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August 15, 2013

Meet the Designers: Shipley & Halmos

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We spent a week this summer invading the offices and going inside the minds of six American menswear heroes. Well, technically seven, given that Shipley & Halmos consists of the right-brain/left-brain duo of Sam Shipley (left, above) and Jeff Halmos. Below, we talk vintage video games, pugs vs. killer whales—and how subtle, high-quality clothes can be kind of hilarious.

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: We heard you guys had a wild night last night.
SAM SHIPLEY: Well, we took the crew bowling. One of our employees is leaving to start her own business, so we took everybody out to go bowling over in Williamsburg, which was pretty fun. Pizza, beer, bowling—what’s not to like about that?

Did it get pretty competitive?
JEFF HALMOS: No, it’s usually pretty friendly. There was a lot of high-fiving, a lot of clapping. Everyone seemed to have some good rolls and some bad [note: rumor has it that Jeff somehow rolled a ball into his own ankle]. It looked like we were going have way too much pizza, but…All gone.

What toppings?
Jeff: We just went plain.
Sam: Regular old cheese.

Well that’s exciting.
Jeff: Plain-cheese pizza is the standard on which all pizza is built. You don’t have to get so crazy with the toppings—ham and pineapple and all this other stuff. Keep it simple.

Keep it simple. Is that like a metaphor?
Jeff: Very much so, as a matter of fact!
Sam: I would say it’s a metaphor for design in general. Restraint is the key to good design. So if you can make a pizza with only four ingredients…or whatever it is to make cheese…then you can probably put any topping on there and it’ll be good.

Would you say Shipley & Halmos is the ‘cheese pizza’ of clothing design?
Sam: I would hope that we are the standard of cheese pizza. The Ray’s or…who else?
Jeff: I like Saluggi’s right across the street.
Sam: Yeah, Saluggi’s is good.

Let’s go back for a moment. How did you guys meet?
Jeff: We met at the University of Colorado Boulder, our freshman year of college. We met in front of Sam’s dorm, hanging around like freshmen do when you don’t know anyone, looking for a party or something.
Sam: First couple weeks of school.

How did you guys start working together from there?
Sam: Well, we became friends first. We got a house with some other dudes off-campus, and then Jeff had a friend who was into starting a clothing company. It turned into a school project. So by the end of school, we were kind of applying our majors and organizing our thesis based on a clothing line. Web design, graphic design, business plan, figuring out financing—all that stuff. And then the result was that we actually made some product—and we sold it. And that’s kind of what kicked it off. When we graduated, we took some time off and then decided, what do we have to lose? So we started doing clothes.

What were you guys’ majors?
Sam: Fine Art.
Jeff: Finance.

What were the early days of your company like?
Jeff: When we started Shipley & Halmos, we worked out of Sam’s apartment in Long Beach, California. At that time, he was recording an album in the kitchen portion of his one-bedroom apartment. So there was a bedroom…the living room, which acted as the Shipley & Halmos office-slash-Sam’s living room…and then the kitchen, which acted as Sam’s kitchen-slash-recording studio. So there were amps, and tambourines, and fabric swatches. For a 600-square-foot little room, it was a very creative environment. Creativity per square foot, I would say…
Sam: Oh, jam-packed.
Jeff: That it was. You got a lot of bang for your buck.

What’s the Shipley & Halmos mantra?
Jeff: The first thing that we did was write a message for the label of all our garments. Sam drew the font. We carefully chose each word. It says, ‘An offering of some clothing and things crafted with hand, health and heart.’ The reason why we added ‘and things’ is because we always knew that we wanted Shipley & Halmos to be the vehicle that would allow us to create whatever we wanted.

Create whatever you wanted—like what?
Sam: If someone came to us and was like, we want you to design the interior of a car, or a series of drinking glasses, or work on a rug, or whatever the case may be—whatever kind of product design that we could get our hands on—that’s something that would be interesting. We consider the ‘things’ side of our label as being almost like a creative agency.
Jeff: Chocolate bars were pretty fun.
Sam: Right, we made some chocolate bars and created custom wrappers for them. We made beer. We fake-sold a dog [on our website]. We found foam fingers, and got a yellow one with black writing, and wrote ‘Taxi’ on it [for hailing cabs]. Just looking through the lens a little differently than you normally would.

What was the story behind the NBA player mini-hoops you made?
Jeff: That was in honor of the Dream Team. They had the anniversary of the [1992] Olympics recently. We’re both into basketball, and sports in general. We have these little hoops here in our office, so we thought it’d be a nice ode to that team. So we picked Barkley…
Sam: Barkley, Jordan, and Bird.

