Meet the Designers

We spent a week this summer invading the offices and going inside the minds of six American menswear heroes. In our final installment, Band of Outsiders founder and designer Scott Sternberg talks French film, adult onesies and how to put on a show.

What’s the story behind your fall collection?
It took inspiration from a very childlike notion of building a city from scratch. Sort of like if you could start your own urban utopia, like Brasilia—Oscar Niemeyer’s, you know, South American little getaway. What would the roads look like? What would the signs look like? What would the uniforms look like, and what would the mail people drive around? And all that stuff. Uh, so I was very titillated by that.

How did the idea of building your utopia come about?
Just a conversation with my old design assistant. I think that up on the board, we had this archival print of these, uh, flies. They weren’t crawling up and down lines [on a shirt] at the time. They just seemed like something. And there were a bunch of maps on the board. I had just bought a piece by an artist called Sam Durant. And then I started pulling all these different artists who worked with maps, like Jules de Balincourt, who’s more painterly than Sam, who is much more sculptural. And we just sort of riffed on that. It seemed like a cool way to do a collection, versus being, like, inspired by Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor, or you know, the number nine or something. [Laughs.]

What are some ways you brought the city-planning concept back to the clothes?
So I started with the maps, and then there were other sort of sartorial references that just took place: imagery of boat workers, and this thing about workwear. Like this [twill jacket] is typical workwear. Cotton workwear material—a work shirt, pretty much. But how do you strip away all the elements and simplify it almost to the point of… not childlike, but just… elementary? And then, give it one sort of key signifier that makes it feel new.

Like in our uniforms, the two-tone zipper. Or this reefer coat, which is a very traditional reefer coat that’s, like, very preppy, like “go to work”—but with these super-athletic, sporty cuffs, like from a track jacket or something. Sort of thinking about combining workwear with what you might wear to the office and athletic stuff—in some cases, it’s all in one garment.

The fly [embroidered on this shirt] is this idea of insects being, like, the base of the city—underneath it all. Then just sort of getting playful. A lot of what we do is taking things that are really easy to wear, very preppy ways of dressing, but just sort of f—ing around with it a little bit. I mean “screwing around with it.” [Laughs].

No worries, we’ll bleep it.
…So, just simple things like combining very familiar fabrics to make something that just seems very simple, but slightly off, like this contrast-pocket [shirt]. And even from a practical standpoint, I like the idea of using both. [The shirt effectively has two pockets.]

 

What’s the name of your made-up city?
We just called it “The City.” But in parentheses, I think. We put a lot of things in parentheses. I hate naming things. Coming up with “Band of Outsiders” was torture.

Was it? Do you still like the name “Band of Outsiders” now?
The first two years, I was really tortured by it. I thought, “This is really putting it out there.” But no, it’s, uh… it becomes semantics after a while. It just becomes sounds. And they work thematically with what we do. So, I’m into it.

Where does the name come from?
It’s the English translation of a Jean-Luc Godard movie called Bande à Part, which is a French new-wave film that my clothes look not very much like. It wasn’t like I was trying to recreate that world—although I’d love to be in that world—but it’s more about the tone of the brand. Band of Outsiders [the Godard film] is like a gangster movie about gangster movies. I mean, it’s completely a work of art and this great film, but it really is making fun of the genre of film.

How does the film relate to what you do?
We’re not making fun of preppy clothes, and we’re not making fun of fashion. These are great clothes. They’re super well-made. But, there’s always sort of a further investigation… into, like, the slight ridiculousness that is fashion. And with men, the sort of habits and things that pull guys down and prevent them from having fun dressing.

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Sartorial satire. Is that why this oxford shirt has two pockets, and this polo shirt has a fake pocket?
Yes. Trapped. I call it a trapped pocket. I started this line called “This Is Not a Polo Shirt,” but we’re slowly dissolving it just to be Band of Outsiders… just to remove syllables from people’s daily lives. But you know, it was an investigation of the polo shirt—and one thing that I found right away when looking into them was that, okay, nobody uses that pocket. But when you take it away, it sort of feels naked. So it’s this vestigial thing; it’s like your appendix. It’s there for a reason. It keeps the symmetry there somehow. It’s how people understand it. But it’s not actually utilized. So, that was my comment on the chest pocket.

This is not a pocket. So, why is that not a polo shirt?
It is a polo shirt! That’s the whole thing. But it’s not, because you don’t play polo in it. The concept was really about—we obviously like investigating this tried-and-true part of a man’s wardrobe—but also thinking about how men are obsessed with utility, and how it ties to what they wear. And how that somehow makes it all right. So if it’s a polo shirt or a hunting jacket or you name it—in the lexicon of Ivy League clothes, they’re all attributed to some function that happened at some time, most likely romanticized in the ’50s or ’60s, or even before. And I think it’s sort of ridiculous and great, because nobody’s hunting, for the most part, in those jackets. Nobody’s playing polo, period. But we still call them that. It still helps us feel okay with wearing them.

On the conceptual note: who is René Magritte?
Well, he’s a super-smart guy, a surrealist artist and he did a painting called The Treachery of Images. It’s a painting of a pipe [and says in French], “This is not a pipe.” Yes, it’s a pipe, but it’s a painting of a pipe, so it’s not a pipe. It’s all about perception. And you know, guys in the store will definitely [consider that] when buying clothes. [Laughs]. Tapping into all those hot marketing points here at Band of Outsiders!

 

You’re joking, but you must include those references in your work for a reason?
We’re building, hopefully, something that’s meaningful—a brand that means something authentic. It’s really an extension of me, and things I love, and the other people who work here and what they bring to the table. I think people ultimately really respond to that well.

You didn’t present the Fall ’13 collection via a normal runway presentation. What did you do instead?
Oh, God, this is ridiculous. This was the second in a series of non-traditional fashion shows for men that sort of utilized social media as a primary means to get out there and make people aware of the collection. So it was presented as part of a scavenger hunt, which was Matt vs. Miles. We pitted two ridiculously good-looking models against each other, gave them ten clues, ten looks each, and they were running around Manhattan for a day—this urban utopia, back to the inspiration—modeling looks from the collection. So it was a super-rad experiment. A lot of people paid attention, except for fashion people [laughs], who like to watch people walk by them on the runway. We make it a little difficult at times, not purposefully, for people to access what we’re doing. And it’s not for any other reason than to sort of challenge the norm and try out new ideas.

During those guerrilla-marketing campaigns, you often wear some kind of one-piece…
…Yeah, uniform. They’re boiler suits. It goes back to the urban utopia thing—the idea about what workers will wear on the street. I love those onesies. They’re great. I wore a black one to a show once, where I was in the show. It was like a men’s tuxedo that looked like a boiler suit. I’d rock that anywhere; I don’t care. They’re super-comfortable. They’re gonna be the staff uniforms for our retail shops.

Do they have everyone’s names monogrammed?
I thought about it. I like the idea instead of just having a rainbow of them in the back room, and you just sort of grab one when you come in.

Why do you collect vintage calculators?
Gosh, um, I collect a lot of vintage things. I’m interested in the idea of technology that is so simple that really, in a way, it doesn’t need to go away. Polaroid is such a tragedy, because really, they should still be making film, because we haven’t replicated that technology. A screen with a digital image does not do that. It’s singular. It’s interesting. A calculator… it can be on here [motions at his computer screen], and that’s fine, but—this is a useful tool. This thing, right here, being here outside of this. It’s more productive that way. So, as objects, they’re beautiful.

Speaking of vintage, your fall women’s collection contained some archaic video-game references.
You know, when you’re sort of mining for inspiration—desperate for inspiration [laughs]. Um, no. I was trying to think of something very graphic and colorful and sort of obtuse. And I’d had Atari, which was a big part of my childhood, floating around as a potential part of a few collections. [That women’s collection] had this sort of ’30s Billie Holiday thing, and it was lacking any edge at all. So, just by process of, you know, force, I took all the Atari stuff—we colored it, sized it and put it into the women’s—and it sort of gave it exactly what it needed, which was something obtuse that wasn’t so vintage and nostalgic, but more strange and surprisingly beautiful or whatever.

Why Atari?
It makes its way in because it’s part of my childhood—like, a super-personal reference, which I think is so obvious and universal, but then you ask the kids lined up out there [at Band of Outsiders HQ], who are my designers, and they’re like, “What’s Atari?” And they’re Googling it. Oh, my God, I am so old.

 

Band of Outsiders started out as only men’s clothing. How did you get off the ground, back in 2004?
I had a really ridiculous notion to start a line of shirts and ties. I was working in the entertainment industry. I was an agent at a talent agency. And I just sort of started it. It was no real thing. I just saved up 30 grand and opened about three credit cards and went [for it].

Why did you start with shirts and ties, in particular?
At first, it was just a strange instinct. There was gonna be a sort of a “future prep” thing, right? Like, that was clear. And if you just thought of that uniform, those were the two essential elements of it—minus a blazer. Those elements made a look, you know, shirt and tie together. And a collection of 20 ties and 20 shirts actually made myriad looks, right? Like, where you can really start playing. And I think with neckwear, in particular, there’s sort of not a lot of rules in terms of color, pattern, all of that—because it’s sort of the one place where you can go a little nuts. So that allowed me, just with a few garments, the platform to sort of show my graphic taste and sense of color. And I could just get it done. I found a tie factory, I found vintage silk and I figured out how to make a shirt.

