An Empire State Of Style

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An Empire State Of Style

Words by Mr Dan Rookwood | Photography by Mr Mark Seliger | Styling by Mr Bohan Qiu

5 February 2015

Meet the designers and merchants who are making New York a red-hot centre for menswear again.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, there was Mr Ralph Lauren and Mr Calvin Klein, two Bronx boys who would turn New York into a global powerhouse for menswear. Others followed, including Messrs John Varvatos and Thom Browne, who ploughed a new furrow in which this new generation of menswear designers could flourish.

As a collective, the gentlemen featured above are redesigning and redefining the New York aesthetic – with a distinctive accent on tailored streetwear, athletic luxury and regular guy essentials. They have created such a momentum that New York will launch its own standalone Fashion Week for menswear this summer (in the past it has been a preliminary bout for the women’s event).

As the guys gathered at photographer Mr Mark Seliger’s studio one cold winter day, the banter wasn’t about the usual topics of cars, the stock market or who looks good for the Super Bowl. Instead it went like this:

“Hey man, what’s up? Cool scarf. Is that yours from last fall?”

“Oh thanks! No, it’s actually a sample of a new print I’m working on for next fall. Great sneakers, by the way…”

If it sounds as if we’re bullish, we are: their handiwork is available on MR PORTER.

**Messrs Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne **

If any brand encapsulates the New York look right now, it is the much-buzzed-about Public School. Its monochrome tailored sportswear mixes technical fabrics often used in sports with cutting-edge silhouettes – think a hoodie that combines wool and stretch jersey material.

How does New York influence your design?

Mr Osborne: “The city means everything to us. We’re both from New York; we grew up here. The city is our muse, it’s in our DNA, it’s in our name, our labels say Made in New York. The energy that we take from it is what we put back into the designs.”

How would you sum up the “New York” look right now?

Mr Chow: “The way we interpret the ‘New York’ look has everything to do with movement and that non-stop restless energy – always being in transit, always on the go. Our look is reflected in that idea. It needs to be versatile, it needs to be easy, it needs to have some sense of performance where you are able to move, you’re dressing for the entire day, you’re not going home and changing.”

Describe the current New York menswear scene.

Mr Osborne: “New York menswear right now is really quite exciting. When you look at our peers and how it’s growing and how people are making things here in New York, and this year we have New York Men’s Fashion Week starting up. We’re excited to be part of it, to represent our city.”

Mr Michael Bastian

Mr Bastian’s US-designed but Italian-made collection is aimed at filling what he feels is a gap between classic luxury brands and high fashion. “We’re designing for guys who know what they like, know what looks good on them and who are looking for the best version of what they wear – whether it’s cashmere sweaters or chinos or polos,” he says.

How would you sum up the “New York” look right now?

“It’s not that cliché of ‘all black’ that people seem to think it is. This is a town full of personalities – we value that. I think about this a lot because here I am, an American designer who gets everything made in Italy, and in Milan all the guys are pulled by this gravitational force towards perfection. In New York, that’s not the goal. Here there’s room for ripples, and weirdness and imperfection.”

Mr Todd Snyder

Having moved up the ranks at Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap and J.Crew, Mr Snyder launched his own label – which gives a modern spin to vintage American classics including varsity jackets and sweatshirts – in 2011. In the past year he has collaboration with beloved US sportswear label Champion which will soon be stocked on MR PORTER.

How would you sum up the “New York” look right now?

“There’s a blurring of lines between tailoring, sport and functionality right now. There’s a lot of younger influences, a lot of activewear and sportswear influences.”

Describe the current New York menswear scene.

“It started with Thom Browne. He was, and is, a pioneer. He started it for all of us. Then Michael Bastian was next. Then in the past six or seven years you’ve just seen wave after wave of new designers – it gave people the confidence to realise they could go out on their own.”

Mr Aaron Levine

“It’s got to feel rich. It’s got to feel clean. It’s got to feel accessible.” Having been head-hunted from Jack Spade in 2011, Mr Levine has used this credo to give Club Monaco’s menswear an update with a modern take on the classics for the man about town: slim-fit chinos, cashmere knits, casual tailoring and smart overcoats.

Who do you picture when you’re designing?

“It’s an amalgamation of a bunch of people – a dash of photographer, musician, artist – and you mesh them together into this one kind of fictional superhuman of positive traits.”

Messrs Ariel and Shimon Ovadia

These 32-year-old twin brothers grew up in the garment business and launched their line Ovadia & Sons, which combines classic tailoring with modern fabrics – think sharply tailored trousers worn with a nylon bomber jacket and sneakers – in July 2010.

How does New York influence your design?

Ariel: “We make clothing for a fast-paced New York lifestyle – a combination of uptown formal and downtown casual.”

What was your big break?

Ariel: “I remember it was a beautiful Friday morning and we got a call from GQ and they said: ‘Can you get here in an hour?’ We’d been reading GQ since we were kids so we dropped everything and said, ‘Of course!’”

Shimon: “GQ’s [creative director] Jim Moore got it right away and then a week later GQ called in some looks for a shoot. That fuelled the fire: ‘Wow, this is really happening!’ That was four years ago.”