Does the concept of sports always play into your collections?
Sam: Sports are a common thread. We’ve done a varsity jacket since 2009 (a year after we started our brand). I think it keeps Jeff and me interested in being a part of the US, like as a whole. Through sports, you’re always reminded about places and not just being so New York-centric. You’re getting reminded about cities that have certain personalities, and their teams embody that personality. We took a store tour around the US and shot portraits of customers and then made a book out of that. Austin, DC, Boston, San Diego…
Jeff: Houston. We live in New York, but we’re not from here. We always try to remind ourselves that we represent other parts of the country, and our brand is sold outside of New York, too.

Who are some of your favorite athletes of all time?
Jeff: I mean, we both grew up in the ’90s, so every kid our age loved Michael Jordan. We do have a little bit of a rivalry around here, because I’m a Miami Heat fan and Sam is a Chicago Bulls fan. So that can get interesting on occasion.

Congrats on the Heat taking home another ring. What did you think of that play where LeBron got called for a charge on Roy Hibbert, in the Eastern Finals, and wigged out?
Sam: [Under his breath] I would call it poetic justice, that flopper.

 

How do you guys collaborate with each other?  Do you divide and conquer and have different roles, or do you work together on everything?
Jeff: We definitely divide and conquer. Sam has a Fine Art degree, and mine is in Finance. So Sam works mostly on sketching, technical aspects of design, goes to fabric appointments. He kind of leads the charge in the design aspect. I look over sales, marketing, bookkeeping, legal, a lot of the operational elements. We’re different in that aspect, but at the same time, we can sit down and talk about branding and accounting in the same conversation and both be speaking the same language. I think that’s really important when you have a business partner, to have someone that complements you.

Do you guys ever disagree?
Jeff: All the time. Yeah.

What do you do about it?
Sam: Best idea wins. The rule we institute is, if you don’t like something you have to be able to explain why. If you can’t, then you’re just being contrary. Then you get into really good practices—constructive criticism that leads to a good idea down the road.
Jeff: [If that fails], a decathlon of office games to see who wins. Paper football competition…
Sam: We’ve been photographed arm wrestling quite a few times.

Which one of you guys would win at one-on-one basketball?
Sam: Jeff.
Jeff: I’ve got the height advantage.
Sam: Jeff’s better at basketball than I am. He played in high school.

Who would win in a drinking contest?
Sam: I think we both can put up the numbers there. I would say we can both go hard on the paint on that one. It would depend on who wants it more.
Jeff: That’d be a close competition. It’s probably any given night, you know.

Who is the Shipley & Halmos ‘guy’?
Sam: We think of him as the director, not necessarily the actor. The music producer, not necessarily the band. Kind of a behind-the-scenes type. That’s how we are here in New York. So there’s a subtlety to the brand that’s downplayed on purpose. We want to let a person’s style dictate [how he wears] our clothes, as opposed to our clothes dictating his style.

What’s new about this Fall’s collection?
Jeff: It’s probably one of my favorite collections that we’ve done. We have pieces that have been in our line since day one—the Belmont chino, Broome polo, Marine shirt—that have been staples of what we do. But for this particular collection, we wanted to kind of take it up a notch. A little bit dressier of a look, without being formal. Like this henley—it’s got kind of a varsity look to it, but it’s made out of a really, really nice pima cotton. That balance of casual and dressy is really important. There’s always a little bit of sporty in what we do, mixed with a little bit of tailored.

What do you love about a solid, reliable basic?
Jeff: I’ll wear like the same pair of pants for two weeks straight. I’m just like, ‘I’m real into these right now, and there’s no reason for me to change them.’ Once they get dirty, then I’ll change them. I think a lot of guys are like that. They have a rotation. So we make some of those staple products, like a great pair of chinos.

What’s special about the chinos in your Fall collection [pictured above]?
Jeff: This piece has been in our line since our first season. It’s called the ‘Belmont.’ Actually we talked about it earlier—Sam’s apartment/recording studio/office was in the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach. So this is an ode to that shore.

Also: They’re green. How would you suggest wearing them?
Jeff: Yeah, they’re a really dark green, which is nice. I’d go brown shoes…shirt and tie, to work, with a blazer. You could also wear it with a white T-shirt, rolled up with a pair of Converse. One of the most versatile pieces in a man’s wardrobe, I think, is a great chino.

 

Sam, as a fine art major and accomplished artist—could you draw us something?
Sam: Uh yeah, I could probably draw something. It depends on what you want though. I’ll draw you a killer whale. You want a killer whale?

Sure. Why did that come to mind?
Sam: I don’t know, I’m good at it. Male or female?

It’s up to you.
Sam: Male, we’ll do male. All right here we go…There you go. See the tall dorsal fin? The female has more of a dolphin look.

Can you sign it so I can sell it on eBay?
Sam: Yeah, absolutely. You’ll get a ton of money for it, I promise. [See Sam's drawing here.]