You got picked up by a couple key stores in 2004, and your product flew off the shelves. Why do you think Band of Outsiders was so popular right off the bat?
It was cute! Listen, it was preppy. At the time, when you went into [a high-end men’s store], everything’s black, sort of grey. Serious, European, very slick, like this idea of “luxury.” So I think when [certain] buyers saw all this preppy stuff, from a merchant’s perspective at a store, they were excited. There was color. There was—I think I had a pair of golf pants in there too—so, plaid pants. It felt like fashion somehow, because it just wasn’t out there. This was before all the other people, who followed us. I don’t know the names, but they’re all doing a great job. [Laughs]. So, it was rather easy at the beginning. It was just like, “Great, give me more. What else do you have? More colors?” 

Why does your menswear come in sizes 0 through 5?
I just like making things difficult for people. [He’s kidding.] You know, it’s actually something we’re reassessing right now. The original reason was that the proportions were non-traditional, so referencing existing sizing, whether that was small, medium, large—or even on the suiting, like 34 or 44 or whatever—didn’t feel like a great idea. I wanted to take people out of that context and just do a size scale relative to ourselves. So that was the original thought. But as we expand, [it might change]. Nordstrom readers, tell me your thoughts! Seriously.

How did you start designing women’s clothes as well?
It wasn’t like I started men’s so I could eventually do women’s. I’d had what I thought was a joke of a notion, to start a women’s line called “Boy”… it sort of sneaked up and started becoming a thing, just by the market consuming it. So it really forced me to figure out how the hell to make dresses. And you know, be a designer and all that stuff. That was scary.

You’re not trained as a designer. So… trial by fire?
Nope. Yep. I mean design, most of it—you have to understand how to make things, and you have to understand how to communicate to people. Because ultimately, [you’re not the one] sewing up all those garments that go into the store. [You’re] working with great craftsmen, who are gonna translate [your] vision. So, I’m a pretty good communicator.

The second piece is really knowing what you want. It seems obvious, but you [have to be able to] make a stand at a moment in time, in a season, for a particular part of a collection, [and say] “This is what I want.” And really, that’s design. I know what I want, I know how to communicate to the people who can make what I want. There you go.

 

How do you multitask between men’s and women’s? Is it difficult to switch gears and do both?
Yes. Yes. It’s really challenging. Men’s is very topical—we’re designing fabrics, we’re working on graphic elements. We’re not changing shapes too much, but we’re changing the smallest of details, to ignite desire with something familiar.

With women’s, it’s totally different. Everything’s on the table to some extent. It’s super-challenging, but it’s fun. It’s freeing, you know? It’s sort of like you can just go for it. When you’re doing a show, it’s like, what are you trying to say? And how do you say that 32 different ways, where it’s all the same, but all totally different? It’s a lot… What did I do? [Laughs.] I’m kidding. I love it.

Band of Outsiders has created some great campaign imagery over the years. How did you decide to start shooting actors and musicians instead of models?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision, like, “Let’s do this.” I think the first—I met Michelle Williams at a party in New York, and she was really sweet and sheepish about being a fan, which I thought was hilarious. And we talked about it right then, like, “You should be in some of these Polaroids that I shoot.” I hadn’t shot anybody famous [before]. And then it sort of became a thing.

Someone in your office was showing us a book of Polaroids earlier—and they’re real Polaroids. Point and shoot. What made you decide to use that kind of camera?
Super-practical. At the time, you could buy the film at Rite-Aid. I first thought I needed to get a fancy photographer to shoot my lookbooks and stuff, but I didn’t have much money when I started. Plus, I wasn’t even finding anybody whose aesthetic I liked. I knew photography [Sternberg majored in economics and photography in college], but I knew I didn’t want to be traveling around with a crew. I wanted to do stuff very simply. So, I ordered a couple old cameras, and it was like a no-brainer. I mean, you don’t have to light anything, and it looks fantastic as long as you know like three tricks. It’s so easy.

What do celebrities think about being shot with lo-fi, instant equipment?
It creates a super-immediate trust level. They’re obviously super-concerned about their image and have been shot a million times, and those images [often] have been completely manipulated from what they thought they were agreeing to. It’s also so fast, it’s kind of crazy. Those shoots will take two or three hours. Normally, shoots take two or three days for a campaign. It’s all these setups, all this crew, hair and makeup, lots of people talking to each other all day about God knows what. None of that sh— happens on our shoots. It’s just like, “Okay, we’re done.”

How do you decide which actors and actresses to work with?
It’s super-organic. It’s very much about the feeling of the collection. You know, I shot Amy Adams for a collection that had very much a Southwest sort of feel. I felt like there was no question; it was gonna be Amy Adams. Like, she was just that girl out in the prairie, and that whole vibe. Um, Frank was Frank [see above—those are the originals!]. I mean, come on. I was gonna shoot Frank Ocean, and it didn’t matter where the f— I was gonna shoot him at. He’s somebody that we’d been communicating with for a while. And then sometimes it’s just what’s going on in culture. Greta Gerwig is so awesome, an actress that I just loved forever. And I knew she had a movie coming out, which I had seen a preview of, and it felt like this was Greta’s moment. Like, “I want to shoot her right now.” And that was it.

Is it always someone you know and are friends with ahead of time?
No, never. I mean, I’m not that social. I don’t have a lot of friends. [Laughs]. Okay, I have really good friends, but, uh, I don’t fly around with actors all the time. They’re mostly working on movies and stuff. We go through normal means—you know, cold-call publicists, that sort of thing. The ones who get it immediately say yes, and the ones who don’t—you know, no harm, no foul.

You’ve shot Jason Schwartzman a couple times. Do you think he would be friends with us?
Yeah, he’s so nice. But he doesn’t leave his house. He had a baby a couple years ago. He’s so cute and sweet with this baby, and so worried about this baby, that I don’t think that baby will ever leave his sight. He used to come by here every week, to pick up new clothes. He’s such a good one. Good egg. He was sort of plucked out of nowhere for Rushmore. Well, not nowhere, but high school.

 

What about Sarah Silverman? Can we all hang out?
She’s really intense. She’s a comedian. It’s a whole world… I think she’d eat you alive.

Is that what happened to you when you shot with her?
No. She was so sweet. But you have to remember that I have a camera, so there’s this thing that happens. I’m not going into these shoots being like “Be my friend, let’s hang out.” It’s very, like, “I need you to do this for me, and you will go here now, and let’s do this.” And then it’s all very friendly, but it’s all very professional. So, yeah, Sarah Silverman would love you.

Did she say anything offensive to you that day, when you were shooting?
Oh, my God, no. She was offended, actually. I shot her twice—once for Interview magazine, with Aziz Ansari, and that was just like caging two zoo animals. Uh, seriously, though—when I shot her the first time, we shot at Canter’s Deli, which is a famous old deli here. And we went down to the kitchen, which I would not suggest anybody do, and they had these vats of pickles—like literally vats. Pickles are the free things you get at the table there. And it smelled so bad. She had like, a minor meltdown, but it had nothing to do with me. It was the pickles. [Laughs]. Only on a Band of Outsiders shoot.

 
—  —  —
 


Key items from Band of Outsiders’ Fall collection:
‘Schoolboy’ Blazer | Twill Jacket | Wool Sweater
Oxford Shirt | Double-Breasted Overcoat | Inside-Out Piqué Polo

SHOP ALL: BAND OF OUTSIDERS

 
 

[Photos by Robin Stein. Interview by Justin Abbott.
Special thanks to Scott Sternberg and the Band of Outsiders team.]

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We spent a week this summer invading the offices and going inside the minds of six American menswear heroes. In our fifth installment, Jack Spade creative director Cuan Hanly (that’s pronounced “COO-in,” if you’re curious) discusses Charles Eames, growing up in Ireland and style that’s tough enough for a hardware store.

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: Legend has it that Jack Spade started by making bags—and selling them in a perhaps-unexpected venue.
CUAN HANLY OF JACK SPADE: We sold our first bag in 1997, and it was sold at a hardware store. I think the idea was to put bags in the hands of people who actually use bags, and who use ’em for function. So it was the idea of a builder, a painter, an architect having a bag—and it was primarily a tote bag at that point—that could be multifunctional. It was something that would carry tile samples around, but then equally, you could bring it to work and use it in the office. So that was really the origin, and then over the years, the bag range developed greatly—outside just the tote shape, and outside the hardware element. But it’s always been about timeless functionality—stuff that always works and continues to work.

Jack Spade bags have earned kind of a cult status.
We have people coming into our stores that have had our bags for eight or ten years, and now they’re broken-in and battered, but they absolutely love them—because it represents that kind of journey and experience with a product or an object carried with you.

