A tempest had just ravaged my apartment: in the process of preparing outfits for New York fashion week, I've tried on nearly everything in my winter wardrobe yet my creativity seems to run dry as a bone. Times like these, I look to the greats for design intervention.
There is a richness to this look, almost like a novel that each time you re-read you discover something new. The subtlety of the off-blacks fading to navy, the contrast of the washed denim and the dirty dark yellow, the silhouette of the high-waisted coat and his loose top with the oddly hemmed jeans, and the intrigue of sunglasses at night... and wait... is he wearing a dangling earring?? It's all so fresh and inspiring. The plan is to keep staring at this photograph until his style osmoses to mine, and somehow, some way, the coat and the boots materialize in my closet.
House of 950 is a new label started by my friend Eric Holbreich, a designer I used to work with, and his partner Alice Spies. I would describe their clothes as experimental, clean and minimal, awkwardly charming, and ultimately very wearable. I had a little chit-chat with co-founder Eric about starting his new line, his inspirations, plans for the future, and wishes of dressing the almighty Tilda Swinton.
Tell us about your line and why you decided to start it.
House of 950 is a collaborative workshop that focuses on garments that are often unisex and multifunctional. We think about the use of garment. How can people interact with it, how comfortable is it? We wanted to bring back the innovative craft where the make and finishings are just as important as the original idea. We manufacture everything in New York City so we can monitor the process and make sure everything is the highest quality possible.
Where are you two from and how do your roots influence the way you make clothes?
I’m from Indianapolis and Alice Los Angeles. Alice thinks about simplicity and comfort all the time she thinks that is what L.A. is all about. Indiana is a really clean, flat place with lots of trees and open spaces. I don’t feel comfortable in very fitted clothes, but I like everything to have a clean look.
Who/what else influences your design?
When we start designing a garment, we will have a general idea of what it should be. We don’t really draw, or if we do it is usually of a pattern piece. When we make the garment, that’s when we play with it, what could it be, could it be something else. We then think about what is missing in clothing that we think should be there, like a detail on the cuff, or a hidden pocket in the seam. We want the clothes to be convenient and recognizable but at the same time different and simple.
Tell me about the odd, graphic shapes that your clothes are made out of.
The shapes that our clothes make are usually related to the function of the garment, or the elimination of a conventional seam and the replacement with another type of seam. Most of the garments have no fixed closures. To close the garment a person has to first choose a way to wear it. The clothing allows the user to express their own idea of how they want it to look like. The Amish shirt for example has four different silhouettes. The user has the option to choose which one is right for their mood.
House of 950's Amish shirt
And the prints?
This collection we collaborated with the artist Alphonse van Woerkon. We transformed his portrait of Kiki Smith into a textile, and then turned it into a shirt. We didn’t want it to be a recognizable face, but we wanted elements of Kiki to show through. You can see her eye and her nose, but the panels of the shirt cut it. It makes it more abstract and interesting.
the Kiki Smith shirt, one of my favorite pieces in the collection
You deal a lot with interactivity and customer participation (in your presentations, the lookbook). Why do you think this is essential to your brand?
Our brand is about the customer. We want them to feel involved in the process as well as the company itself. We are building the House as a collaboration between us as designers and the customers. We don’t like the idea of being singular, or alone. Interactivity, I think, would be the perfect one word description of who we are and what we want to be. We created this idea called the Minute Museum, where the traditional museum is reversed. The people who come to the exhibit, are the exhibit themselves. We use this to allow the people to interact with the clothes as well as showcase the clothing on real people.
the drawstring jacket, which I had dubbed "the noose jacket"
Tilda Swinton comes to you the day before a big premiere and begs that you dress her. What will you put her in?
First of all we would die. Then we would pull it together and put her in the Portrait Shirt and the Thai-Tie Pants hands down. Then we would probably die again. We know she would look amazing wearing those two pieces!
Plans for the future?
We are going to keep doing what we are doing! We are just starting and we have a long way to go. Every day is exciting and a new territory for us. The idea of creating our own path and it working, is amazing. (and frightening!)
Malmö-based Swedish underwear designer Gässling makes underwear for men who have grown tired of teen-boy briefs and want something new. I applaud their attention to detail; for example, the care instructions are printed inside to avoid that annoying tag, and the waistband is covered in fabric for ultimate comfort.
For this year's Future Stylist competition, online mega-retailer ASOS had chosen me to represent American menswear. The theme was "dressing up denim", and I chose to do my interpretation of the Texas tuxedo: double-denim gone surrealist. As seen on this blog multiple times, my favorite way of wearing denim is with more denim, like a cowboy. I topped off the look with saddle-leather shoes and handcuffs for arresting bandits at the saloon. Photographs are by the immensely talented Ashley Dupree.
