At Outerknown, we were born to explore the unexplored, to celebrate the extraordinary in the everyday, and to inspire adventure, no matter how big or small. This series shares stories from individuals based in the greater communities where our retail shops are located who embody our same endless passion for life and nature. Their work inspires our culture here at Outerknown, and we’re excited to share it with you.
This Community Collaboration with our Outerknown Malibu shop features work from two Malibu hometown heroes, accomplished athlete, photographer, and philanthropist, Steven Lippman, and legendary Malibu Maverick Architect Harry Gesner, a pioneer of sustainable design.
Eight years ago, on an unseasonably warm fall night, Outerknown launched to the public. Many notable figures were in attendance, from Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis to the stunning Cindy Crawford. But it wasn't the celebrity guests that made the night unforgettable; it was the many surrounding communities that showed up in droves; local Malibu surfers, celebrated artists, passionate environmentalists, groms tagging along with their parents, East Siders who trekked across the daunting LA freeways, personal friends and family of the brand–a truly diverse melting pot of individuals all gathered under one roof to witness this new brand take its first steps into revolutionizing an entire industry. Of course, no place felt more fitting to host the unique synergy of that evening than Harry Gesner's house, the renowned "Sandcastle."
When Kelly launched Outerknown and asked my father if he could hold the launch party at our family house, The Sandcastle, it really hit home just how closely in step my father and our environmental practices and beliefs in sustainability were with Kelly and John and their mission with Outerknown," Zen Gesner says.
"My father built our family house, The Sandcastle, almost entirely out of reclaimed materials that had lived a prior life somewhere else. He preferred to use the reclaimed wood in his houses because it had a soul to it and would sometimes be of a better quality than any new lumber that you could buy at the lumber yard. These practices influenced the way I look at everything. Waste not, recycle and reuse when able," Zen shares. "Outerknown encourages recycling and reuse and focuses on sustainability in everything they do. This model of sustainability is one that will inspire people, young and old, to consider the importance of knowing where source materials and food come from and how they are grown, harvested, and brought to market in the most ethical and responsible way possible."
Kelly, who had forged a relationship with Harry decades before Outerknown began, knew The Sandcastle would pose as the perfect backdrop to release his new pioneering brand. From that night forward, a life-long partnership between Outerknown and the Gesner family was born. The magical evening under a full moon was a sign of good things to come, and the founding members of Outerknown knew this location would always hold special meaning to the brand. Creative Director John Moore would also spend many Malibu sunsets watching the sun dip into the Pacific with Harry and his son Zen. So, of course, when it came time to shoot our Spring 2016 collection, the Gesner's home was once again at top of mind.
"Harry was truly one-of-a-kind. A completely self-taught visionary architect that lived a magical life," shares John Moore, Outerknown Creative Director. "We would sit and become so captivated by his stories. Nothing else seemed to exist at that moment. Whenever one of his tales seemed too big to be true, Harry would casually pull out a photograph of him or an artifact he collected along the way. Harry's larger-than-life personality and drive for endless adventure stretch into the furthest reaches of human potential–a mantra of our brand. We've felt connected to his magnitude ever since the beginning."
After Harry's recent passing in June 2022, his close friends and family came together to paddle out and honor the late architect's legendary life and his outsized impact on the community and beyond. John and Steven Lippman–a Malibu-based photographer and close friend to the Gesner family, were on hand to pay tribute in the same waters they had all grown-up surfing in. On the drive home from Harry's memorial, passing the OK Malibu retail location at Cross Creek, John became inspired to use the shop to celebrate their incredible friend.
I reached out to Zen Gesner to plant the seed of using our Malibu shop to install some of Harry's work. We met up with Steven at the shop, and the ideas began to flow. More stories of Harry and our favorite stretch of coast were shared, and the idea of an installation began to take shape," John says. "I thought the shop could feature some of Harry's soulful illustrations, and then I remembered some portraits that Steven had shot of Harry over the years!"