Eventually, around 2009 [when Cuan came on board], you guys started rolling out clothing in addition to bags. Is the same “form meets function” philosophy reflected there as well?
I believe so. It’s something that we focus on a lot. We select raw materials that have durability. We concentrate on the way things are constructed in our design process. So, yeah, I feel like we want the apparel to act in the same way as the bags—in the sense that it becomes a favorite shirt or favorite jacket or favorite pair of trousers that you’re gonna go back to all the time.

What inspired you and the Jack Spade team when you were designing the fall collection?
We were very interested in the crossover in the creative world, of work and play, and the kind of blurred boundaries if you’re working in a creative environment—that really you never stop thinking about it, whether you’re at home or at work. We did a photo shoot with an artist called Geoff McFetridge. He’s a graphic artist out in L.A. It’s just interesting seeing how he lives his life—he’ll go surfing in the morning, then he’ll go to work, and it’s just kind of a complete blurred line.

How did that play out in some of the pieces?
Following what I said about bringing the concept of “play” into it, we have what we’re calling our Tangram pattern. [Case for iPhone here; sweater coming soon.] It’s like where you take little blocks of wood, and you create shapes out of it. Actually, it’s supposed to be like a little flying bird. So that was a motif that we used throughout. We’re pretty well-known for color and pattern, so we wanted to bring that in, but in a way that remains wearable, because it can go un-wearable very easily. We got such a phenomenal response for this sweater.

Well, people love tangrams. What led you to choose that as a theme?
We were also a bit influenced by Ray and Charles Eames, because their creative environment was very much [a blurred line between work and play]. They did a lot of toys. They used to do the House of Cards and so on, so this kinda felt like it was a follow-up from that—taking essentially what are kids’ toys but doing them in a way that makes them feel a little more intellectual and sophisticated.

 

There’s a great leather jacket in the collection.
It’s Italian lambskin. One of the things we’re really interested in is how product wears and how the user affects the product. So, we don’t tend to break our product in too heavily before people buy it. We love the fact that if you wore this, and if I wore this—or if you carried one of our wax bags and I also carried it over a period of a couple years—they would look completely different, ’cause we have different lifestyles, and we use them in different ways. So, we like the aging process. We like the way that things age [depending on] how a customer uses them.

Of course Jack Spade is still making great bags. Which pieces are you looking forward to for fall?
Definitely feeling a big drive toward briefcases. So we have our classic Waxwear, which is this guy [above left]… our slim briefWith technology these days, iPads and so on, a guy doesn’t need a really big briefcase anymore. He’s carrying less from a paperwork point of view. We’ve been using waxed canvas for a long time, and it just has such a beautiful character. I think it’s better and better the more you use it. Again, it’s our fascination with how things age and wear, and waxed canvas is just one of those things that really wears in beautifully and becomes like an old friend the more you use it.

It’s apparent in some of your accessories that Jack Spade is funny. Has a sense of humor always been part of the brand?
I think it’s always been there. It’s something that attracted me… from the outside, before I joined the brand [in 2009]. I think it’s not a juvenile humor; it’s self-effacing humor. We like to refer to it as an unexpected wit. It’s a little bit of a surprise, ’cause I do think our customer is interested in discovery and in finding things that they’re not expecting to see. You’ll find cards in your [Jack Spade] wallet, when you buy your wallet, that have the top-ten chess moves—little things like that.

In addition to bags and clothes, Jack Spade launched a line of watches this past year. What sets Jack Spade watches apart?
All of the metal-case watches are Swiss movement, so we get the interior from Switzerland. They’re sapphire-crystal faces, so basically anything but a diamond is not going to scratch your watch. We developed this guy, which we call the Dual Time. This is actually a movement that we developed ourselves. It’s got an internal rotating bezel, and by turning the fourth hand, you can set a second time zone, and it keeps in sync with the main movement, so you can look at two time zones on one face. It’s based on an old ’50s pilot watch that I have.

What does it mean when we hear “Swiss-made” or “Swiss movement” when it comes to watches?
It’s just the level of quality, really. That’s the main thing. Switzerland is the mecca of watchmaking. Generally, our products are a lot about the functionality, the durability and the quality of the product, so we felt it was appropriate for our watches to have that.

For guys with less money to invest in a top-quality watch, you have options under $100, too.
We launched with what we’re calling our ‘Graphic’ watches. These retail at $98. They’re a great opportunity for the brand to show its personality. [For example], the ‘Graphic’ watches are not Swiss movement; they’re Japanese movement. So what we put on it is “No jewels, not Swiss.” We never try to be something that we’re not, so it’s important that, when we do something like this, we’re not pretending—it just is what it is. So we kind of embrace the high and low of things, in a big way.

Do you have a watch collection of your own?
I do. I probably have over 30, ranging from top-end to low-end. I picked up an old Elgin in a flea market in L.A. That was kind of one of my better finds, ‘cause it was in one of those boxes where they’ve taken the straps off and it’s just the cases. And I spotted ’em and had a quick look at it, and I was like, “Hmm, this looks really good.” It’s an automatic one, and it was still working. The guy looked like he knew [his stuff], ‘cause he had other, much higher-level watches out. And he said $30, so I was like, “Will you do it for $25?” and he said yes. So that was a little bit of a prize “get.”

 

You guys use a lot of color, but it doesn’t feel loud.
We tend to build our own color palettes. We don’t really follow color trends, so we create a lot of our patterns and colors ourselves, so I think that’s something that our customer comes to us for. They’re not gonna see this type of pattern anywhere else. The color combinations feel interesting. We don’t always put the “right” colors together, which I think is something that people kind of like.

This sweater has an interesting effect—with some interesting colors.
It’s a bit like a Donegal tweed but, as you can see, pulling out colors that you wouldn’t normally see in a Donegal, like the bright green and bright pink and so on.

For the layperson, could you define what Donegal means?
It’s just basically where you take a darker color and you shoot brighter colors through it. So they’ll pick different-colored yarns and feed it through while they’re weaving, and you get these kind of little small specks of color. I mean, I think originally it probably represented the moss on the heath in Donegal. I guess that’s where it came from originally. Don’t quote me on that! [Sorry, Cuan.] But being from Ireland, I think that’s what it looks like.

How do you utilize these giant fabric books [pictured above]?
They’re all vintage. They’re pretty incredible. You can take patterns off them and work them in different fabrications. I’ve got about 30 of these books that we dive into when we need to. “Spring 1969″—these are a little crazy. We got some great color inspiration from them as well. You can pull color palettes out of them. I also collect scarves. They’re a great source for swimwear patterns.


You guys have an interesting collection of artwork and memorabilia around the office.
We just collect them anywhere and everywhere: eBay, flea markets, vintage stores. There are two or three of us who do a lot of the collecting, and we just amalgamate and collect stuff all the time. Collecting is a big part of the team and the brand, so we just continue the art collection. Generally, it’s just stuff that has a little element of humor to it or kind of an odd sense to it. We like oversized things as well. In the prop room, you’ll see some things that are kind of oddly sized. As I say, it’s a collection of the classic but equally the slightly odd.

How do you and your team find time to go thrift-shopping? Do you pencil it in as dedicated research work?
Yeah, we do. We do road trips to particular things. We’ve done a few to L.A, and then… you know, flea markets on the weekend, or you just see stuff. eBay is a great source for stuff… I just love the idea that some things people completely disregard, we find really interesting. You know, one man’s fat is another man’s meat. Or is it the other way around?

  

For eBay, it seems like you’d need to have a specific item in mind that you’re searching for.
My watch list is very extensive. Some of them work well, but eBay is always a little bit risky. I remember I was buying—don’t ask me why I was buying it—but it was just this beautiful brass doorknob, and it was supposed to be off one of the cathedrals in Boston. And it was only like a dollar, so I was like, let’s get it. And it took ages to arrive. And three or four weeks later, I just got this little envelope, and it was kinda handwritten, and it was basically a postcard of the doorknob, and that’s what I had bought. So you never know. Sometimes you fall afoul of eBay, but most of the time you get pretty interesting stuff.

Any other tips on vintage-shopping?
It’s a lot of fun. I do a lot of it. If you spoke to my wife… it’s like, I’ll come home with more jackets, and she’s like, “Didn’t you just buy one of those?” I’m like, “The pockets are different. That’s very important.” Luckily, we have a basement.

What was it like growing up in Dublin?
It was great. I mean, it’s a fantastic town. It’s an odd combination of feeling like a small village where everybody knows everybody—but it’s a capital city, so it has that bigger-city vibe to it as well. So it was a really nice combination of closeness to family, but then feeling like you were part of a bigger strata across the world of capital cities. We try to go back there twice a year.

How did you go about becoming the creative director of Jack Spade?
I studied design in college, and then I worked for a long time with Paul Smith in the UK. My wife’s American, and we moved over to New York about seven and a half years ago, and I started working as a creative director at Original Penguin. I was there for just under three years. And then, I basically always loved Jack and what it represented, and at that time they were looking for somebody to head up the brand. So I came on board about five years ago.

