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CANVAS Malibu puts meaning behind the products

Arlington Forbes (left) explains the design of the CANVAS Malibu studio while his wife and co-owner of the boutique, Jacqueline, looks on. Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Jacqueline Forbes stands between artwork hung in CANVAS Malibu, an art and fashion boutique located in the Malibu Country Mart. Photos by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Pictured in the foreground is a CANVAS Malibu t-shirt with CANVAS Malibu co-founder Arlington Forbes in the background.
Pictured are men’s clothing items from CANVAS Malibu.
Pictured is a wall of shoes at CANVAS Malibu’s pop-up store in the Malibu Country Mart.
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
2:01 pm PDT July 15, 2014

For Jacqueline and Arlington Forbes, owners of CANVAS Malibu, art is anything that “pushes out the boundaries.”

So when the duo decided to perch a rare, handcrafted motorcycle owned by one of their clients in the window of their art and clothing boutique in the Malibu Country Mart, they began testing the elasticity of their own boundaries.

“We want this to be a space that is exciting to us; that shows the artistry of people who create all kinds of things, not just clothing and art,” Arlington said. “We decided, just as we’ve decided with everything else we put in CANVAS, if we’re going to put a bike in, it’s got to be unique. It’s got to be handmade. It’s got to be art.”

Within days, the motorcycle was sold from it’s unorthodox pedestal. Five years later, Jacqueline and Arlington have featured six other motorcycles from various artisans; all handmade, all pieces of art.

“These guys who are buying them wouldn’t think of riding them; that’s not what they’re for,” Arlington said. “They’re putting them in their homes as art.”  

Motorcycles are just a fraction of CANVAS’s bigger picture. Jacqueline and Arlington have worked for eight years to craft a shop, from its roots as a sneaker and art boutique, into a portal for young, up-and-coming artists of all mediums to show their stuff “to a client who can see their art for what it is,” Jacqueline said. 

“There are so many great contemporary artists alive today, people just don’t know about them; they assume the greats are the ones who are no longer alive,” Arlington said. 

“Getting those names out in front of a buying client, and showing them that they can make a living off their artistry has become so important to us,” Jacqueline said.

In that way, Jacqueline and Arlington have created a symbiosis between themselves, their clients and the artists they feature. While the duo admittedly “lean into” their clients to discover their tastes and needs, they also “push the bar out” with the new and diverse ideas they expose to the community through their art and the art of others. 

That art changes every six to eight weeks and includes work by individuals like Byron Buchanan, who blends pop art and escapist influences with photography, airbrushing and other techniques, and RISK, an iconic graffiti artist, along with Jacqueline and Arlington’s very own artwork, which they communicate through their recently launched clothing line. 

“The idea to design our own line came about in the middle of the recession; we had to reassess the store and figure out how to do what we were doing, but differently,” Arlington said. “With everything we’d sold in the store, I’d always paid close attention to the details — the fabric, the fit, the feel, the texture. So when I met with a men’s shirt brand that had been around for 80 years and they were taking notes from me, it just made sense to make one of my own.”

Jacqueline and Arlington have coined the phrase “contemporary classics” to describe the look they’ve achieved with their line, which they hope to expand to include men’s suits and eventually a full women’s line. The pairing of those two unlikely words is indicative of the essence of CANVAS, which, according to Arlington “brings the East Coast to the West Coast, and downtown to the beach,” an idea that comes from Jacqueline’s Philadelphia roots and the couple’s early visits to the East Coast upscale beach community, the Hamptons.

“The first time we went to the Hamptons, all you could buy was a cheesy T-shirt and a sandwich,” Arlington said. “When we went back a few years later, there were a ton of shops; it really evolved. Eight years ago, we thought this could become a lot like the Hamptons, so we took a gamble. We wanted to bring a unique offering to a unique population and Malibu was wide open at that point.”

Now, Malibu has become more than just a business location for the couple. What began as Jacqueline and Arlington’s urge to impact the community through their hybridized version of art, fashion and artisanal products, has become an experience in communal interdependence. 

“Who we decided to be and what we’ve created here is very clear; Malibu has helped us so much in defining the space,” Jacqueline said. “We’re tied to this community. It almost feels as if we live in Malibu and vacation in the city our house is in.”

Those ties have become key for Jacqueline and Arlington, who recognize that their core clients are the men and women who are ingrained in the collective voice of the Malibu community. 

“We have our ears to the ground,” Arlington said. “When our customers are talking about septic tanks and the schools and the Coastal Commission, the fires or the development at Trancas — all the things that impact them — we listen. What impacts them impacts us.”

It is support from those core clients that helped inspire Jacqueline and Arlington to expand CANVAS even more by adding a “pop-up” location in the Country Mart during the summer months. 

The pop-up store features items that are generally a lower price point — under $250 — and are “Malibu summer essentials ensconced in an art environment,” Arlington said. 

Malibu brands like Otz, limited edition T-shirts and art by Markku Lahdesmaki and canvas bags from Apolis are just a few of the featured items that draw tourists and locals alike to the location. But for Jacqueline and Arlington, the most important aspect remains the perpetuation of art.

“If, on the day that CANVAS closes its doors, we can walk away having shined a light on rising artists and helping them find out about the value of their craft, that’s a job well done for us,” Jacqueline said. “Through highlighting them, we’ve highlighted CANVAS.”