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In a world where menswear accessories brands are a “bespoke” dime an “artisanal” dozen, Frank Clegg is the constant. What began as a hobby for Frank during the early seventies has now blossomed into one of the last great luxury leather goods companies in America. For over four decades, Frank has worked out of his Fall River, Massachusetts studio to create a line of bags and accessories that recapture the days when a solid leather bag was a man’s trustiest sidekick. I had a chance to speak with Frank about his brand’s past, present, and future.

To start off, how did Frank Clegg as a business begin, and how did you first get involved with making bags?

I started in the business in 1970 when I was given a few tools as a gift. I realized early on that I was able to make just about anything I wanted to without much effort, so I began selling pieces as fast as I could make them. Not just bags and briefcases, but boxes, chest sets, plant hangers, just about anything that could be made from leather. We were all experimenting in those days!

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Kevin Burrows was the one I didn’t see coming.  When news broke on the identities of the pair that co-created Fuck Yeah Menswear, the National Lampoon meets Naked Lunch meets Aquemini of the menswear world, I wasn’t surprised that Lawrence Schlossman, arguably the loudest voice of this movement, was one of the collaborators on the project, but I can say that I never would have guessed that Kevin Burrows would be the other half of the duo.

Kevin works as a production coordinator for Dreamworks animation by day, but on the side he runs The Windmill Club, an L.A. based label that began as a tie company but is now branching out into other designs.  I’ve never met Kevin before, but as any blogger in this day and age I was certainly familiar with The Windmill Club, and with the Fuck Yeah Menswear book launch just about a week away, I was quite intrigued by the chance to interview Kevin about not only his endeavors, but menswear in general.  In our two hour conversation I realized that Kevin is one of the most intelligent and opinionated minds I have come across so far in this world, but it’s no wonder that he was he’s part of the team behind the wit and snark that made FYMW famous.

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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.


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