Were you always interested in clothing and style?
Yeah, I think so. I was certainly interested in design and architecture, photography, clothes. So, it wasn’t necessarily specifically about clothes, but it was just a broader sense of design and aesthetic—that’s always been a big interest of mine. And I do a lot of photography personally, so that’s something that’s close to my heart as well. So, it’s just a general fascination and love of design across a lot of different disciplines.

What made you choose to be a design major in college?
I think it was an interesting combination, because there’s a technical side to clothing—design and construction and raw material. I was always very interested in architecture as well, and it felt like almost kind of architecture for the body—the way you construct things and the way you design ’em and the technical side of it. So that’s always fascinated me and, I think, drew me to it.

Did you dress well as a kid in high school?
I guess. You’d have to ask my friends!

Were there school uniforms back in Dublin?
There were, yes. I kind of [liked them] in a way, because they were super classic… black blazer and gray trousers.

Did you and your classmates do things to kind of personalize the uniforms?
To a certain extent. Not too much, but… wearing trousers a little shorter or untucking shirts. That was about the extent that we were allowed. The tie undone was a big thing I always remember.

What else were you into growing up? Music? Sports?
I grew up listening to a lot of Van Morrison… Neil Young… and a little bit of Led Zeppelin, so kind of a broad spectrum of stuff. And I did play a lot of sports—a lot of cricket when I was younger. That was a big part of my youth—which obviously has a uniform also. I got hit pretty badly as a kid [playing cricket], smashed my nose up. The batsman just—bang—straight to my face. But it’s a great game. It’s like a game of chess… I guess it’s like any sport—when you’re into it, you can tell the subtleties and the nuances of what people are doing and what the impact of those are gonna be.

You guys have a Galaga-slash-Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine here in your well-appointed employee break room. Do you hold the high score?
It doesn’t log the high score. I’m one of the people who plays it most, though. Galaga is one of my favorites. It’s great. We’ve set it so you can basically just keep playing, no quarters required.

Who are your top style icons of all time? 
Oh, let’s see. I think Cary Grant is definitely—do you know the movie To Catch a Thief? You should definitely see it. It’s pretty amazing. So, yeah, he would be up there. Just again, that kind of really super-classic, simple but great color combinations. Not afraid of pattern. On-screen and off-screen, just beautifully perfected style. JFK obviously was another—an American icon. And going into, you know, Jackson Pollock and people like that, where it’s a little bit left of center in their design aesthetic—or their clothing aesthetic as well.

Who’s that grizzled gent in the black-and-white photo there [pictured two photos up]?
Edmund Hillary—explorer, Mount Everest. That was one of the kind of kick-off thoughts about our holiday concept, ’cause it’s the anniversary of them conquering Mount Everest, Hillary and Tenzing. Obviously, he wore amazing mountaineering gear, but then he’s got this really nice kind of softened English-tweed aesthetic in his non-mountaineering wear. So, an interesting guy.

How about a design icon? I see Dieter Rams referenced on your office wall.
His design philosophy was pretty amazing—less design is more. And you think, with Apple and where they’ve gone with a lot of their product, I think it’s drawing a lot of influence from him. Just the simplicity of it. It certainly resonates with me: as little design as possible.

 
—  —  —
 


Key items from Jack Spade’s fall collection:
Merino Wool CardiganSuede Tote | Quilted Vest
‘Waxwear’ Backpack | Donegal Sweater | Leather-Strap Watch

SHOP ALL: JACK SPADE

 
 

[Photos by Robin Stein. Interview by Justin Abbott.
Special thanks to Cuan Hanly and the Jack Spade team.]

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hero

We spent a week this summer invading the offices and going inside the minds of six American menswear heroes. In our fourth installment, Michael Bastian discusses BB guns, making moms cry, and rebelling against expectations.

What inspired your Fall ’13 collection?
The fall collection had three or four different influences. The main one was the American painter Andrew Wyeth, and kind of his darker vision of Maine, where he was based. With every collection, you start with one thing, and then it’s like a snowball—it just picks up more stuff as you go through the six months of developing it. This idea of Red-winged Blackbirds crept in. I just think they’re so beautiful, and we started digging into the mythology of it.

Red-winged Blackbird—is that a specific species of bird?
Have you seen them? I don’t think they have them in the west. They’re shore birds, and the Native Americans interpreted them as this kind of gatekeeper in a way, because they were always on the edge of the water. So to them, the bird symbolized the last thing you saw before you entered into a new world. Or welcomed you into this world. It was perfect, because we felt, as a company, that we were kind of transitioning into something new.

Something new—like what?
It’s funny, because we [get grouped] in with the ‘preppy’ designers—and yeah, I guess I’m basically a preppy guy, but there’s gotta be more to American menswear than just preppy. So that’s what we were exploring with this collection. So the bird crept in, and then this idea of kind of American Gothic crept in, and—if you look at the collection in its entirety, it just, to me, feels a little darker, a little moodier, a little more introspective than we’re normally known for.

Do you feel like you were rebelling against the quote-unquote ‘preppy’ genre at large?
I was. I wanted to show the world that there’s more to me, and this brand, than, you know, classic northeastern preppy. Where preppy has gone is not exactly anything I’m really in favor of. It’s kind of become a reference of a reference of a reference.

What, to you, is the original preppy reference? The source material.
The original preppy that I grew up with—well, let me start here. I’m from way up north. Upstate New York. And this is all like woods, and hunting. My vision of preppy was more like backwoods preppy—the old Shetland sweaters with the holes in the elbow, and down vests, and work boots. It wasn’t so precious. It was like how real guys dressed, rather than, you know, this weird country club version of it, which I don’t really subscribe to.

Did you go hunting as a kid?
I tried hunting, let’s put it that way. I didn’t have it in me to kill something, so…But if you grow up there, it’s all around you—and motorcycles, and snowmobiles, and trucks, and bows and arrows and BB guns. That’s what it’s like growing up in the country.

Was your dad a snappy dresser?
My dad was a history teacher in upstate New York, in a public high school, and I would look at how he dressed, how his friends dressed. These real guys who would wear a flannel shirt, with—this is what my dad always wore—like a navy knit tie, five-pocket cords, navy blazer, and like a down vest over it. And like, some knit hat that my grandma made, cool work boots—and he’d hop in his Jeep and go to work. That’s how he and all of his friends dressed, and I always just thought, wow, this is great. They didn’t think about it too much. Maybe they cared on the front-end of the process—they bought really good stuff, but then they wore the hell out of it. And they would wear it for years. They’re probably still wearing some of it.

Would you say that your dad is one of your top style icons ever?
He really finds this funny that I even reference it, because he’s so not a fashion guy. But I just think there’s something about that innate style that I responded to—and he has that, and his friends have that.

Did you always have an interest in clothes and style?
I did. I just never thought it would be my job. It was more like a hobby. I was one of those weird little kids who had a GQ subscription at age 13. It was hard getting access to clothes up there, though, in upstate New York. This is like apple-orchard country up there, right on Lake Ontario. Um, plus you’re a little kid. You don’t have a job.

The way your dad dressed—were those the same kind of clothes you were wanting to wear, when you were 13 and reading GQ?
No. You know…No. Because here I am reading GQ, and I’m looking at all these amazing clothes, and thinking about New York City, and going out to clubs and stuff like that. At the time, I didn’t appreciate what I was seeing. It’s only later when, I think, as you develop your style, you go through these phases. So I went through my punk phase, my mod phase, my club-kid phase—then I got into like, my designer phase, and for a while I was a big Helmut Lang guy. And then I was working at [a major department store], and I was a big Jil Sander guy.

You kind of have to go through all of it to determine what works for you, and then somewhere around your 30s, 40s, you’ve settled into a look. Then it becomes a game of finding the best iteration of that stuff that you love. And at that point in the game, it shouldn’t be obvious who you’re wearing. It should be you. You should see the guy before you see the clothes.

Describe how you went from a 13-year-old kid reading GQ, to where you are now.
Well, back then I thought I was going to be a business guy, so I went to business school. It was going into the ’80s, the era when everyone thought, you know, all the answers are gonna be found on Wall Street. All I really wanted, to tell you the truth, was to get to New York. Andy Warhol once said, ‘Success is a job in New York. Any job.’ And I really kind of believed that, and lived that—I came to New York and just had this really incredible series of jobs, where one job led to another. I’ve done a lot of weird stuff. I was at Sotheby’s auction house for nine years, which is a great education in luxury. And then I ended up as a men’s fashion director [at a major department store]. I’m just a good example of come to New York, and the universe will figure it out for you. And from there, here I am.

What prompted you to leave your success in the department-store world behind, and start your own business?
There was so much I wanted, that I couldn’t find in the market. I was thinking, this is ridiculous, because I’m going to every damn country, and dragging my a— through every showroom, and I’m not finding things that are kind of simple and perfect. And someone said, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ So that’s how it happened.

