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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Summer is wearing on me.  Tee shirts.  Jeans.  Sneakers.  It’s all just getting a bit tedious, I mean where’s the fun in that?  I miss the complexity of the cold.  Tweeds.  Knits.  Wools.  Sure, there’s something liberating about the simplicity of summer, but it’s also remarkably easy to just become complacent.  I’m tired of wearing the same shirt and jeans for days on end simply because it’s just too hot for anything else.  With it being next to impossible to put any effort into summer right now, I’ve started turning my focus towards fall, and the days ahead that’ll actually require some forethought.

My first step towards fall came about a week or so ago at Antonio‘s moving sale, where I was able to pick up something I’ve been after for about a year now: a J. Press Shaggy Dog Sweater.  There was a time when Shaggy Dog’s were just one small chapter in J. Press‘ encyclopedia of American sportswear, but those days are long gone, and nowadays Shaggy Dogs live on as a remnant of a brand that seems nothing less than lost.  For a brand that’s now notorious for their inability to adapt in the modern age (barring very recent developments), the Shaggy Dog is a reminder that there was once a time when J. Press were the innovators.  Much of this can be attributed to Irving Press, (son of the brand’s founder, Jacobi Press) who led J. Press during their mid-century heyday and spearheaded their most legendary work, including the Shaggy Dog.  Legend has it that Irving got the idea for the Shaggy Dog after watching someone that got caught in the rain while wearing a shetland sweater.  Now, I don’t know how true that actually is, but what I do know is that what Irving came up with was nothing short of a masterpiece.  He teamed up with Drumohr the legendary Scottish knit-wear company to source the wool, which was then literally combed to give Shaggy Dog’s their signature fluffed-out texture.

Shaggy Dogs represented J. Press in their peak. Customers flocked to the store in search of the sweater’s broken in vibe,  and loud colors that hit the traddy sweet spot of brash yet classic.  They were everything you’d expect from a maverick brand like J. Press and they became integral to that era.  Looking back on images of New England icon John Updike sitting on his porch wearing a shaggy dog, coeds sporting them on the quad, politicians donning them during their days off, it’s obvious that these were the prime years of prep and Shaggy Dogs were nothing short of an essential.  While this full blown trad lifestyle is no longer the norm, and nowadays other brands have their own version of the combed-out shetland sweater, J. Press continues to crank out their Shaggy Dog year after year, even bringing in some new colors, as a rare sign of life from an otherwise dull brand.  Full disclosure though this design hasn’t been updated in decades so don’t expect anything close to slim fit.  They’re pretty much what they’ve always been, a fuller cut, borderline boxy sweater with unparalleled warmth, which quite frankly sounds like exactly what I want right now.

Austin, Gabriel and Casey

By the latter half of day two at (capsule) I had seen all I had come to see, and there were only so many times I could pace the show floor, so I spent most of the afternoon hanging around outside.  As everyone rolled through, drinking beer after beer, and milling about the show came to a close, making for a fitting end to a hectic couple of days.

While I spent most of day one at (capsule) just wandering around, getting my bearings, day two was a lot more focused.  I stopped by more booths, learned a bit, discovered a few new brands (particularly Journal Standard whose stuff was nothing less than amazing.)  Here it is part one of day two of (capsule)

McNairy

Journal Standard

Originally I had thought that for (capsule) this season, I’d cover it the same way I did last time, pick out some brands, go through their collections, then write about them.  But when I walked into the show on Monday morning, I realized that that just wasn’t going to work.  It’s not that there wasn’t a lot of product worth writing about, because there certainly was, but the vibe was just a bit different this go around.  The space was huge, the booths were stocked, people were milling about, everything was laid back, dare I say, it was just fun.  So here it is, (capsule) day one.


As today marks the start of Market Week (actually it was yesterday but I was at work so I wasn’t able to make my way over to any shows) this week on Wax Wane will be a little bit different.  Instead of the usual posting schedule I’ll be devoting the first half of this week to attending the shows, and the latter half to recapping what I’ve seen.  So be sure to check back here in a few days for a look at what’s on deck, until then, enjoy yourselves, Jake.

They were the jeans I wore as a kid.  Actually, to be honest I was probably wearing hand-me-down K-Mart jeans as kid.  The truth is that they were the jeans that my Dad wore when he was growing up, and that means a lot more to me than if I wore them myself.  Unlike the era that I was raised in, during my Dad’s formative years there wasn’t an unlimited array of denim options, there was simply a small pack of quality American made jeans.  And at the top of that group stood the originals, Levi’s 501.

