‘A Store Is More Than the Products It Sells’

Arlington and Jac Forbes, owners of The Jac Forbes Gallery + Canvas . Malibu, a fashion boutique and art gallery at the center of their local creative community, discuss how they have evolved and grown in 2020.

Words by John Pearson
Photography by Kurt Iswarienko

Throughout this unprecedented year, we have been lifted by watching people and businesses evolve and rise to stay afloat, and even grow.

Local businesses in particular have stepped up to the challenge of keeping the heart of their communities beating, and one such example is Canvas in Malibu, California — a store close to Mr Feelgood HQ and a favorite store of ours for many years.

Husband and wife owners Arlington and Jac Forbes have used this unique year to reevaluate their mission and added a permanent art gallery alongside their established clothes boutique — expanding their business to become The Jac Forbes Gallery + Canvas . Malibu.

And they have also found their roles in their community expanding beyond shopkeepers, launching an IGTV channel featuring talks with innovators of fashion, art and design, to unite their friends and clients at a time when finding new ways to connect has been so vital.

Here, Arlington and Jac tell us about how they have adapted and flourished in 2020, and their hopes for 2021.

Arlington and Jac Forbes in their Malibu store // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Arlington and Jac Forbes in their Malibu store // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Tell us a little about your store, and the dynamics of running a business as a married couple?

ARLINGTON: Canvas . Malibu is 14 years old this December 24. Over the years it has evolved with the times and the passions of my wife, Jacqueline, and I to its current status as The Jac Forbes Gallery — a contemporary art gallery featuring acclaimed domestic, as well as international, emerging and mid-career artists, + Canvas . Malibu, — a curated retail concept for men and women featuring clothes, shoes, accessories from the Canvas . Malibu brand and other limitedly-distributed brands from America, Japan and Europe.

Jac and I met while working on a TV show in NYC — she was the Network Executive and I was the Creative Director. We have always worked together and work well together because we balance each other out and have various skill sets that compliment the others.

How have you coped and evolved as a local business during the pandemic?

ARLINGTON: As a local business, we coped through adaption to the needs of our community, both old and new. Out with the blazers and hard bottom shoes and in with comfy hoodies, pants, shorts, tees and slides. We developed a health protocol that limited the number of people in the space, mandated masks at all times, hand sanitizing, contactless pay systems – all the things we felt necessary to keep our staff, clients and ourselves safe. Lastly we shortened our store hours, but increased our client contact via phone, emails and social media (@canvasmalibu). We also added by appointment shopping as well. Bottom-line is we adjusted and adapted. We believe and have witnessed, as my mother used to tell me as a little boy in our business in Toronto, that a store is more than the products that it sells – it is a hub for its community.

JAC: Like most people, I think we have been affected by the lack of clarity of information, at times protocol and the impending thought of, ‘Are we going to be closed down tomorrow because everyone must go back indoors?’ We have learned however to keep moving forward, show up and do our best. Be of service, be a good neighbor, to share and to listen. For many of our clients, Canvas was the first store they had been in for months and seeing them felt like catching up with family.

The Jac Forbes Gallery + Canvas . Malibu // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

The Jac Forbes Gallery + Canvas . Malibu // 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

And what have you learned personally from this time?

ARLINGTON: Personally, we have learned to focus on the positive things that are happening around us, however small, and understand that while things may be challenging, we are building a bridge into tomorrow little by little, day by day.

JAC: We also learned that life is short – enjoy your ride, put one foot in front of the other and walk, prioritize yourself and don’t forget to see and celebrate the little successes along the way.

When and why did you choose to pivot from clothes into a fully-fledged art gallery?