How did you work up the guts to quit your job and go for it?
There were no guts involved. It seemed so reckless because, like…it made my mom cry, because I called one day and I’m like, ‘I’m quitting [my job as a fashion director].’ And she loved it, and she loved the discount—and she was like, ‘How can you quit that job? It’s so incredible.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna start my own line.’ She started crying. I’m like, ‘No, we’ll be fine. We’ll be cool.’ So yeah, in retrospect it was totally reckless to enter this weird industry, where you kind of reinvent yourself every season.

Given the different vibe of your current collection, do you feel you can still describe an overarching Michael Bastian aesthetic?
It’s my interpretation of American luxury. And by that, I mean—what luxury is to me, is something that you buy and you wear the hell out of. I don’t think there’s anything luxurious about buying something, and then it just gathers dust in your closet. So, my idea really is buy less, but buy better.

Less is more. What other tips do you have on acquiring a solid wardrobe?
Spend the money, really do your homework, and make sure it fits you. If it’s tailored clothing, get it tailored. Take that extra time. Because if you’re honest with yourself, you open up your closet and you probably wear 10, 15 percent of what you own—but you wear that 10 or 15 percent all the damn time. So why not get the best version of that thing that you wear all the time?

That’s really why I started being a designer. I found I was wearing, like, a navy cashmere crewneck that I had in college, and I wasn’t even able to replace it. I was working in retail, and I was going to every showroom, but I wasn’t able to find another one of those—or like, a pair of chinos I had in college, or the perfect navy blazer. And I just really wanted to make the best version of those things.

Speaking of perfect sweaters—there’s one in the Fall collection that seems to mirror the Blackbird concept directly.
[The shape of that sweater], we do every season since we started. We call it our ‘Ben’ model, which is our idea of a perfected crewneck cashmere sweater. But we treat it a little differently. The cashmere itself is knit looser, and then it goes through this treatment that the Italians call infeltrito, or felting, where it’s washed and dried—and it’s actually fluffier than a normal cashmere sweater. And it’s lighter-weight, so you get that look of something heavier and fluffier, but it’s actually pretty light.

What are some different ways an average guy could wear that signature ‘Blackbird’ sweater?
Like with most things, you can dress it up, or you can dress it down. For instance, this kind of dressy windowpane pant [seen above], with the chambray shirt and that sweater. That’s one perfect way of wearing it.

That’s a lot of diverse references in one look.
All in one. The other way you could wear that sweater, is with one of my other favorite pieces, this sweatpant. Look how good this looks together.

We were talking about the sweatpant before we came over here.
And it’s not just a sweatpant. This is a pant that you could actually wear on the street. Put your wallet in the back pocket. It’s got a lot of interesting detail—the trapunto stitching on the rear, the way the back yoke is cut, the military pleating on the pockets. It’s in a heavier, really beefy, garment-dyed fleece. It’s kind of a womped-up sweat pant, if you will.

It’s kind of creating this new category, in a way, because you can wear it on the street. That plaid shirt could be great with the sweat pant, the sweater, and then you could throw the army jacket that you guys also bought over the whole thing. All that’s missing is like a big army boot…And maybe a knit cap and a pair of sunglasses.

What do you love about a good sweater, in general?
I like the idea that the more you wear it, the more the neck gets a little stretched out. It ends up fitting you. There’s something weirdly magical about sweaters. You hear those stories about women borrowing their boyfriend or husband’s sweater, because it smells like him…or you go home, and your dog has pulled your sweater out and is laying on it. Sweaters really absorb your aura a little more than other things. Maybe ’cause you don’t throw them in the washer, really.


 

You mentioned the paintings of Andrew Wyeth as a huge influence this season. What is it about Wyeth’s work that inspired you?
He was working with this American vernacular. What he painted was what he saw, either in Cushing, Maine, or he also worked in Pennsylvania. The other thing is, there’s always—okay take this picture for example [above]. At first glance, it’s a hunter under a tree. But then you think about it for a minute, and you’re like, wow this is a very interesting perspective. Am I hunting him? Am I hiding from him? Why am I looking at him from the top down, kind of silently? So there’s always another layer or two beneath every Wyeth painting. You could spend two seconds or you could spend hours [looking at one].

Layers.
Many, many, many layers. And it’s not all dark. It just is what it is. We also like that it’s not about color. It’s almost non-color. It’s all these cement-y, snowy colors. Or the color of pine trees or meadows, or things like that, that we love. He also had that great quote—where he said, ‘There’s always a bit of Halloween in everything I do.’

At your Fall runway presentation, the venue itself seemed to reinforce the darker theme as well.
It was a different kind of show for us. We showed in a derelict hotel’s ballroom, that was really crumbling, and dark, and vast. There was chipped-up linoleum on the floor, and we created this kind of barn door, implying this burned barn, and these origami birds were on one wall, implying that flock of blackbirds. We moved them into our showroom afterwards [pictured above].

How does the runway relate to average men, and real-life clothes?
When you’re doing the show, you’re kind of presenting this fantasy version of it, that has little to do with the actual individual pieces of clothing. I have no problem with saying, ‘I’m designing clothes that I hope guys wanna wear—not just ideas and concepts.’ But, you know, a show has to have a little more of that conceptual edge to it. It’s part of the business. We’ve gotta kind of seduce people into our world…You almost have to exaggerate to make the point. Hence the burned barn, the peeling linoleum, the spooky music, the casting—and all that. It was fun to kind of try on a different persona. And it’s healthy, I think, to push yourself into a different corner that you may not have been in before.

 
—  —  —
 


Key items from Michael Bastian’s Fall collection:
Cashmere Sweater | Tailored Sweatpants | Military Field Jacket
Plaid Shirt | Glen Plaid Pants | Chambray Work Shirt

SHOP ALL: MICHAEL BASTIAN

 
 

[Photos by Robin Stein. Interview by Justin Abbott.
Special thanks to Michael Bastian and team.]

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Meet the Designers: Billy Reid

hero

We spent a week this summer invading the offices and going inside the minds of six American menswear heroes. In our third installment, Billy Reid talks salvaged wood, ’60s soul, and creating clothing you’ll pass down to your kids someday.

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What inspired your Fall ’13 collection?
BILLY REID:
It started from the idea of ’60s soul music. We knew of a documentary that was being made about Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where we’re based. There was a ton of just incredible photographs from the ’60s and ’70s—of Mick Jagger, who had visited there, Aretha Franklin, Arthur Alexander, Wilson Picket, Little Richard—all these folks who had visited there, and played and recorded there. So we kind of started there, which was a little more glitzy, and pulled it back to more classic American sportswear…There’s the balance of those two worlds, because not everyone’s going to want an oversized cotton/cashmere raincoat with alligator trim.

Tell us more about the film that inspired your creative process—Muscle Shoals.
It’s just an unbelievable piece of history that’s never been properly told. Even the movie doesn’t hit on all the things that really happened there, but it’s probably the best representation of it that I’ve seen.

Muscle Shoals, back in the early ’60s, there was a recording studio there, and this one particular man, Rick Hall, happened to record ‘You Better Move On’ by Arthur Alexander, and it became a number-one hit. And he did that in Alabama, on basically no budget. Then he met and was able to sign this guy who was a janitor at Ford Motor Company in Florence, Alabama. His name was Percy Sledge, and he had this song called ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’ and he recorded that. It blew up, and then Jerry Wexler called him, who was the president of Capitol Records. He said, ‘I have this soul singer—she’s more of a gospel singer—and I wanna bring her down and record with you.’ And her name was Aretha Franklin.

…So he brought [Aretha Franklin] down, and they thought there’d be all these black soul musicians…And when they got there, it was a bunch of white country boys playing this soul music. And you know, this was the ’60s in Alabama. There were some tense times in there, but Aretha Franklin has said, ‘I really didn’t find my voice until I went therer and started playing with these guys.’

And it took off from there. Before you knew it, you had the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson—the list of people who have recorded music there is mind-blowing. From the Osmonds to Liza Minelli…Dire Straits, Jimmy Cliff, Boz Skaggs, Rod Stewart have all cut albums there, and recently, Band of Horses, Alicia Keys. Black Keys cut the Brothers album there, which was probably the best album they’ve cut. The Civil Wars are from there, Drive-By Truckers—so it’s just an incredible little town, with this hotbed of music that’s come outta that place. I call it the greatest story of rock that’s never been told. So maybe this movie will get it out there a little bit.

What are some aspects of those guys’ style back in the ’60s—Mick Jagger, Little Richard—that inspired you?
Oh man, when you see the movie you’re gonna freak. The clothes are off the charts. If you’ve seen Gimme Shelter, the Stones documentary, part of that was shot in Muscle Shoals when they came there. There were stories that they would dress up in drag—and this was, you know, the ’70s in rural Alabama—and walk around downtown, and peole would just gawk at them. The clothes were unvelievable. The footwear—python boots with just holes in ’em, and you can tell they’ve worn ’em for six months, the way everything is broken-in.

What do you think is significant about a band like the Rolling Stones recording in Muscle Shoals?
What’s crazy is that they knew it was there. This was before the internet or anything. They knew that place was there, and they sought it out and they wanted to record there—and they did it. It said a lot about them, to be that curious, and to follow through on it. Because you think of a band of their stature not wanting to get their hands dirty—and they did it. That really appealed to me.