Messrs Morgan Collett and Colin Tunstall

Together with their co-founding “board member” Mr Josh Rosen (whose wife was giving birth on the day of our shoot), Messrs Collett and Tunstall launched Saturdays Surf NYC, their laid-back surf-luxe lifestyle brand, in 2009. They publish a biannual lifestyle magazine and their store on Crosby Street, complete with coffee bar, is something of a hang out.

How does New York influence your design?

Mr Collett: “NYC is in our name so it’s integral. The inspiration pours in as you walk down the street. One of our current T-shirt and sweatshirt designs is a collection of silhouettes of cool New York buildings that we created from photographs we took.”

Talk us through a typical day.

Mr Collett: “If there’s any surf we try to get to the coast.”

Mr Tunstall: “I like to stop in at our SoHo store on the way to the office, have a coffee, catch up with the staff, see some of our regulars. That’s the core ethos of our brand – it’s about hanging out with friends and shooting the s**t.”

Messrs Taavo Somer and Kent Kilroe

Mr Somer is a polymath – a trained architect, whose aesthetic, which he calls “primitive modernism”, has led to a Disneyland for the downtown set complete with a restaurant, boutique and barbershop that feature salvaged decor and taxidermy on the walls. This oft-copied look started with a clothing label – FSC – which he runs with his business partner Mr Kilroe. What began as a collection of T-shirts has matured into a full line of suits, blazers, dress shirts, trousers and outerwear – most of it manufactured in the New York area.

How does New York influence your design?

Mr Somer: “At our restaurant we have this farm-to-table concept and that locavore idea came into the clothing. So all of our labels had the mileage distances on them.”

Mr Kilroe: “There are still resources and places here where you can manufacture locally. And, logistically, it’s better to able to see your stuff in production rather than take a leap of faith in having it made overseas.”

Who do you picture when you’re designing?

Mr Somer: “An idealised version of myself! Friends of mine have this quality to different levels. They have a loft in the city and a place upstate. They have a man’s truck, but also a vintage sports car. They have cool kids and an amazing wife. They bake their own bread. They’re well-rounded guys, but they’re guys’ guys, dudes not dandies.”

Mr Alex Drexler

While at college studying law, Mr Drexler dreamed of one day being in the FBI. After changing career aspirations, he started Alex Mill in 2013. The brand has evolved into a simple collection of affordable core uniform basics: button-down shirts, selvedge jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts – all made from the most tactile materials possible.

What one item sums up your brand?

“Although we started with the idea of finding the perfect shirt, I’d say our cashmere beanies are really now a symbol of our brand because a beanie says ‘New York’ to me and everyone wears a beanie differently. To each his own.”

Mr Eric Goldstein

Jean Shop has a simple objective: to make the best jeans on the market. Co-founder Mr Goldstein had 20 years’ experience with Ralph Lauren RRL and Gap before starting to produce his own designs using carefully sourced Japanese selvedge denim. They are sewn in California and hand-finished in New York, often by Mr Goldstein himself, who is an expert in washing, dyeing and finishing.

Describe a typical day.

“My office is just beneath the store on Crosby Street in SoHo. I like to be around people and product so I pinball between the store upstairs and the development office downstairs. I can be working on something downstairs and bring it up to ask for an opinion – that’s priceless.”

Who is your typical customer?

“He’s a 25- to 38-year-old guy who wants great quality product rather than disposable fashion. Raw denim starts off feeling really stiff and uncomfortable. But our customer keeps coming back year after year because the jeans he bought last year now fit him like a glove. But, whereas he used to wear them on a Saturday night out, now they are a Sunday afternoon jean, so he needs a new Saturday night pair. There’s a life cycle to a pair of jeans. And each pair is a work of art – of your art. Every pair tells a story.”

Mr Mark McNairy

Mr McNairy is quite contrary. He’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the fashion industry, or to take a highly traditional Northampton-made shoe and put it on a neon yellow contrast-colour sole. Previously the creative director of Ivy League outfitters J.Press, Mr McNairy began his own label in 2008 with a collection of premium men’s shoes made in the UK and in the US.

How has the New York menswear scene evolved in recent years?

“Not so long ago, when I started my own line in 2008, the whole US menswear scene was controlled by big companies and big retailers. But the internet changed everything and now it’s controlled by a group of young guys – and that’s a good thing.”

Who do you picture when you’re designing?

“I make things that I want to wear. I make things that hopefully people will not look at in the future and think: ‘Why the f**k did I buy this?’ And last, but not least, I make things that make me money.”

Mr Andy Spade

Designing sleepwear is just the latest venture for entrepreneur Mr Spade. He built a successful career in advertising before launching with his wife, Ms Kate Spade, the fashion label that bears her name in 1993, as well as Jack Spade, its menswear counterpart, in 1996. A nod to his creative heroes – Messrs David Hockney and Pablo Picasso among them – who weren’t afraid to wear pyjamas all day, Sleepy Jones walks the line between “underwear, sleepwear and the not-quite-ready-to-wear”.

How does New York influence your design?

“This city is orange-juice concentrated. I lived in LA for a while where the orange juice felt watered down. But, here, you’re just constantly surrounded by interesting people of different style.”

Who do you picture when you’re designing?

“I’m designing for friends of mine who generally work as writers or painters, in advertising, in publishing – generally in the creative field or the arts world. I think about how they live and how they are able to wear what they like and they’re not dressing for anyone but themselves.”