The Man Behind The Brand
Ace Of Monaco
Mr Aaron Levine is dusting off Club Monaco’s menswear and injecting it with some lo-fi American cool
Club Monaco first entered my radar when I was living in Los Angeles in the 1990s. Back then the brand was the office assistant’s friend. If you worked at a talent agency – and your boss shopped at Barneys – you probably shopped at Club Monaco, smoked Gitanes, listened to The Cure and fancied yourself as “very European”. Since then I hadn’t given the brand much thought, until two things happened this past summer.
First, I walked into our New York office one morning in June and Mr Carlos Rivera-Anaya, MR PORTER’s Marketing Director for the US/ Americas, was wearing a well-tailored summer blazer. “Whose is it?” I asked in the way that men in the e-commerce schmatta trade are allowed to. Somewhat sheepishly he replied, “Club Monaco”. The blazer looked cool, like something he had casually picked up on a Milanese side street.
Secondly, across the pond in London, our Buying Director Mr Toby Bateman emerged from a meeting with Mr Aaron Levine, Club Monaco’s newish VP of men’s design, genuinely excited about the work he is doing. The brand’s chinos, soft cashmere sweaters, chunky cardigans and varsity jackets had caught his eye.
At first glance, Mr Levine seems an unlikely candidate to be a rising star in the world of affordable luxury. In person, his vibe remains “brohemian”: a robust beard, a liberal smattering of tattoos. He wears Club Monaco’s made-in-America denim. His conversation is peppered with classic rock references. His office, located in The Starrett-Lehigh Building on New York’s far West Side, has a view of the Hudson River.
He grew up far from the fashion world in suburban Annandale, Virginia. The closest he ever got to menswear as a teenager was scouring the racks at Sunny’s Surplus and Commander Salamander, thrift shops in nearby Washington DC. His first big break came when his mother, Linda, a calligrapher by trade, met a woman on a trip whose son worked for Joseph Abboud. After an intro and several interviews Mr Levine started as a sales assistant there before switching over to the design team.
He hit his stride at Hickey Freeman, followed by posts at Rogue’s Gallery (a brand known for its highly designed, graphic T-shirts) and then Jack Spade, the whimsical men’s side of the Kate Spade juggernaut. At each stop he picked up lessons that continue to influence his work at Club Monaco. “At Hickey Freeman I was surrounded by veterans who taught me a respect for tailoring, which is really the backbone of men’s clothing,” he says. “You’d go to the factory in Rochester, New York, and there were lots of guys who were really passionate about clothes.” His time at Rogue’s Gallery elevated his taste level and showed him the power of creating an emotional bond with his customer.
When Mr Levine arrived at Club Monaco, he saw huge potential in the brand if he could improve the basic building blocks of a men’s wardrobe – denim, cashmere sweaters, blazers and coats. Typical of what he’s been trying to achieve by upgrading the materials is a varsity jacket that represents one of Club Monaco’s collaborations with Golden Bear, the San Francisco manufacturer of classic workwear. Another is a topcoat soon to be on MRPORTER.COM. The cut is a slimmed-down version of a classic double-breasted topcoat but offered in burgundy, one of this season’s colour trends.
Mr Levine and his team envision a certain type of guy when creating a Club Monaco collection. “He goes to a museum exhibition not to take Instagram photos but to actually appreciate what is being exhibited. He goes to great restaurants not because they’re the hottest, but because Raoul’s makes a killer steak au poivre,” he says, referencing the long-running New York bistro that is a classic date-night spot. At 38, Mr Levine’s date nights at Raoul’s are few and far between. Married and the father of twin six-year-old girls, he now lives in a leafy Westchester suburb.
Based on the theory that what we get excited about will be exciting to you, we present a new brand for us – Club Monaco. Or as Mr Levine puts it, when shown an iPhone photosnap of our man in marketing wearing his Club Monaco blazer, “Make sure that guy gets a loyalty card.”
His back page
Favourite somewhat obscure places to shop?
New York: “Santa Maria Novella on Lafayette Street.” santamarianovellausa.com London: “The Vintage Showroom off Shaftsbury Avenue.” thevintageshowroom.com Tokyo: "Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku. Seven floors of wonder that make me feel like a kid again.” tokyu-hands.co.jp Milan: “The Store. I used to visit this place a decade ago. It’s where I was first exposed to a very focused view of what casual, effortless, crisp and polished style was all about.” thestoremilano.it Paris: “Anotomica. This place is awesome for footwear fetishists.” anatomica.fr
Item in your wardrobe you can’t live without?
“Denim. And a decent watch. And an easy sports coat. That counts as one, right?”
Desert island disc?
“Maybe Clash on Broadway? But that's three discs. This is an impossible question. The worst.”
Most stylish movie?
“The Graduate. This is also subject to change based on what side of the bed I woke up on.”
Death row meal?
“The family recipe for 1970s spaghetti – comfort food at its finest. Followed closely by the Burrata salad and a steak au poivre frites at Raoul’s on Prince Street.”
Never leave the house without?
“A positive mental attitude.”
My ideal Saturday night is..?
“Friends, kids, family, a grill, music, lowbrow humour, fresh-cut grass, ice-cold beer and bocce [Italian bowling game] in the yard.”