The classic brand goes a lot deeper than one fabric, and with two new designers steering its style, we figured it’s a good time to go behind the brand with interviews and photos from Haspel’s showroom in New York.
But for one sec, let’s appreciate their heritage.
Haspel was born in New Orleans in 1909. They’ve outfitted every United States President post-Coolidge, Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird and Jon Hamm in Mad Men. Without Haspel, who knows if we’d have the idea of American suits that keep you literally cool. Or suits that you could wash and dry at home. (They pioneered wash-and-wear, too.)
These days, Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos are the design force driving Haspel (you may know them from their own brands Shipley & Halmos and S&H Athletics). They were hired last year by Laurie Aronson Haspel, whose great-grandfather Joseph Haspel started the company and whose grandfather Joseph Haspel, Jr., remains something of a company spirit animal.
Jeff Halmos (on the right, above) spoke to us about taking a serious but light approach to handling so much history, about what’s fresh for Haspel for spring–and about what a rad dude Joseph Haspel, Jr., really was.
Portrait courtesy Jeff Halmos; all other images by Brad Ogbonna
The legend of Joseph Haspel, Jr.
Our muse throughout this design process has been Joseph Haspel, Jr., a guy who seemed like he would have been a lot of fun to hang out with. He was mostly not wearing socks. Sometimes not wearing shoes in the factory. [Ed.: Inadvisable.] Sometimes wore a tie but most of the time not. Pants rolled up. A real cool guy who cut out of work at 4 o’clock to have a drink. Really well-traveled. Spent a lot of time in New York and Europe. It wasn’t like he was this proper Southern guy. He was all over the place. A real character.
There’s a story about him walking into the water at a trade show, walking into the ocean wearing his seersucker suit. Then he walked out and wore the suit to the big event at the end of the night to show how fast-drying it was. He was an innovative guy.
We tried to channel him, and think about him in a modern-day sense. We’re not literally designing for him, but the attitude, the feeling of things. He had a certain way of living. Tailored clothing is a major part of what we’re doing, and we’re trying to bring a lightheartedness to that. It’s not all grey suits. That was not Joseph Haspel, Jr.’s style at all.
Designing for Haspel
This is still Haspel, the same company JFK and all those presidents wore. It’s not some big corporation that bought the license to Haspel. It meant a lot to us that Laurie Aronson Haspel brought us on board, since Laurie’s mom’s dad was really the one that brought it into prominence. She and her mom felt they made a series of bad decisions licensing the name in the ’70s, and wanted to fix it and make the brand right. There’s an integrity to that. And they wanted to make everything in America, which we liked, so that’s what we’re doing. The whole thing felt right to us and that’s why we got involved.
That was a few years ago. If you look at the old Haspel ads, there was a voice that had a little bit of a sense of humor, there was not arrogance but confidence: “The smartest cool suit…the coolest smart suit.” The way they wrote was not so serious and straightforward advertising copy. There was a little bit of a whimsicalness to it. They thought that matched our personalities, and they liked that we were laid-back guys.
This is the third season since the relaunch, and this spring has more prints than last year. It’s more elaborate. Overall there’s more detail. The color white was a jumping-off point. A lot of stuff comes back to white. Seersucker has a white ground; we have a white trim on a lot of our looks, which contrasts with bright colors. Very spring, in terms of the palette.
We improved on certain items. Nordstrom bought some classic shirting and some fine-print short-sleeve shirts. You guys bought a lot of printed short-sleeve shirts, which are really popular, and jacquards, which is cool. You guys bought the Perising polo, which is a great fabric which I love, a marl that’s like almost a light French terry. It’s great. We’ve made so many polos at Shipley & Halmos, and this is one of my favorite designs. It’s definitely not your basic polo. It’s super interesting, not your basic cotton or piqué.
Seersucker, in the United States, was designed to keep people cool. Companies made workwear out of it, overalls for farmers, that kind of thing. Back then everyone wore suits, and they were hot. We’ve made technological advancements since then. But back then the suit was wool, the lining was cotton and the suit was hot. Joseph Haspel, Jr., saw a lightweight breathable fabric and made a suit. And that was that.
I think living in a place that was so, so hot, it forced him to say, “I’m not wearing this damn wool suit anymore.”