A new style is sweeping the streets of Somerville. It's on the shirts of local teenagers, and the stickers on their cellphones.
Villens, it seems, are everywhere in the city.
Before you say, "there goes the neighborhood," Steve Morris, the main force behind the Villen clothing line, has a different idea for his street-level movement.
"It's not a clothing line for people who mug people on the bike path," Morris said. "We just try to take our experiences from growing up and turn them into something people want to wear and that people are affected by."
The label, which has grown steadily since Morris began selling T-shirts out of his car trunk six months ago, was inspired by the drug abuse and violence claimed a string of young people in Somerville since the beginning of the decade. The brand has been described as a cultural milestone.
"When we were coming up there was a pretty significant amount of drug use among Somerville youth," said Morris.
"You have the more lower class of Somerville experience drugs and violence, kind of what the city used to be," said Mark McLaughlin, who works with Morris selling music on the clothing line's site, BeAVillen.com. "Then you have the more affluent people who are not necessarily facing those issues and aren't even necessarily aware of them. Two people that were neighbors, living in completely different worlds."
McLaughlin, who goes by the stage name "Diatribe" works with the movement selling his mixtape at BeAVillen.com, said he is happy to see city kids embrace the label. "It's bringing tons of kids from different cultures, different economic and racial backgrounds, and its saying, 'hey, we're all from Somerville, we're proud of it.'"
The original designs for the brand began in 2006 when Brian Liberatore began sketching his stylized smiley-face with help from the Somerville Arts Council. The creative impetus, said his friends, came from the changing demographics in Somerville, and the culture clash it created.
After Liberatore died in a car accident in 2007, Morris decided to keep the Villen creation alive, and began to reproduce the drawing on clothing while adding his own designs to the mix.
Before he knew it, the youth of Somerville were buying his label almost faster than he could send them out, and he began getting requests from older people as well. "Its anyone from any walk of life that can relate to what we're doing," said Morris.
The renegade factor involved in the label comes from the frustration that many young Somerville residents felt regarding their image during the late 1990s, early 2000s. "Somerville for a long time had a bad reputation and the brunt of that is always given to the youth," said McLaughlin. "Somerville kids are [said to be] 'scumbags, they're junkies, they're thieves. They're tough guys, they start fights.' So we're the bad guys."
Embracing this role, despite the resentment they felt, Liberatore, Morris and his friends began referring to themselves as "villens." And a local brand was born.
Be a Villen recently released their first commercial, a stylish short film shot on location throughout Somerville and Morris says he hopes to get the clothes in retail stores soon.