier clogs letting loose a stream of invective, followed by a moment of out-of-body serenity.

Ms. Eisner and her son Louis Eisner, an artist, shop for items to stock Rat Bastards at Mooneyes, a favorite store in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.CreditKendrick Brinson for The New York Times

“Oh, man,” Ms. Eisner says. “Oh, man.”

The two of us are returning to Hollywood from Santa Fe Springs, an arid gateway city at the southeast edge of Los Angeles County where we had been visiting a hot-rod body shop established in the 1940s as the Moon Equipment Company but that everyone knows as Mooneyes.

It is the sort of place you might go to if you were looking to acquire a 15-inch California Metal Flake Ginger Grip steering wheel. And it is the sort of anachronism that survives in this alternately booming and time-stopped city, one where glass office towers have all but erased evidence of a beloved squat and funky western stretch of Sunset Boulevard (farewell, House of Blues) and yet where Philip Marlowe’s office building at Hollywood and Cahuenga Boulevards still stands.

When people write about Lisa Eisner, they often describe her, lazily, as a multi-hyphenate, as though having a free-ranging sensibility were a syndrome and not a cast of mind. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one day in my life where it has repeated” a routine from the one before, says Ms. Eisner, a statement that is not 100 percent true.

The Eisners with their haul.CreditKendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Lately Ms. Eisner has settled on a single identity, that of a jeweler, largely self-taught. The jewels she makes are knobby, organic and spidery and often cast in bronze. They are usually inset with peculiar rocks she gathers at the annual Tucson Gem Show: black or fire opals, pitted hunks of turquoise from the ancient Kingman mine. Many bear a close resemblance to traditional Navajo jewelry or else to the ornaments old-time cowmen once wore. The jeweled bolo slung around Julia Roberts’s neck on the December cover of InStyle is her design.

At various points in her long … adventure is probably a better word here than career, Lisa Eisner has worked as a fashion editor, a stylist, a photographer and a publisher. She has also been — as T: The New York Times Style Magazine, noted several years ago — an impressive “collector and connector,” a woman who at 60 seems to have met or known or worked with virtually everyone along the global fashion caravan and also Hollywood.

She lives here with her husband, Eric, an entertainment lawyer and philanthropist (his Yes Scholars foundation works with academically gifted students from impoverished neighborhoods) and one of their two sons, in an eccentrically furnished Cliff May house in a section of the city known as old Bel-Air.

Sunglasses are an essential under the blaring California rays.CreditKendrick Brinson for The New York Times

One way or another, Ms. Eisner has traveled a long way from Greybull, Wyo., where she was born, and along a route so fascinatingly loopy and vagrant that it seems somehow logical that Ann Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum, would turn to Ms. Eisner to create its latest pop-up shop. “Lisa has a very particular mind-set,” Ms. Philbin said, considerably understating the case.

Take the name of the pop-up, Rat Bastards, a homage to an informal club the artist Bruce Conner convened in the 1950s for himself and his friends. That particular club was more conceptual than conventional, and correspondingly Ms. Eisner’s Rat Bastards is as much art installation as retail experience.

“Eric always laughs,” Ms. Eisner says, referring to her husband. “He says, ‘You’re never going to make a dime.’ I tell him, ‘That’s right, brother!’ Money never, ever motivates me.”

Rat Bastards serves as an homage to the bygone days of Southern California.CreditKendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Mr. Conner was many things over the course of his wide-ranging, influential and still-underappreciated career — avant-garde filmmaker, collagist, a creator of elegant inkblot drawings that look like Rorschach tests. But it is his assemblages he is best known for: disturbing and yet humorous sculptures collaged from furniture, doll parts, jewelry, candles, mandalas and whatever other flotsam on the slipstream of late-20th-century culture caught his eye.

Created in Mr. Conner’s spirit, Rat Bastards is probably best understood as assemblage. “I actually always have a hard time saying what I do,” Ms. Eisner says. “It’s really hard for people to put other people into more than one category.”

Most brains don’t function like that, she says, although what she means is the brains of those from her generation. “For the new generations, the kids, that’s all they do is a million different things,” she says.

It can seem as if a million different things are going on simultaneously at Rat Bastards, a narrow rectangular space off the museum’s main bookstore reached through sets of Japanese door curtains painted by Ms. Eisner’s son Louis — an artist who commutes between Los Angeles and Mexico City — with a logo that itself is a homage to the Rat Fink characters devised by the cartoonist and custom car designer Ed Roth (known as Big Daddy).

It was Rat Fink material that had sent us to Mooneyes, which maintains the brand. Ms Eisner wanted to restock items for the shop and gather others, including Mooneyes T-shirts and jackets with the company’s trademarked logo of big googly eyes.

She planned to wedge them in somehow alongside the peerless handmade patches Brad Dunning designed for the proto-punk band the Cramps; the sets of girlie pink underpants embroidered with the days of the week; the vintage T-shirts and posters from the photographer Bruce Weber’s personal collection; the artist Ben Noam’s ceramic mushroom sculptures; the ironically goofy leather patches hand-tooled by Andrew Sexton, a Yale-educated artist who often collaborates with Sterling Ruby; the mugs and paperweights using graphics designed by the American activist nun Sister Corita Kent; the diamond piñatas made for Rat Bastards by Nicholas Anderson and Julie Ho, working as Confetti System; the specially commissioned T-shirts from the Hollywood Forever cemetery; the exquisite porcelain vessels created by the Canadian potter Kayo O’Young; the neo-minimalist chairs and tables constructed by Michael Boyd; the boxed Tom of Finland dolls accessorized with snap-on erections; the gold mesh necklaces and gauntlets the costumer designer Michael Schmidt creates for Dita von Teese, Cher, Rihanna and others; the shirts airbrushed by Louis Eisner with images inspired by Ed Roth; the framed labels from a line of men’s wear once produced by the Black Panthers leader Eldridge Cleaver and embroidered with his name.

A T-shirt and tchotchkes sold at Rat Bastards.CreditKendrick Brinson for The New York Times

These things represent barely a fraction of the totality of Rat Bastards, whose frenetic eclecticism is oddly belied by the shop’s serene installation. It probably helps that a heady hippie fragrance wafts from an atomizer in the shop, the scent itself devised by Ms. Eisner in collaboration with the perfumer Haley Alexander van Oosten and named — for what seem like autobiographically pertinent reasons — Nomad 1957.

“I probably have something of an A.D.D. personality, for sure,” Ms. Eisner says. “I see Tom, or people around me, who like a routine and a schedule,” she says, referring to her close friend Tom Ford, whose specially commissioned bandannas sold out the day Rat Bastards opened in early October.

“I even look at people in the Olympics that are really good at one thing,” says a woman who once characterized her personal style credo as “Keep People Guessing.”

“That could never be me,” Ms. Eisner says. “The gods did not give me that.”

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