Patrik Ervell on Britpop, British Underground Culture and Brutalism | Behind the Brand

ervell1Images by David Brandon Geeting

Speaking on the phone with new-to-Nordstrom designer Patrik Ervell about his personal history and design inspirations, we guessed he might talk about coming of age in the 1990s. His take on Seinfeld-esque jeans sort of gives him away as a child of that era.

We didn’t expect the native Northern Californian to go on about Britpop, British underground culture (“they invented all the forms”) and Brutalist architecture. Nor to reveal that he once worked at Nordstrom. But that’s an actual fact.

The clothes you should be wearing this fall from Ervell display a blend of austerity and flyness, with careful attention paid to sensory details. There is a distant Joy Division thing happening, the printed logo on a few shirts looks just like Jodeci’s, and everything is made to feel a certain way on your skin that’s hard to convey through the Internet.

Shop: Patrik Ervell

Nordstrom blogs: It’s exciting to have you at Nordstrom.

Patrik Ervell: Happy to be there.

What did you feel about this past New York Fashion Week: Men’s–which was the first men’s only fashion week in America?

I decided not to have a show. Normally I would have my show in September, and for this inaugural fashion week I opted to just have a lookbook. I think it’s a good idea to have a men’s fashion week. But I don’t think it’s reached critical mass yet. But I will show at the next installment in January.

Why did you decide not to, and why did you change your mind?

First I thought if there was a time to do something alternative, it would be now, the first time. So I did a lookbook. And now I’m doing a project closer to when clothes deliver to stores. I always thought it was archaic, with shows happening and then six months later the clothes are in stores. It was time, in my mind, to experiment with a different format and different timing.

You’ve talked about how runway shows are ridiculous to you.

It’s archaic. But at the same time there is a sense of occasion when it happens, and getting all the people there to see this thing that lasts for ten minutes. So much effort and energy goes into that ten minutes. It doesn’t really make sense. But there’s something about it. I guess I’m torn.

When did you develop your sense of style?

I think it was in high school in the mid-’90s. If I can rewind to that time, I got really into Britpop, like Pulp, Suede and Blur. That was my introduction to style in a way. In high school that’s what you do, find a subculture that you’re doing that others aren’t. I was growing up in Northern California. There were some haircuts going on. It was slightly mod.

Anoraks with the collar eating your face?

A little bit, yeah.

What’s the name of your high school and hometown?

I grew up in Tiburon, Marin County. High school is Redwood High School. And actually I forgot who I’m talking to! At one point I did have a summer job in the local Nordstrom. It was in men’s sportswear. They have extra people helping during holiday. Or sale season. I can’t remember. I was a salesperson. Not a very good one, and only for two months. It was in Corte Madera.

When you started designing clothes, did you incorporate that Britpop influence?

I think so. I always felt British subcultures were the masters of dressing for men. They invented all the forms, all the archetypes we follow today.

Do you mean Saville Row?

No, for me it’s about subcultures where style bubbles up. Like you mentioned the anorak. That comes from British music subcultures.

When did you start caring about the feeling of clothes on skin?

I think that’s one of the fundamentals. You have to master that. Otherwise you don’t want these things. They don’t actually work. It’s a tricky thing because it’s not always about, it’s soft and it feels good. Sometimes that’s wrong. For some garments you want stiffness. Or you want it to be hard, or cold. That sensory element is a big part of my job.

It’s tricky for the customer because you can’t see that stuff.

You can’t, and right now so much of our buying experience is looking at clothes online. And you miss that.

I guess you can put words next to pictures explaining them.

But at the end of the day you have to have this experience, alone, with the garment. And sometimes that happens at the very end. It’s become a different process with the Internet.

When did you get into alpaca?

We have that for fall and winter. It feels more masculine to me than cashmere for example. Also feels more special. You can buy a cashmere sweater from a million different stores. There’s something rare about baby alpaca. There’s a wetness about it, too.

Have you ever met an alpaca?

I’ve definitely met a llama. Which is a cousin of an alpaca.

Does this current fall collection stick in your memory? What do you remember about designing it?

This is a sweet spot in between something that feels sci-fi futuristic, and something with a sense of nostalgia. There’s a tension between the two. I was looking at a lot of brutalist architecture. Which is quite sci-fi and quite ‘70s. So in the clothes you’ll see silhouettes that almost seem a bit ‘80s, done in textured fabrics. This forward and backward at the same time. That feels right for me right now.

Are there buildings in New York which have that type of architecture that you like?

Yes, this amazing place in Chinatown. They’re called Chatham Towers. My studio is a five minute walk from them. They’re these bizarro residential buildings.

In the ‘70s, designers still had a vision for the future.

Right. But this design is ugly now to most people. It looks heavy. But I think it’s being reconsidered. I think it’s bolder than people give it credit for being.

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