Sam, for a story we did last Christmas, you said the best gift you ever got was your Game Boy. What’s your favorite Game Boy game of all time?
Sam:
God there’s a lot of those. I mean the original Tennis is just kind of a classic. It’s really fun, and you could link it up with another guy and play tennis against them. That was like—magical.
Jeff: I mean Tetris for Game Boy. I kinda feel like that’s the iconic game.

It’s like the cheese pizza of Game Boy games.
Jeff: Is your Nintendo still hooked up? He’s got a bunch of regular Nintendo games.
Sam: My NES, yeah.

What’s your favorite NES game?
Sam: Oh gee, well, Zelda, the original. Solomon’s Key is a classic. Ice Hockey, the original.
Jeff: Oh I love Ice Hockey.
Sam: An unbelievable classic.
Jeff: Soccer.
Sam: Double Dribble. I mean, you could go on forever. Russian Attack is a classic. That’s an early one. That’s kind of like what Contra came from. You could pick up and drop weapons. That was important.

Every time you turn on your NES, are you praying that it still works?
Jeff: Well everyone knows that [mimes blowing into a dusty game cartridge]—done. A couple bounces in there [mimes pushing spring-loaded cartridge slot].
Sam: Those video-game consoles don’t work like that anymore.
Jeff: No, I’ve played some of the new ones. It’s like things are happening everywhere! It takes a while to get used to it.
Sam: I went to the ‘Last Arcade‘ in New York, down in Chinatown recently, which is hilarious. It’s amazing. It’s just like a bunch of Dance Dance Revolution people that bring water and towels and are like, literally there to work out. They’re going there in gym clothes.

It’s on the books that you guys love Commando. What are some other favorite movies?
Jeff: Terminator, Terminator 2.
Sam: Predator.
Jeff: End of Days. Last Action Hero.
Sam: Kindergarten Cop. Twins.
Jeff: Just to name a few. Conan the Barbarian.

What does Shipley & Halmos do better than any other brand out there?
Jeff: I think we pay attention to all aspects of our brand…and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Sam: I was gonna say kicking a–.

Like metaphorically speaking, or…?
Sam: I mean both. Yeah. But I think Jeff’s answer about not taking ourselves too seriously—we try to put that in the clothes as much as we can.

What are some product details that express that—your sense of humor?
Sam: Labels. Like, varsity jackets always have a nametag, so ours has spaces for ‘nickname,’ ‘class,’ and then ‘power animal.’ But you would never really notice this until you got the jacket home. This is a very classic design philosophy for us, where you buy this really great jacket, you try it on, you look at it in the mirror—and you go home and you put your hand in the pocket, and it has corduroy. So there’s a texture that registers, like Oh, they didn’t have to use that. And then there’s a small label in there, you read it, and then ultimately you’re like Oh, this company’s awesome. Or hopefully you’re like that, because it relates to you. It catches you off guard, or it relates to you as a person. It has a message behind it that gives a personality to whoever intended that label to go in there. So all of a sudden, you have the designer speaking directly to the person, who is supporting the designer’s ability to design clothes in the future.

Sam:…There are more littered throughout here. Our knits all have like a little fancy message. Or not fancy, but like a quote from a movie.

Are they all from Schwarzenegger movies?
Sam: There are a few from Schwarzenegger films. I think there’s some Dazed and Confused. There are some other movies.
Jeff: We vary.
Sam: Oh definitely some Top Gun. Oh yeah, see like this label here [on the back of the 'Belmont' chino above]—this label says, ‘We are using this space to let you know the name of our brand is Shipley & Halmos. —Sam & Jeff.’ On a really nice, vegetable-dyed leather label. It’s kind of like graffiti to some degree. The label is kind of making fun of ourselves, but also creates a memorable experience.

What would your power animals be—if you filled out the label you mentioned in your varsity jacket?
Sam: I think I drew you mine. The orca.
Jeff: Pug. Very different animals.
Sam: They’re relatable. They both look like they’re having a good time.
Jeff: They’re both black and white. Or your pug is black.
Sam: Yeah, so they’re both black and white. Both have a roundish shape.
Jeff: Cherubic.
Sam: Yeah. A streamlined design.
Jeff: And a blunted nose. Both mammals. They both have teeth.
Sam: And both can be vicious, vicious killers if they so choose to be.

 
—  —  —
 


Key items from the Shipley & Halmos Fall collection:
‘Ralphie’ Varsity Jacket | ‘Belmont’ Slim Fit Pants | ‘Earnest’ Wool Shawl Collar Sweater
‘Marine’ Plaid Shirt‘Brett’ Henley | ‘Spaniel’ Long-Sleeve T-Shirt

SHOP ALL: SHIPLEY & HALMOS

 
 

[Photos by Robin Stein. Interview by Justin Abbott.
Special thanks to Shipley & Halmos and team.]

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