And Muscle Shoals is not far from where you live and work in Florence, Alabama, correct?
It’s basically the same town. It’d be like saying Brooklyn and New York City. They’re sister cities, basically. There’s a river that divides it, and that’s it—although it seems like a lot more than a river that divides it at times. But yeah, it’s the same place.

This leather peacoat [above right] feels a bit Stones-ish. What’s the story behind that piece?
The original peacoat is probably one of our greatest-hit coats we’ve ever done—this super heavy-weight wool/cashmere peacoat that happened to get into the Skyfall James Bond movie, and it sort of went viral for us. We’re still shipping it on back-order. So we took the shape of that piece and made it in leather.

Any tips on how to wear a leather peacoat?
You could take this leather peacoat and make it look a bit Little Richard, but I can see a more traditional customer buying it and wearing it in a totally different way. I love the way it looks over a suit. I love leather and mixing it with tailored pieces. But, I’d say most guys are going to put this on with a pair of jeans. [The key is] it’s not so big that you look like you’re wearing a chair. It’s cut a little closer to your body, so you can put it over a suit, but it’s trim enough to wear with a sweater or T-shirt underneath.

Where did you grow up?
Amite, Louisiana. About an hour from New Orleans, and about an hour from Baton Rouge. We’re sort of in a triangle. All my family’s still there.

What was it like growing up there?
Very quiet. It’s a town of about 4,000 people. The nearest town was New Orleans, so we were in the middle of nowhere. My mother had a clothing store there, which is kind of how I got introduced to the business at an early age.

What was your mother’s store like?
Incredible. She was so ahead of her time. Her shop was located in my grandmother’s old home, so it felt like—it was a place where people would hang out. I always describe that it felt like Steel Magnolias in a clothing store.

So it was constantly people just coming in and out. She had a terrific business for 20 years there. She also opened a second store in our hometown, in the old railroad depot. Called it The Depot, because it was right on the railroad tracks, and it was all denim—just denim. This was back in the days of like, Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache. You know, the premium denim of the ’70s. She had this unbelievable denim store.

Growing up, did you ever help out around your mom’s clothing store, like as a summer job?
I did a little bit—but there was another shop in town that was a men’s store, which a good friend of hers owned. The gentleman who owned it is probably still one of my top-five style icons of all time. So it was great to work there, because I got to be around him, learn from him. We were one of the only stores to have Ralph Lauren in the whole state of Louisiana at the time. This was the early days for Ralph, early ’80s.

 

The man who owned the men’s store—what kinds of things did he wear, that stuck in your mind all these years?
I’ll tell you this one image of him I remember. I used to lifeguard at the country club, and I remember driving back down the road by the golf course. It’s July in south Louisiana, so it had to be high 90s and humid as hell. I remember looking out on the golf course, and all the men are in shorts and all this stuff. Well, he’s there in these, like, off-white linen trousers, with black-and-white, alligator-trim golf shoes, white oxford dress shirt. And I’m just looking at him. It’s just impeccable. And anywhere he went, he always—it was very classic, but it was just so right on. He just stood out, you know. Drove an old MG.

I remember at a Christmas party, this one time, he had this incredible red turtleneck, with this beautiful navy blazer and charcoal-grey trousers. I remember walkin’ in and just going, he looks like a million buck. And he, just [snaps fingers]—effortless with it. He was always like that, everywhere he went. There was never a letdown. Never a letdown with the guy.

Consistent.
Very consistent. Consistently stylish. Joe Buddy Anderson. The Royal Oaks men’s store, yep.

Was it your mom’s store that inspired you to get into clothing?
No, I was too busy playing football and baseball and everything else, to really appreciate it until later in life. I actually started college as a PE major. I wanted to be a coach and teach. And I flunked out as a PE major, which is really hard to do. I don’t remember [what happened]…Which is maybe why it happened. I was going to Southeastern Louisiana University, which was about 15 miles from Amite. Bad decision. You should not be so close to home with so many bad influences right next to you.

How did you go from an unsuccessful PE major to pursuing fashion design?
I kind of had to move on, and did all kind of odd jobs, from landscape, to working at a sawmill, to picking up trash for the city, to selling women’s shoes, to delivering pizzas—until finally, my mother sent me to the Art Institute of Dallas to study.

What did you do to make money while attending design school?
I got a job selling men’s suits [at a well-known department store]. I got to learn all about it from a lot of grizzled suit veterans…Men who had done it for, you know, 40 years, some of these guys. My boss was 70 years old and had been in the clothing business all his life. So it was great to be able to pull from that and try to absorb as much as you can.

What did you learn at school versus on the job?
In school, I learned more like the terminology. Not really the technical side of how something is made—especially in tailored clothing. The guts of that kind of stuff was more from the guys at the store. I was working full-time selling suits, and going to school, and that kept me out of trouble. I just kept working my way up and learning, and did a ton of made-to-measure suits.

How did you get your start in the apparel business, after graduating?
From there, I moved to California and tried to be an actor for about two weeks. Waited tables for two weeks. Then got very lucky, and got a job with Reebok, who was just starting to do clothing around 1988. Moved to New York, and then to Boston, and got to travel all over the world developing product for [a golf collection], the shark stuff. Not that it was my aesthetic, but such a great experience. We did a lot of stuff in Europe with that collection, and some of the people I met and worked with then are still people I work with today, from 20 years ago.

[Eventually] quit that job. Freelanced—design work. Pajamas. Underwear. Anything I could do. Eventually saved up enough money to come back with samples from Italy, some men’s shirt samples, a small collection of menswear in 1997.

You finally had your own collection. What did you do with it?
[At first we] only opened two accounts. It was the time where you go…Two stores is not gonna put any food on the table. But I said, man, if we could just make these two things happen, maybe we could grow from there. So we were able to stick it out. Next season, we opened in 15 stores. Then we went up to like 40 stores, and it just kept growing, until 9/11. In June 2001, I won a CFDA Award. Our big show was September 10, 2001. Great show. And you know, that’s when you start to book all your appointments [with buyers], and everything just started to fall apart after that. I moved to Alabama, started freelance work again.

Back to square one.
So we were there, and then I got a call from two friends of mine, who had the idea of opening retail stores, and they wanted to call it Hampton Reid. They wanted to open stores but design their own products. They said, ‘Will you come design a product for us?’ I was like, ‘Well yeah, I’d love to, but Hampton Reid, what’s up with that?’ I said, I’d love to restart the collection—it used to be William Reid—I’d love to just take a whole new start, and call it Billy Reid. Let’s try to really make it more personal.

And the rest is history.
We opened three stores kind of at one time in 2004, and we worked the stores. We built the product, and kind of grew it store by store after that. It’s definitely been a rollercoaster ride for sure, man.

Did you used to go by William?
No, never. That’s the funny thing—I’ve always been Billy.

After all these years in the industry—what’s your goal as a designer?
What we really strive for is—whatever that piece is, you want that to be their favorite piece. If they buy a coat, you want that to be the coat they really love. You want that sort of quality that they’ll keep it and pass it on down, so to speak.

 

Who is the Billy Reid ‘guy’? Who’s your target?
You know—I really don’t know if we have a target, to be honest with you. That’s something that’s really been difficult to put a finger on, because there are 20-year-old kids—I guess they’re not kids, they’re kids to me now at my age—but there are 20-year-old kids coming in here, and there are 55-, 60-year-old men coming here. Sometimes they’re buying the same item. As crazy as it sounds, I really don’t focus on who’s buying it… Sometimes the best way to do it is to not think about it as much.

Seems to be working. What do you think that 20-year-old and that 60-year-old have in common?
I think it’s a person who wants something that they feel good about buying, whether they feel good about where it’s made, or how it’s made, or how it fits…The longevity of that piece—stylistically and durability-wise.

How do you think where you grew up affects your visual aesthetic?
I love old things. My mom’s store, when you walked in there, it felt like it was a home. When we started building our shops, we wanted people to come in here and hang out—feel like they were a welcome guest in our home.

How do you make your stores feel like home?
For instance, when we built this store out [note: Billy Reid’s NYC location, pictured here], every material in here, we trucked here from Alabama. We hand-selected each piece of it, brought them all here. This was actually seven different staircases that we brought up and put together. There’s wood in here from an old cotton gin what was torn down outside of Florence, Alabama. The heart-pine floors are from a factory outside of Abbeville, Louisiana, that was an old sugar mill. These doors [the ceiling, see above left] came out of a school in Jackson, Mississippi. We got 35 of ’em. They’re heavy as hell.

How were you able to track all those things down?
My wife and I, we do a lot of antique shopping, and have made good friends over the years, who have stores and deal in salvage architectural materials.