Number (N)ine sunglasses, Vivienne Westwood x Lee asymmetrical denim shirt, ASOS necklace and jeans, vintage Florsheim shoes
metallic green ASOS handcuff necklace over the Vivienne Westwood asymmetrical collar denim shirt
silk ribbon from the Rivane Neuenschwander installation at the New Museum, Hermés bracelet, Cartier watch
vintage Florsheim longwing brogues, green laces from Hook + Albert
Style Salvage had asked me to contribute to their "Treasured Items" series of posts on the blog, in which I shared my devotion to my Number (N)ine monkstrap creepers. The post had come up a few days ago, and I thought I'd share it with you, my dear readers.
It would render me practically footless if I lost these Number (N)ine monkstrap shoes that I had purchased at the store's closing sale in New York two years ago. The silhouette is of a classic slim monkstrap shoe, but with punk-rock creeper detailing, tough and extremely walkable hard rubber soles by Continental, rendered in ever-wearable dark beige suede. Their era- and style-ambiguity make the shoes as great a base for dark and conceptual Belgian pieces as they would with full-on Americana, and the high vamp provides ample coverage that allows me to wear them even on the deadest day of winter.
I've worn them so much so that the lines are going squiggly and the weave goes gaping open. There is a faint white stain on the left shoe (toothpaste fell; I was brushing in a hurry) that suggests perhaps a bird might have gone to the bathroom on my shoes, but I think I'll keep it on there.
Number (N)ine is now defunct, and though the designer Takahiro Miyashita still brings his artisanal romance to his new line The Soloist, nothing would compare to the dark, theatrical exuberance that was Number (N)ine. In honor of the brilliant designer, I've affixed medal of sorts on one of the shoes: a vintage shoe clip from Kings County Salvage in Williamsburg. I could only hope that the intense brilliance of the rhinestones against the battered, seemingly bird-defiled creepers would be something Miyashita-san would find at the very least, agreeable.
Italian denim company Meltin' Pot had approached me to collaborate with them and style my favorite pieces out of their fall collection into three looks that I will share with you today. Shooting it was a lot of fun, and a little painful too, I must admit, prancing around the city mid-December jacket-less, and sometimes pants-less as well, but the clothes were Milanese as they come---form-fitting, without a whisper of vanity sizing, and I, ever the diligent blogger-collaborator, wanted to showcase this best I can. Here are the looks, aptly titled for easier comprehension.
The Rodeo Dandy
(Meltin' Pot denim shirt and jeans, Number Nine shoes, vintage cuff, native American watch band on Casio watch)
I wanted to lend an air of dandiness to the rugged double-denim look by slicking my hair back clean, stuffing a pocket square into the shirt pocket, and accessorizing with bold native American jewelry.
a cock-print Eton of Sweden silk pocket square in the pocket of the denim shirt
my Navajo-customized Casio with turquoise and coral
The Seaside Sweater
(Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, Meltin' Pot navy sweater, vintage DIY cutoff shorts, Gucci shoes)
This chunky navy Meltin' Pot sweater reminded me of country clubs and yachts and the seaside. I paired it with my own vintage white cutoff shorts and classic Gucci loafers.
adorned with a vintage gold tie clip from my mother
a nod to the Italians: Gucci horsebit loafers in green suede and red webbing
The Urban Huntsman
(Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, vintage cashmere scarf, Thom Browne cardigan, Meltin' Pot olive green pants, vintage Florsheim shoes)
I loved the fabric and fit on these Meltin' Pot olive green pants, and the color reminded me of an urban huntsman. On a stroll around New York City's Central Park, I wore it with a plaid cardigan and a thick Scottish cashmere scarf.
the mix: a plaid cardigan and a cable-knit scarf all under a vintage camel coat with a pin from Old Hollywood and a lapel flower by Hook+Albert
French-based pan-European brand The Jante Law was one of the clear standouts for me at the men's trade shows; they were all about creating simple, beautiful men's pieces and had a charmingly irreverent attitude towards their work. Rule one, they say, is: "Don't think you're anything special." It's this pragmatic, no-frills approach that drives them to create pieces as beautiful as these.
I immediately gravitated to this marbled grey turtleneck made out of Alpaca-blend yarn. It's big and chunky but feels much lighter than it appears to be.
Continuing my obsession with mint, a loosely fisherman-inspired mint green sweater in Australian wool. Apparently this one is naturally water-repellent and they say it'll be the sweater of a lifetime. Give me this one with loose white cutoffs and floppy beige suede shoes (and perhaps a little family of Hermés weekend bags all in etoupe) and that'll be the sweater of Spring 2012.
Mint and peas, and a little bit of carrot: the colors I'm crushing on are not quite jewel-toned, not quite neon, but are darned delectable.
pea green suede New Balance ML574 sneakers (c/o ASOS), mint green and periwinkle striped shirt from American Apparel, orange Hermés looping bracelet
It's the island boy in me craving a bit of sunshine, and on select days in the dead of winter, under my padded parka, you just might find me dressed like a cupcake.
