New season, new inspiration says Matteo Gottardi, leader of the menswear brand W.R.K–seen here at The WRK Shop showroom and design studio in New York City.
This spring: Formula One racecars and their drivers, a sport that is as visually striking and glamorous as it is punishing and dangerous.
Gottardi’s interest in speedy machines makes sense: he’s a motorcycle enthusiast, his mind moves racecar fast in conversation–and his general view with W.R.K is menswear should be high performance.
On the phone, Gottardi talked to us broadly about men and style, and took us under the hood of a few of his designs, including the rare beast known as the summer sweater.
All photos by Brad Ogbonna
Every season I’m inspired by a different occupation, and the man behind the occupation. What drives him to do what he does? This season I was inspired a lot by racecar drivers, specifically Formula One racecar drivers. That extended to color palettes and patterns, to details that come from driver uniforms or actual racecar details. The side or fender of the car, what have you.
You might be able to see it in the clothes or you might not. Some details are literal and some are conceptual, but the influence is there.
I was really inspired by the racecar driver James Hunt. He was a rock star, playboy, engineer, amazing athlete and fantastic Formula One racecar driver. What I love about being a racecar driver is you’re a socialite, an engineer and an athlete. You have to be at top physical form, lowest weight possible and withstand g-force. You have to cover this broad spectrum, and your style has to do the same.
You wake up and do 12-kilometer runs. Then you’re doing interviews. Then you’re sitting there with engineers, explaining to them that you’re not getting enough horsepower, the torque is too low, basically being a mathematician. And then later go out at night and put on a tuxedo at events. You have to be in Monaco, that kind of thing. And then wake up and go on a run. They’re superheroes.
Every single garment we put out always has functionality in mind. There’s purposefulness in every detail. A reason for everything.
Reworked Woven Shirt
Guys like to be comfortable. If they could, most guys would probably wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt every day. We live in comfort, but we want to look good. The Reworked shirt does that. What we’ve done is made the front, the cuffs and the collar out of poplin. And then we’ve taken the same yarn and done a T-shirt jersey for the sleeves and back. So what are you getting? A sportswear shirt or even a dress shirt, but with the flexibility and comfort of a T-shirt. And it’s all made out of the same yarn so it doesn’t look like two different shirts.
A lot of cool stuff happens at W.R.K by chance, because our people are so creative and have great ideas all the time. That’s where this came from. I’d seen woven shirts that are all jersey, and that’s cool. But we thought for my guy, the W.R.K guy, who wants to wear a shirt for all occasions, a shirt he can buy in seven or eight colors and wear every day to the office and also to impress his girlfriend. He’s not going to wear a jersey shirt. Because he’ll always relate it back to a T-shirt.
So we started weaving our own jerseys, seeing if we could do denser jerseys or looser jerseys. My business partner said, you know if I run this yarn through the loom really slowly, I can turn it into woven fabric. No longer jersey. And I said, well, that’s amazing. So we started making different parts of the shirt with these different fabrics. We thought, what are the parts of a shirt where a guy feels like, “I’m dressed up” or “I look good”? They grab their cuffs, they pull them down. They grab their collar, they pull it down. They rub the front of the shirt and they push it down. And that’s it. So the areas that a guy wants to feel dressed up in are the front of the shirt, the collar and the placket. Also, if he’s wearing a blazer, that’s the only part you can see. Areas where you want to feel comfortable are the arms and the back, so that’s where we give you that stretch.
I love motorcycle riding. It’s my passion. I have a vintage Triumph Bonneville that I’ve cafe-ed out. She’s been the love of my life for–I can’t believe I’m about to say this–nine years. I love taking long trips. South Africa. Guatemala. I love riding. And riding is one of the perfect tests for a jacket. You need a jacket that’s versatile, that keeps you warm but can cool you down. That’s water repellent, but not too heavy. You need a jacket that’s comfortable. Your arms are going to be bent. When you think about it, men’s arms are always bent. When are a man’s arms straight? But garments are made with straight arms.
Waxed cotton allows you to constantly recoat it. You can keep it waterproof forever. And it’s kind of an amazing process to coat it. To melt the wax, see the wear and tear, and how you’re using it.
Men, I think, have lost their respect for clothing. It’s seen as vain. I want to bring back the feeling of, like, why do you go to a tool shop and look at the tools and feel so proud of them? Why do you go to a mountain-bike store and say, I’m going to get this new rim, and this, this, this. With clothing, you don’t have that same connection. You don’t have that same passion for the intricate details. Why?
If guys love something, they want to wear it all the time. That’s why we wear thermals inside our same pair of jeans. We don’t want to think about another pair of pants.
The Montauk design is really simple, and that’s what I love about it. What is a summer sweater? When is a guy going to want to wear a sweater in the summer? What is it? Is it a crewneck, a V-neck?
I came to a realization. I love to go to the beach, be out in nature and surf. And when you get out of the water and are hanging out with your friends, or maybe afterward by the bonfire, you want something to keep you warm so you don’t feel like, damn, it’s cold outside. So I created the Montauk, which is a heavy-gauge cotton but loose. It looks clean. It looks sharp. On the beach, off the beach. I even wear it out to dinner. It’s slim on the sides, and it’s comfortable, it’s easy. You don’t feel like you’re wearing a sweater. Air gets through, but it keeps you just warm enough. It almost plays as an outerwear piece.
I have a place out in Long Island on the beach. And whenever we’re going out to dinner or go to the beach, I grab it. Over a woven shirt, a T-shirt, whatever. It’s almost like a dressed-up blanket. All my friends own one. It’s not a slouchy, poncho look. It’s slim and dressed up.