And how did you get all this accomplished? Did you have help with all these ‘home improvements’?
We milled this timber in here ourselves. Literally set up saws, table saws in here and camped out in New York for six weeks and built the store ourselves. A good friend of mine, who worked on our house in Alabama—he had never been above Chattanooga, Tennessee—he drove the truck up with all the stuff in it. What was hysterical was some of the stuff we had to do before we could get in here. Union workers had to start some of the demo and electrical…They would take breaks every 15, 20 minutes. Meanwhile, my friend from Alabama is freakin’ out in his like, cut-off camo shirt. I mean, he makes Duck Dynasty look like Thurston Howell. Eventually, we get the union guys outta here, and he basically takes over. And he’s just an unbelievable carpenter, so we were able to work here and get all this stuff done. I’m glad we did it that way, it makes it feel that much more personal.

Speaking of wood—it’s been said that in addition to style icons in Muscle Shoals, the concept of ‘wood’ helped inspire your Fall ’13 collection.
We were working on our house, and there was just tons of wood, scrap wood. We had ash. Pecan. Walnut. Oak. We had hickory. All these different woods, and the colors are just so—when you cut it, they each have different shades. As calm as you think wood might be, they all look vastly different with the grain and the color—especially when you start to stain it.

So we loved the palette of that, where you can get some of the green hues, versus the brown hues, versus the red, that come out in the wood. The color names all became based off wood. And then we built this huge backdrop for the show—we took all the scrap wood I was talking about a nailed it to plywood and built walls. It looks like a patchwork, a collage of wood. After we tore that set down, we put it on a truck, sent it to Georgetown where we’re building a store. Now it’s part of the floor there.

 

Tell us about your new line of Billy Reid suiting.
We’ve always done suiting here at our own shops, and we’ve done a tremendous amount of made-to-measure and custom suiting. But we’ve really never offered it at wholesale and partnered with a retailer until Nordstrom. They were the ones to kind of step up and say, ‘We believe in what you’re doing,’ and want to help get that business off the ground.

What makes Billy Reid suiting special?
We’ve been making our suits here in New York. They’re made the old-fashioned way, so to speak—where you get all the canvas center linings, and there’s no glue inside the garment. And it’s definitely a younger fit. There’s been such a resurgence from a younger customer wanting to buy tailored clothing. Guys in their mid 20s, early 30s wanting a suit, but they don’t want one that’s, you know, cut down to here, it’s baggy here, their armholes are sagging. They want something that’s close to their body, that makes them look fit. So we’re trying to offer a younger-fitting garment that’s made with old-world construction. Combining those two things is the concept behind it.

Why do you think more and more guys are wanting to dress up a little?
That’s a great question. I think menswear in general has just had such a…maybe it’s the internet. Whether it’s The Sartorialist, or—there’s just so much information, and people are just more curious about it. They want to know what goes into that suit, and it sort of breaks down the barrier of price apprehension. I know how it’s made. It’s gonna make me feel good. It’s gonna make me look good. It’s gonna last a long time. And there’s also the intangible of that—does it give you confidence? Do you feel good about that purchase? And they care about where it’s made. I think the fact that we’re doing this in the US gives it a little extra boost, too.

What’s going on in this dressing room [above]?
This wall was actually from the first photo shoot that we ever did. It was a three-day shoot with a gentleman by the name of Charles Moore—you would recognize some of his photographs. The one where the kids are getting hosed in Birmingham? He took that photograph. Then with Martin Luther King on the drugstore counter, where his head’s down on the counter? He took that. He was at the front line of the civil rights movement in the ’60s, and this was actually one of the last shoots he did before he passed.

How did you end up working with such a legendary photographer?
He’s from Tuscumbia, Alabama, ten miles away from us. A friend of mine introduced us—he was 80 at the time. We asked him if he’d be interested in shooting. We had no money. We grabbed neighbors, friends, family—and took three days, drove around and just took photos, and then we mixed ’em with old family photographs that we had. Then we hand-made 1,000 scrapbooks and sent them to 1,000 people we thought would be our customers—friends, editors, all different folks.

It looks more like photojournalism than a fashion shoot.
We wanted it to feel real. Feel sort of raw. Like this guy here. He was a guy that worked on our house and had no teeth. That was my wife. That was my son when he was a baby. This is my neighbor. This is a photograph of my dad and his brothers. This was my aunt and uncle. Where we had photographs left, we made wallpaper and different stuff. It was a lot of fun. Probably one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been a part of. It was weird. We shot it in late July, where it could’ve been 105 outside. And we were shooting heavy Fall clothes. For a few days, it was like 70 degrees, and almost cool feeling. It was kind of a weird sign. We were making it count.

You mentioned your son. Any tips on fatherhood?
Whoa, uh. Patience, man. Kids need time and love. That’s all they need usually, for the most part. Give them those two things, you’re gonna be in pretty good shape. Gotta let ’em be themselves. They’re all different. I got three and they’re so vastly different—personality-wise, and how you have to deal with ’em. Even at that age they’re still people. They have their own minds and their own way of doing things. So you have to learn to adapt to that, be a manager. But yeah, you have to learn as you go. There’s no book, really.

Lastly: You grew up and currently live in the South, but spend a lot of time in New York. How does that manifest itself in Billy Reid clothing?
It’s sort of like living in two places and having two different lives, in some ways, but…I think that balance, or that combination, is really what drives the aesthetic of the collection. We want to make pieces that you can be walking down the street in Nashville or Florence, Alabama, and just as easily take that same piece and wear it right down the Bowery. So I think downtown in New York and the Deep South combined, is what sort of makes it all come together.

 
—  —  —
 


Key items from Billy Reid’s Fall collection:
Tweed Overcoat | Wool V-neck Sweater | Leather Peacoat
Wool Sportcoat | Plaid Shirt | Shawl Cardigan

SHOP ALL: BILLY REID

 
 

[Photos by Robin Stein. Interview by Justin Abbott.
Special thanks to Billy Reid and team.]

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hero

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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We spent a week this summer invading the offices and going inside the minds of six American menswear heroes. First up in our series, Todd Snyder discusses his Midwest origins, how to quit a cushy job to follow your dream, and the engineering behind an impeccable lapel roll.

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: Growing up in Iowa, what was your first summer job?
TODD SNYDER: “You won’t know what it is, but I detasseled corn. The corn has tassels on the top that have pollen that gets into the corn itself, and either turns it into sweet corn or, uh…honestly, there’s a whole process, but I don’t know what the hell it is. My science teacher would be horrified that I don’t remember all this, and so would my dad.”

The sex life of corn?
“Yes, exactly. But anyway, you would have to take the tassels off because you didn’t want it to pollenate. So the only way to do that is to go through it with your hands and pick it. It was probably the worst job ever. After I did that I was like screw this I’m going to work for my dad.”

What did your dad do?
“He was an engineer, so I worked on the survey crew. I would literally be laying out roads, bridges, houses, things like that. [Designing clothes] is a lot easier than working in the summer in the hot sun, looking through an instrument, running numbers all day and trying to figure out where to put all the points. You’re not dealing with heavy equipment behind you, waiting for you to put the road down. I would literally get these big trucks and these angry construction guys—’When you gonna have that done?’ It was crazy.”

What life lessons did you learn on the survey crew?
“I worked with a lot of construction guys that would never let your ego get out of hand.”

What was it like working for your dad back then?
“One of the things I learned most from my father was just being very diligent in my work ethic. He instilled that at a young age…I hated it when he was doing it, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I talk to students all the time, and I always say, there might be people that are more talented than you, but don’t ever let somebody work harder than you.”

Where did you go to college, and what did you study?
“I went to school at Iowa State, and since my dad was an engineer, I kind of wanted to be an architect. But to be honest with you, there were no girls in the class, so I was like, ‘This sucks.’ Plus, you think you’re going to build all these amazing things, and I was building like, sewer intakes. So I switched over to Finance, and there were no girls there either. And then I switched to Fashion—almost right before I was going to graduate. And I kind of fell in love with it.”

What led you to switch to a major in Fashion?
“I started working in a men’s store [during college], doing whatever I could just to learn. Sweeping, cleaning up, sales—and then when I saw the tailors come out, I was like, ‘What are they doing?’ And it all kind of made sense. I want to do that. That, to me, seems more fun than selling, let me go do that, because I really like working with my hands. That’s where I learned how to tailor a garment. I taught myself to sew, and that’s how I started honing my skills. It became a hobby.”

Did you always have an interest in personal style?
“I was always into clothes…I got voted best-dressed in high school. I was obsessed with Calvin Klein back then, Ralph Lauren, anything designer. But then I had Levi’s, and my Nike Air Force 1’s. That’s when they first came out. I worked all summer to get a pair.”

Did you have reservations about making such a big leap—from Architecture to Fashion?
“I mean, growing up in Iowa, everybody’s either a farmer or an engineer or a dentist. It was like, ‘You’re going to do what?’ But after I read Ralph Lauren’s book in the ’80s, I could just see, like wow, somebody can really do that. I found out Halston actually came from Iowa, and somebody like him coming from there and doing what he did was amazing. And then, when I told my grandmother I was going to be a fashion designer, she said, ‘Ah, that’s interesting. You know your name in Dutch means tailor.’ So after hearing those things, I was like okay, I’m on the right track. I’m not nuts.”