ARLINGTON:  After 14 years, all spaces need a make-over and/or a remodel. After an early morning breakfast with a friend in New York last winter, the idea was sparked. We wanted to change our presentation to create two complete environments under one roof, that would still reflect what the Canvas . Malibu brand was about – Art, specialty apparel and design. Now we are a fully functioning gallery on the first floor — The Jac Forbes Gallery — with the space to now show larger pieces, sculpture and a select offering of handmade home goods. On the second floor we have a curated retail concept that reflects our motto of ‘buy less but buy better’, that also showcases our Canvas . Malibu brand for men and women designed by Jac and I respectively, along with specialty collaborations and limited edition items from around the world.

Arlington and Jac Forbes 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Arlington and Jac Forbes 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Where did your love of art come from?

JAC: I know it may sound cliché, but from a very early age I was surrounded by art.  My mother and father in the late 50s lived for a time in a small town outside of Paris. That time influenced them deeply in the visual and performance arts.  As I grew up, museum and gallery visits were a requirement. Appreciating and understanding the value of the arts were an intricate part of my youth. My room as a teenager was a juxtaposition of The Jackson 5 and Picasso’s ‘The Three Musicians’ posters. I am grateful to now have The Jac Forbes Gallery which allows my husband and I the opportunity to do what we love in the worlds of art and design.

Have your regular clientele been supportive during this time?

JAC: Our regular clients have been very supportive and continue to show up and support our business for which we are truly grateful. We have also been able to attract a few new clients as well and that’s always a good thing.

Do you feel that emphasis is returning to the value of local business?

JAC: We feel that the value of local business never left. Good local businesses always have the pulse of the community they serve, and are closer to the ground when it comes to trends and new brands that you may be interested in. Most importantly, we as small businesses are able to make quick adjustments to lead or follow the needs of our clientele. Department stores can’t do that, and you never drop by a department store to show the team your new car, motorcycle or baby.

ARLINGTON: We are able to create a community through our business that allows us to participate in the lives of so many people as a result of our shared passions for art, fashion and design. It’s pretty amazing

Arlington and Jac Forbes 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Arlington and Jac Forbes 📸: Kurt Iswarienko

Tell us about your podcast and how that came about?

ARLINGTON: During the lockdown, Jac and I started to miss our Canvas . Malibu community. We were checking in on people — via phone, text and email — but we wanted to do more. Then after seeing D-Nice do his thing on IGLive, we realized that we could use IGLive in the same manner to reach out to our community and create some connection and fellowship. Thus was born the Canvas Malibu IGLive which grew to include interviews with friends, artists, interesting people we knew, designers, writers and even our friend that is the Lighting Designer for the Empire State building in New York. It was great fun and we did succeed in reaching folks and getting our community together. Our talks can be viewed @canvasmalibu under IGTV and we continue them to this day.

What has surprised you, in so much as if this had been a ‘normal’ year, it wouldn’t have happened? In my life, it’s the creation of Mr Feelgood, but what about you guys?

JAC:  When we were closed from March to Memorial Day, we had a lot of time to think about our business and our lives. To deconstruct where our joy came from in those two areas. Then we made an immediate commitment to do more of the joyful things and less of what did not bring us joy. Under normal conditions that might have taken quite a bit more time to get there.

What do you hope for in 2021, for yourselves as business owners and also in general?

JAC: In 2021, we hope for health, happiness and the ability to travel for ourselves and others. We also hope that as we move into this new normal, things are more manageable, equitable and that the world of voices that presented themselves during 2020 will not be forgotten or side-barred. Along with that, on the business side, we hope to continue to grow our Canvas . Malibu brand and to bring the beauty of art to Malibu while continuing to be a platform for established as well as upcoming artists and designers alike.

Find The Jac Forbes Gallery + Canvas . Malibu at Malibu Country Mart, 23410 Civic Center Way, Malibu, CA 90265. Tel: 917 757 3788 and online at canvasmalibu.com and jacforbesgallery.com

John is a world-renowned male model who has been the face of countless leading fashion houses. During his 36-year modeling career he has also moonlighted as an actor, writer, restauranteur, editor, and producer. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to provide a safe space for candid discussion and sharing ideas.

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