On other days, you'd see me all black and wooly and minimal, punctuated by a pop of chunky classic sneaker in a funny color. (New Balance ML574 sneakers and my superwarm supercomfy everyday socks c/o Stance)
I like the idea of the smaller-than-A4 portfolio bag, or, dare I say, the clutch, on men. It would look as handsome with a dark suit to lunch as it would be with a tailored coat and sneakers running around town. In this day and age of paperless everything, why bother pretend we're carrying around all-important documents when all one really needs on him is lip balm, a Clif bar perhaps, and a handful of other little unmentionables?
Céline iPad portfolio in black and taupe (manipulated photo via Céline)
The Céline iPad portfolio is so plain and nondescript, it could be mistaken for a Filofax, and that's what I adore about it.
Open it up and the leaves of lambskin expand to reveal pockets of buttery beige suede goodness.
Shoot me for jumping on the Céline bandwagon, I dare you---but not before your fingertips meet the bags.
A few weeks ago, I met this guy at a party at the Soho Grand, a bag designer, and he pulled out his phone and he showed me his stuff, and it was minimal and masculine and elegant---New York is great just like that, filled with brilliant, creative people who make beautiful things. Last week, I paid a visit to Will Lisak, the designer, and while he let me watch him craft a custom-order for a client, we had a little chat about his line ETWAS.
the ETWAS Standard # 1, the company's first bag (photograph via ETWAS)
The bags are elegant and minimal and simply crafted out of thick, sturdy leather. They are certainly heavy, and though the brand has plans of doing bags in lighter, thinner leather, there is a charm in carrying the rugged, thick-skin leather bags that only become more beautiful with age.
Tell us about ETWAS. What do you make, and what makes it different?
ETWAS is premised on the idea that the design of systems has more impact than just designing products. We want to make graceful objects in an equally graceful way, using means of production to reflect and manifest the aesthetic of our customers. When you buy an ETWAS bag you are not only conveying your sentiments through image, your aesthetic will is acting upon the world in more tangible ways.
ETWAS' designer, Will Lisak, at work
What made you shift into crafting bags after working in graphics and illustration?
I never wanted to make fake things. I decided I needed to pursue a project where I had total control and could design every step of the process. It was impossible for me then to tell a beautiful story via the medium of an ugly publishing industry. I'm not creating stories with vast and ephemeral worlds anymore as I was with illustration, but I am creating a small world and small narrative that is very tangible.
Will walked me through a few of the processes involved in making a bag. Holes are pre-punched into the leather before hand-sewing.
The corners on the thick leather are shaved off and rounded for a better hand-feel.
Lisak uses his own vegetable-based recipe to burnish and condition the leather.
Holes on straps are hand-punched as well.
What inspires you?
People. People with inventive ways of living that allow them to enjoy their lives to the fullest. They are the greatest designers.
my favorite piece, the ETWAS light pack in the special rough out black wax leather
The briefcase can be converted into a backpack by simply untucking the shoulder straps from under the flap.
Your bags are simply made and free of embellishments. What are your views on minimalism and design?
I think for what we are doing it is necessary. We are an egalitarian process, our workers are paid well, we are comfortable, but no one is getting rich. It's not a decadent process. It is empowering to the worker, and on the consumer end it is a bit rugged. Our customers are not afraid to get their hands dirty. So it's a bit socialist in that way I guess. There's not much decadence about it. The design needs to be clean then to be honest, and reflect the values of all involved. Not that I'm against decadence. It's just not suitable for this project.
a tote and the toolbag, which was originally designed to carry tools on vehicles, but has captured the fancy of many a menswear-loving woman
hardware finished with a hand-aged patina
I came across this quote on your website: "Consider not only the things we are making, but the things we are destroying." Tell us about your project, and why you choose to work this way.
I think I may have touched on this in the earlier questions, but basically we are interested in creating the most beautiful thing, and I feel it's cheating a bit when you make a beautiful product in an ugly system, which is easier, but you are making the world uglier at the same time as you are making something beautiful, so you're stuck. Not having much impact, just moving things around. I want to make the world less distasteful.
a sketch of a custom-designed duffel bag for a Canadian client
What are your plans for the future?
Our major plan is take advantage of our means of production in another way--because we are manufacturing ourselves we don't have to place large factory orders, and therefore do not have to standardize so much.
trying out a new mechanical (electricity-free) hand-sewing machine for the possibility of offering a line of machine-sewn bags at a lower price point
I want to make a line of bags that is scaleable, where customers and stores can alter the dimensions to their liking though an online interface. There is a lot of potential in giving people a little freedom, and no one else is really doing anything like this.
My eyes went straight to the models' chests at Prada Fall 2012: I saw stick pins in twos, napkin-like pocket squares, leather flowers stuffed into pockets, and other goodies. Prada might possibly be the most directional and influential mainstream luxury brand in the market, and if this means in the next few years we'll be seeing men with suits creatively adorned, I'm all for it.
football and pistol stick pins, and what looks to be a gray saffiano leather card case worn as a pocket square
more Prada stick pins: a crown and a sword
Prada stick pins on impeccable Edwardian-dandy suits that buttoned up high
a purple leather carnation stuffed into the chest pocket