How did you get your start in the industry, after college?
“My wife and I got married and we moved here [to New York City] when I was 25, and I started making my own shirts.”

You mean literally. In order to clothe yourself.
“Right. I didn’t have any money…I’d see all these great shirts that everybody was wearing, and I’m like oh, I can’t afford that. So I’d go to the fabric stores that would have all these remnants from designers, and you would go through and there’d be a Donna Karan, a Calvin Klein and it’d be like, I’ll take that.  And for like $20 I would make a shirt. That’s what I would do on the weekends—just make shirts. I just loved doing it.

“It was really how I expressed myself and creatively showed what I could do—and that’s kind of how I got ‘discovered,’ so to speak, at Ralph Lauren, where I went from, you know, an intern, off in the corner, to like, ‘Oh wow, this kid.’ [The higher-ups] would be like, ‘Oh, that’s a really cool shirt, where’d you get it?’ ‘Oh, I made it.’ ‘You made that?’ And all of a sudden, it just started snowballing.”

What’s the best advice you ever got?
“My father told me at an early age, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to work for the best. And it was really important for me to learn as much as I could and become an expert before I did my own collection. I worked in the industry for 18 years for other people.”

What was it like when you decided to branch out and start a company of your own?
“Well, it was funny, because I quit…my very secure job…thinking originally I was going to start Todd Snyder in 2008—right as Lehman Brothers went belly up. [The recession] got worse and worse, and I was like, ‘Holy sh–, I just quit my really good job!’ So then I spoke to my brother [who had taken over a small side-project I had started in 1997, Tailgate Clothing Company] and said, ‘Hey, how about I help you guys out.’ Then that started growing very quickly…and we launched Todd Snyder in 2011.”

Sounds like it all worked out.
“I definitely was nervous. I signed a one-year lease on this place thinking, I don’t know if I’m going to make it—but we’ve been here five or six years now.”

And you’re expanding more and more. Tell us about your upcoming Todd Snyder suiting collection.
“We collaborated with Southwick, a factory in Massachusetts that’s been around since 1929. Some of the people that work there have been there for 20, 30 years. That’s all they’ve ever done. They’re kind of the last great American tailor, and that to me was perfect for what we’re trying to do—to kind of reinvent tailoring for the younger generation. You’re seeing a lot of kids these days buying Alden shoes, and wearing, like, what my father used to wear.”

What defines a high-quality suit jacket or sportcoat? What is ‘canvas’?
“Canvas is really what enables a jacket to get a better ‘roll’—this very subtle kind of roll to the lapel. It’s an inner lining that, as it gets sewn into the garment, there’s a tension as they stitch it in that creates this natural roll—whereas a lot of factories will just press it, and they’ll get a really sharp [crease]. So any time you see a jacket, look at the lapel—when you start seeing this very natural roll to it, that really defines a great jacket.”

The jacket you’re wearing today is half-lined. What does that mean?
“[A half-lined jacket] actually takes more time than if you just line the [entire thing]. You get someone to actually sew this on, make sure this looks nice [pointing at interior details]. It almost looks as good on the inside as it does on the outside.”

What’s the benefit of a half-lined or unlined sportcoat?
“For me it’s really about the comfort—the less layers, the better—right? In my opinion, it wears better. It’s nice having it be almost like a shirt, almost like a sweater. Plus, I like to show off how great a jacket it is. Somebody asks you, ‘Oh, who made your jacket?’ You open it up, and they’re like, ‘Okay, got it.’ It’s kind of like looking under the hood of a car.”

How important has it been for you to have that fundamental understanding of sewing, tailoring, shirt-making?
“Once you know how something’s built, you can make it different—change it. You know how it’s constructed, so you can always work with the factory on how to make something—because a lot of times the factory’s like, no, you can’t do it. And I’ll be like well, actually, you can. If you try it this way, and you do this—and before you know it, they’re like oh, okay, this guy knows his stuff. And they kind of let you into their world. And then you start to push the envelope more and more.”

Your previous sportswear collections have contained a lot of military references. What inspired that?
“Military, I think, always has a huge influence in menswear. I didn’t realize it until I started working at Ralph Lauren, and he does military [so well]. The cargo pant is obviously military, but even down to the T-shirt, which was invented by the Navy to cover men’s chest hair. The desert boot that I’m wearing was invented for soldiers in the desert—they created this gum sole so their foot wouldn’t sink through [the sand]. I didn’t know all this stuff, but as I started getting into menswear, you start realizing there are so many references toward military.

“What I like about it is, there’s a basic, utilitarian style to it—and taking those elements, and fusing them with luxury is always a challenge for me. Trying to figure out how to make luxury utilitarian—which [in a way] are complete opposites. But that’s always been my challenge in creating a balance between the two.”

Form meets function.
“Exactly.”

Your latest collection is a bit different. What inspired Fall ’13?
“We called [this collection] Rebel Gentleman. I’ve always been inspired by motorcycle jackets, and this season, really liked the idea of mixing biker with tailoring. In years prior, we always had military mixed with tailoring, and it seemed very natural to mix motorcycle jackets in with it.

“This guy’s kind of a badass, you know. He’s somebody who’s well-educated, lives in the city, is very well-read but isn’t pretentious at all—he has a motorcycle and kind of likes to play on the bad side a bit. But you know, deep down, he’s a good guy.”

What is it about motorcycle jackets that inspires you?
“There’s a utilitarian aspect about it—it protects you. But then there’s this kind of bad-boy sensibility about it, because you envision James Dean, The Outsiders. It’s probably the most rugged thing you can wear, other than a pair of old boots. What I love about it too, is the older it gets, the better it gets. Something in design I’ve always appreciated is like having something that you’ve had for a long time, and it’s like an heirloom that you’re always going to cherish.”

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Do you own a motorcycle yourself?
“I don’t. Deep down inside, I think every guy is like, yeah, I wish I had a motorcycle. I had a moped. I used to ride it to and from baseball practice.”

What are your favorite pieces to work on these days?
“Leather and outerwear is really where I come full circle, because it’s the closest I can get to being an architect. There are so many details that go into it—the instructions you give to a factory to make it, it’s almost like giving someone a set of drawings for a building.”

You’re an expert vintage shopper. Any tips on thrifting?
“Dig deep. Everybody’s very surface-oriented—they’ll just kind of graze. You need to go deep because that’s usually where nobody goes, and you always find the best stuff…There’s good vintage and bad vintage. The fit is probably the most important thing…Never be afraid to spend too much on something good, though, because it’s usually one of a kind. A lot of [jackets we make] were inspired by old German and British jackets that I collected.”

Favorite vintage shops?
“There’s a store called Old Hat, in London, that sells…old hats. I know, good name, right? But they sell old gentleman’s wares, everything from umbrellas to—it’s just amazing. You find these one-of-a-kind pieces…I bought a jacket, opened it up and it says, ‘Made for Henry Kissinger.’ I’m like, really?”

Do you travel to London often?
“Probably about once a year now…I’ve always been inspired by Jermyn Street and Savile Row, and kind of the old world of menswear—the old tailors and shirt-makers and shoe-makers. I always liked the idea of having this small village of these artisans.”

What are some of your favorite movies?
“I like the old movies. I love watching Cary Grant in about anything he ever was in. Paul Newman I think had such incredible style. You look at Paul Newman or Robert Redford and you’re like holy sh–, these guys are really cool and they just had amazing style—before stylists.”

What else inspires you lately?
Constantin Brâncuși, a famous sculptor. He would create these very geometric shapes, but still kind of organic and natural, in wood or stone. He created these amazing objects, that when you look at them, you’re like, that’s so beautiful —but then you’re also like that’s so simple. There’s a ruggedness about his work, it’s heavy, but it’s still elegant. Plus he just had this incredible beard, and style without even trying.

“[And the architecture of] Mies van der Rohe—it’s amazing when you look at his designs from like 1920 and you think oh, that’s a building from now…And then you’re like no, actually it was designed and built in 1920. He had this way of transcending time, and as a designer you kind of shoot for that…To be able to design something that endures time is the ultimate.”

 
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Key items from Todd Snyder’s Fall collection:
Leather Trucker Jacket | Slim-Fit Infantry Pants (green) | Wool Herringbone Blazer
Chambray Shirt with Contrast Collar | Slim-Fit Officer Pants (black) | Wool Crewneck Sweater

SHOP ALL: TODD SNYDER

 
 

[Photos by Robin Stein. Interview by Justin Abbott.
Special thanks to Todd Snyder and team.]

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We’ve teased it before and we’ll tease it again. That’s how excited we are to bring you six exclusive, in-depth looks inside the minds and creative spaces of our favorite American menswear designers.

Tune in TOMORROW for our complete Todd Snyder Q&A—and stick around for Shipley & Halmos, Billy Reid, Michael Bastian, Jack Spade and Band of Outsiders in the weeks to come. In the meantime, shop: Men’s Designer Collections.

 
 

 
 

[Video shot by Robin Stein; edited by Sean Dutton. Instagram images via @nordstrommen, @miss_melia_ann, and @shipley_halmos.]

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