It all began in 1853, as Levi Strauss, a Bavarian immigrant headed west to San Francisco, hoping to make his fortune from the California gold rush.  Back on the east coast, Strauss’ brothers owned and operated a Dry Good’s shop, so Levi decided to bring his family’s business to the ever-increasing stream of miners flowing into California.  For over a decade, Strauss made his way as a straight up trader, and then one day he received a letter from a Reno based tailor, Jacob Davis.  Levi is the name most often uttered in conversations about the creation of jeans, but Jacob Davis’ name certainly deserves be mentioned in the same breath.  Jacob had previously bought a few spools of hemp from Levi to turn into pants, but his customers kept coming back to him with busted seams.  So Davis had the idea to reinforce the pant’s stress points with copper rivets, but he needed Levi’s money to afford a patent, so in 1873 they went into business together.  Their first models were dubbed “waist overalls,” sewn together in San Francisco out of 9 ounce XX blue denim straight from New Hampshire and finished off with the brand’s trademark rivets.

Around 1890, the pair’s patent expired, which meant they no longer had the exclusive rights to riveted pants.  With the market wide open, Levi and Jacob needed to find a way to distinguish their products, so they began printing the story of Levi’s and XX denim on the inside of their pants.  They also started referring to the jean as the 501, a way to brand their product, allowing customers to ask for it by name.  Back then 501didn’t really signify a certain cut, there really weren’t that many fits so 501 simply meant that they were a Levi’s jean.  Yet, over the years 501 came to symbolize the classic cut-straight leg, no taper, medium rise.  And it’s these same characteristics that prevailed over a century ago that drew me to the 501 today.

Writer Mickey Spillane in a pair of 501s

My personal trajectory through the world of denim actually speaks a lot about jeans as a whole.  Growing up my jeans were pretty much garbage, they were made overseas out of subpar materials, and they wouldn’t last me more than a few months.  But I wore them because quite frankly that’s what was available so that’s what my parents bought me.  But when they were kids they had an entirely different experience.  They wore American made, selvedge denim because that was the norm, but as the years wore on production moved abroad, and the standards were lowered to save a few bucks.

So until I was about fifteen that’s all I had, and then as I started taking an interest in clothes, raw denim was really the first step.  After reading all the mantra’s about saving up and buying quality, I went right out and bought a pair of several hundred dollar jeans, and for over a year I put that pair through hell trying to get them up to their faded potential.  But to be honest I was never satisfied with that pair.  I always found the rise to be too low, and the legs to be just too skinny, complaints I’ve actually heard from a lot of my peers about modern jeans.So after suffering through that pair for a while, I decided enough was enough and one day I just retired them, swinging from a daily denim dependence to not wearing jeans at all.

And then a few months ago I read a short post by one of the people I respect most in this industry, Antonio Ciongoli, who aside from designing for Michael Bastian, writes 13th and Wolf/Tredici e Lupo.  It was on there that Antonio mentioned that the only jeans he wears now are Levis 501s.  A few days later I decided to try them out for myself, picking up a well-worn pair on eBay for about 10 bucks.  Those jeans instantly became the best pair that I’ve ever worn.  The cut was perfect, striking the balance between slim and straight legged, with a rise that I could tuck a shirt into without looking like I was suffocating myself.  Best of all they were just comfortable.  For a couple months those were the only jeans I wore, and then a few days ago I saw that Billy Reid had a pair of raw selvedge, Made in the USA 501′s on sale, and I had to give them a shot. Tossing those on for the first time, I couldn’t help but think of my dad, wearing 501′s as a kid growing up in the sixties.  The cut, construction, and feel still exactly the same.  And then I realized that despite the seemingly infinite amount of jeans out there from all over the world, in a million different cuts and weights, the original still reigned over them all.

On the surface the story of Libero Ferrero sounds like it could belong to any heritage brand from the past century-three brothers come together to create a line of American made goods inspired by their Italian heritage.  Although after sitting down yesterday with Pete Lafferty, who runs Libero Ferrero along with his two brothers and fiance, I soon realized that the brand is anything but boilerplate.

Born and raised in Michigan, Pete and his two brothers Matthew and Adam, never started out thinking they would be designing bags.  With backgrounds in sales, architecture, and art design, the three collectively had all the loose components needed to start a brand, but it was something they had not considered until a few years ago.  Deciding it was time for a career change, the brother’s pooled their resources and joined together with Pete’s fiance, Julia Salamon to form Libero Ferrero.