Steven, aka "Lippy," an accomplished athlete, photographer, philanthropist, and proud family man through and through, was born and raised along the beaches of Los Angeles. A longtime resident of Malibu, Steven is known for his innovative skateboarding, surfing, fashion, and advertising images, which have earned him worldwide recognition. In addition, he has made significant philanthropic contributions, particularly through his pioneering work in surf therapy for children with unique needs, becoming a notable figure in the field.
John called me and said, 'We'd love to collaborate with you through a photo installation at the Malibu store since you're an iconic Malibu figure, surfer, skater, artist, family man,' and I was truly humbled. There are three of my images of Harry Gesner as well. I'm excited and very grateful for this opportunity," Steven says.
Steven will also always remember the first time he met Harry Gesner. It was long before he shot a single frame of the world-famous architect and decades before some of those photos would hang in Outerknown's Malibu store—a serendipitous meeting on an ordinary day that turned out to be anything but typical. Steven was working on a photo shoot when he first encountered the magic of Harry Gesner.
I had heard of Harry before I met him. I got booked on a shoot, and I chose Harry's house as a location, but I didn't know that the house came with Harry," Steven laughs. "Halfway through the shoot, I'm eating lunch inside, taking a break from the outside elements. There was a fireplace going right into the kitchen, and there stood Harry. I started talking with him and became instantly immersed in story, just completely absorbed. I had forgotten about the shoot, just listening to this man talk about his life's journey. I couldn't get enough fast enough. He was incredibly inspiring, and all I could think about was getting to know Harry better.
Kindred spirits who became fast friends would spend the following 20 years entrenched in each other's families, swapping stories, laughs, and many creative endeavors together.
"We became great friends, spending every other weekend at his house. There was no, 'Hey, can I get this from you? Can I get that from you?' It was a true friendship." Steven shares.
I remember paddling out with Harry and listening to when he sat in that very same spot before he even designed his famous house. He told me how he drew the plans for the house on his surfboard in the water–just sitting in the water waiting for waves!
*This same board now hangs in the Outerknown Malibu shop!
We had some incredible years. I have a picture of me sitting in Harry's rocking chair with my son Ryder. I remember thinking, 'This is the most incredible place on Earth to sit and dive into the scenery and witness everything happening.’ It was incredible," Steven says. "We had some amazing times, got to know each other, and had some incredible surfs. We collaborated on a couple of projects together as well. I booked him and his family on four huge advertising campaigns. Used all of them for it, Harry, his son Zen, the grandkids, the dog, and I created photoshoots around Harry," Steven says.
Harry's son Zen recalls the same magnetism from his dad with a childhood spent living inside his dad's artistic vision.
"Dad built our house, 'The Sandcastle,' on a little cove four miles north of Trancas Canyon, and it was a magical place with no straight lines, mostly circles, multiple levels, and outer structures winding upwards like a treehouse," Zen says. "He had a vision of building something that would blend in with the environment, the coastline, and surf, and it would evolve through the years. We ended up evolving with it," Zen says.
"My father's unconventional approach to architecture was something I grew up admiring, and I have always had an incredible respect for his originality. His early move into environmental architecture and design and the use of recycled building materials was decades before its time."
Harry's undeniable brilliance, originality, charisma, mischievous sense of humor, laughter, love, and ultimate respect for nature, the ocean, Earth, and our place in the universe fueled his extraordinary eye for environmental architecture, design, and invention. He felt strongly that Outerknown's mission and core values greatly aligned with his own, and we continue to celebrate Gesner's incredible innovation in everything we do.
There's less than a handful of men in my life that have inspired me to where I can say these are human beings that I want to mirror myself after. Take all of those amazing attributes they possess and put them into my arsenal of who I am, what I need to do, who I need to be, and how I need to treat others. Harry was one of those human beings. He's inspired me immensely," Steven shares.
If you find yourself in Malibu, pop into our shop to see the newest Community Collaborations install featuring Steven Lippman and the Gesner family!