Since the brand’s founding, location has always played an integral role.  With one brother out in Los Angeles overseeing production, another brother based in Chicago where he works with Horween leather sourcing materials, and Pete and Julia living in New York handling design and marketing, Libero Ferrero is strategically spaced out to capitalize on each region’s distinct advantage.

Fortunately, Pete brought along two new designs yesterday, the Brigadier a daily carryall and the Balfour a full-zip weekender, which gave me a chance to try out the bags myself.  The first thing I noticed was the buttery texture of the Horween leather, which was some of the softest material I’ve ever felt on a bag.  I was also amazed that the bags were both sturdy and lightweight, a testament to the strength of the leather.  Overall though, what I found most remarkable, or rather unremarkable was the designs themselves.  I say unremarkable because Libero Ferrero’s real strength lies in their simplicity.

The designs are timeless, and not timeless in a tacky marketing way, but literally the bags look like they could have come from any era.  Libero Ferrero’s bags are understated in the best way, on the exterior they allow the straightforward designs and quality of the materials to speak for themselves, focusing on the interior to provide the details that a man really needs.  Lined with medical-grade nylon and Holland & Sherry suiting wool, inside of the bags the focus is on functionality, filled with pockets and wide-mouthed zippers.  These are the sort of bag that every man needs, they’re not flashy, you won’t see them on some runway, but what they will do is make your life easier, and be a daily compliment to your suit for decades to come.

 

I always like to say that Gant Rugger has been my constant.  Since my interest in menswear was first sparked a few years back to right now, Rugger has been right there with me.  So much of this has to do with Rugger’s creative director, Christopher Bastin, a Swede with a remarkable understanding of American sportswear.  Bastin is personally responsible for some of my favorite pieces that I have hanging in my closet, which is why I was honored when I got a chance to interview him this past week about the brand, his background, blogs, and the future.

Christopher Bastin (Photo via Park & Bond)

So I wanted to begin with a couple questions about Ripped Back Pocket, because I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that you as a designer, kept a journal (for lack of a better word) of your experiences which offered some insight into what was going with Rugger.  What was the motivation behind starting Ripped Back Pocket, and how do you think it helps you as a designer?

I started writing the blog back in 2007, I think I had 2 readers for the first year; I’m actually still blown away every time someone knows about it, so first of all, thank you for reading.  I kind of needed a vent for all the stuff that was going on inside my head that I couldn’t get out of my system other ways. I’m pretty a narrow minded when it comes to what’s interesting (Basically food, art and old clothes) so I just had to share.  Sometimes “I get feelings“ and in that sense the blog has become a great way to thank people who inspires me, that’s probably the best part of it, to give some of the love back.  I also love the fact that there are dudes like Sean Hotchkiss who answered the question “Who has the best tumblr” with “Tumblr? I don’t get on that shit”

As a reader your blog has always provided a wealth of vintage imagery, both from Gant/Rugger as well as other classic brands.  How do vintage gear and pieces from the past (particularly from the Gant archives) impact your design today?

For our work on GANT Rugger it has meant everything, it has taken the better part of 6 years to build that archive from scratch and basically everything I know about GANT I’ve learned from collecting and curating the archives.  Great vintage has and will always be a huge source of inspiration; something’s are just good as they are. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, and all that.

So backtracking a little bit here, but I understand that you have no formal training as a designer, so I was wondering what inspired you to get into menswear to begin with?

I’ve worked in the industry for 20 years, as a sales-rep, buyers assistant, buyer, product developer, you name it.  I was lucky (or talented) enough to work at pretty amazing brands with some pretty amazing people at the right time, I soaked everything up like a sponge, wanting to learn more all the time. I’ve always had a creative side and knew I wanted to explore it more, so 7 years ago when GANT advertised that they needed a new shirt designer I kind of felt that “I could do this as well as anyone else” I applied and got the job.  I’m still learning everyday and I hate the fact that my sketches looks like crap, but I’ve found other ways to visualize things, photo, collages, Illustrator etc.

Growing up in Sweden, what was your impression of American menswear and menswear as a whole? What brands do you remember wearing when you were growing up?

My dad has been wearing GANT forever, but I was always more of a jeans nerd.  In college there was a huge preppy hype and brands like GANT started getting on my radar more. But to be honest, I dressed in jeans and a tee every single day growing up, apart from a weird era around 1985-96 when I wore a Sergio Tacchini WCT jacket all the time and trained Tae Kwon Do, very Jersey Shore.

What was it about Rugger that made you want to design there, and how did all of that come about?

I think it was a natural step, I started designing shirts at GANT, and that included the newly re-launched Rugger By Gant line. But at that time we where 6 different designers doing each department, so there was no coherency between the season, and no specific handwriting to it. My CEO liked what I had going with the shirts and knew I was a geek for our history and heritage and said “Hey, why don’t you just do it all”. Dream gig.

 How have you seen your own style change throughout the years? And how does that impact your design?

I’ve definitely started dressing the part more since I started at GANT, but I’m pretty much the same guy as when I started. I have swapped the chucks for brouges and the washed out tee’s to a washed out oxfords, everyone needs to grow up sometime. I also think it’s necessary to love and wear the clothes you design, otherwise there will never be a soul to it.

When you come with up ideas for the brand, do you design with a specific customer in mind? And if so what kind of guy is that?

Indeed, we have a pretty detailed idea of who the “GANT Rugger guy” is. It changes a bit from season to season, he grows and evolves with us so to speak.  2010 when I did the first season as CD for GANT Rugger, he was probably a bit more of a slacker than he is today, but still, the same dude, you know? I’d say he’s a guy who’s into details, quality and the kind of slow fashion we stand for, definitely more concerned about style than fashion. We don’t do fashion at all really.

Rugger is renowned for their ability to stay so strong season after season, yet each collection is based off a unique theme, so how do you balance consistency with originality as you design for each consecutive season?

That’s a very nice compliment, thank you.  I don’t know, it’s something that has taken years to define, and gut feeling I guess.  While a lot of designers hate last seasons’ best sellers, I look at them and think, wow, this and that were awesome, sold tons! How do we tweak this into a new must for the wardrobe?  Cause that’s what GANT Rugger is, a wardrobe for the above-mentioned guy. And hey, it’s American Sportswear, so it’s no rocket science, but you need a certain amount of “je ne sais quoi” to get it right. If you know your history well enough, you don’t have to obsess and be all-anal about it.

And, I love the marketing aspect, themes are basically an internal tool for me and the team to wrap our heads around a color story, a place or a person, and then we take it from there. I have a responsibility to make sure the stuff sells as well, otherwise we could do a lot of crazy shit, throw one hell of a show and be done with it, but that’s not the case, at all. Thinking, “Would I even buy this?” while designing is kind of good thing.

You’ve always been very outspoken in your supporter for menswear bloggers, how do you feel the internet has impacted menswear, both in your own work and as a whole?

Last couple of years I think Street style and the likes of Scott, Tommy Ton, William Yan and groupings like Lawrence Schlossman, Sean Hotchkiss, and Zeph Colombatto have had a huge impact on the kind of style we work with. Trade show coverage has become more important than the runway, it’s utterly democratic and I love it.  Why sit at the first row when you can BE the first row, you know?

And lastly, with this latest collection, where did you take inspiration from, and what can we expect?

#TEAMAMERICANO, nuff said, blogger.

I’d like to thank Christopher Bastin for taking some time to speak with me and I would also like to congratulate him on his recent promotion, moving him up into the role of Creative Director for the entire Gant brand.  Bravo, sir.

If there’s one thing you can say about Steve McQueen it’s that the man’s garnered a lotta ink over the years.  I think it’s impossible to have any sort of conversation about style without seeing McQueen’s name pop up at least once, I mean I personally have mentioned him in every post this week, but I’m not going to apologize for that one.  It seems that everyone’s approached the McQueen story in one way or another at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting and if there was ever a time for me to give the man a proper write up, it would be this week.

Looking at actors these days, there’s just something amiss about them.  Everyone’s too polished, too rehearsed, too public, too egotistical, it all just feels wrong.  How can I relate to people that I can’t even respect?  If you look at actors from the sixties and seventies they did things, real things that were downright admirable.  They rode motorcycles, gave to charity, smirked at the camera, got arrested, made mistakes, and all they while acted at the top of their game.  Of course, every one of those feats that I just listed belong to one man in particular, Steve McQueen.

So why McQueen?  What exactly made and still makes him so revered as the “King of Cool.” Personally, I feel that the answer lies in his love for motorcycles.  The fact that McQueen rode like he did, not for the publicity, because it was something he sincerely enjoyed, tells us everything about why he became so prolific.  It wasn’t about him being some calculated machine for Hollywood to control, he was just a man who had a rough upbringing that was one part farm life, one part city life, and filled with wild situations throughout (I won’t delve into this here because his story is a winding one, but if you get a chance you should all read about McQueen’s formative years, they were undeniably fascinating.)  McQueen was an ex-Marine, with a troubled past, who rode motorcycles, and not to over-simplify things, but I’d say that’s a pretty damn good summary as to why the man became so legendary both on and off screen.

McQueen was not merely a collector, although he certainly did that, amassing over a hundred bikes in his day, but he was a venerable competitor as well.  In an interview McQueen once admitted that his passion for moto-racing stemmed back to a tricycle that his great-uncle had given him as a toddler, but it was in the sixties that he really made his mark in the racing world.  Even as he was becoming one of Hollywood’s most well known actors, McQueen competed in grueling off-road races such as the Baja 100 and the International Six Day Trial.  Those images of McQueen, dressed in a mud covered moto-jacket and smiling as wide as he can, have been engrained in the male psyche for decades.  Let’s face it, we’ve all felt emasculated by a McQueen photo at one time or another, but that’s the point.  In this era everyone’s so preoccupied with everything being perfect, I look at a photo of McQueen at the end of a brutal dirt-bike race and he looks better than anyone out there today.  McQueen’s shirts were faded because he broke them in himself, his clothes fit him well because he wore them to death, he looked comfortable and happy because he was, and he was so damn cool because he didn’t fake it, he just lived it.

Heading into this week I had thoughts of biker gangs, Indian cycles, Steve McQueen, and all the American pride that goes along with that, but as I’ve started to dig into these posts, I’ve been preoccupied with something from the other side of the Atlantic.  It could be the summer heat or just the seemingly unflappable popularity of Italian style, but the Vespa just seems to fit right into my current state of mind.

The First Vespa, the MP-6

Post-war Italy was in disastrous shape, with most of their industries left all but gutted, and Piaggo & Co. had taken one of the biggest hits.  During World War Two the company had been a major producer of fighter planes for the Italian military, but the allies bombed their factories to oblivion over the course of the campaign.  After the dust settled Enrico Piaggo, who’s father Rinaldo had founded the company, decided it was time to start anew, leaving the aviation industry behind, he began to steer the company in a new direction.  Enrico had a vision for a contemporary and affordable invention that would revolutionize the way the Italian’s lived their lives as they rebuilt their country.

Always searching for that edge, the U.S. was constantly sending over new technologies from the states throughout the war.  Once such vehicle was the Cushman scooter, a vehicle small and maneuverable enough to bypass the Nazi’s attempts at bombing out roads and bridges.  It was that scooter that gave the company their inspiration to create a vehicle never before available to the Italian people.  The first attempt was led by designers, Renzo Spolti and Vittorio Casini in 1944, they dubbed their invention the Paperino, or Donald Duck in Italian, but their design was closer to a typical motorcycle than something revolutionary and Enrico instantly rejected it.

Dissatisfied with the work of his in-house team, he decided to call in an outsider, aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who delivered the first Vespa in 1946.  D’Ascanio hated motorcycles, proclaiming them bulky and impractical, so he aimed for something compact and lightweight.  What he developed was a two-wheeled, step through scooter, with the engine in the rear, and an enclosed chain mechanism.  Upon seeing the scooter, Enrico emphatically proclaimed “Sembra una vespa!,” or “it looks like a wasp!” and the name just stuck.  Piaggo promptly patented the vehicle, began cranking them out using “Ford-style” mass manufacturing and promptly launched it to the public during the 1946 Milan Fair.

At first people were a bit confused, the design was unlike anything they’d seen before and they didn’t exactly know how to respond to it, but nonetheless they began to sell, and slowly but surely the Vespa began to take over the streets of Italy.  The Italian people were starving for something to get excited about and the inexpensive, agile scooter was exactly what they needed.  In just a few years Piaggo’s sales had climbed to over fifty thousand Vespas annually.  From the businessman riding to work in his unstructured Navy suit, to the teenager cruising around in a half buttoned dress shirt and scuffed up loafers, the Vespa became an integral part of Italian life.

The international push came in 1952 with the release of Roman Holiday, as Gregory Peck rolled through the Roman streets with Audrey Hepburn at his side sales skyrocketed.  With interest piquing Vespa expanded production and sales throughout the world, marketing the scooters as a paragon of that incredibly desirable laid-back Italian attitude.  With new markets came even greater success and by 1956 Vespa sales reached into the millions.  Over the years the Vespa has gone beyond it’s Italian roots, taking on new meaning for each generation.  During the sixties it was the mods in England, for whom the inexpensive vehicles meant freedom.  The young Mod rocker, riding around in a kitted out Vespa all decked out in a slim fitting suit and matching wingtips was a common sight throughout London for years.  Beyond that everyone from the Japanese, to Hollywood stars, to American urbanites have had a love affair with the Vespa at one time or another, drawn in by that uniquely appealing Italian design.

Luca Rubinacci

Patrizio Cappelli

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