Q+A: Highland US

Since gentrification’s taken a firm hold of Williamsburg, artists, designers, musicians have been migrating further into Brooklyn, with Bushwick now fast following suit. With ample space at more affordable prices, convenient connections to Manhattan and enough Stumptown coffee to fuel full-time jobs and moonlight freelancing, it’s hardly difficult to see the attraction. Having come across Bushwick-based brand Highland during a spate of press days, I was eager to learn more about the interestingly anomalous brand. Brooklynite yet not pandering to the ubiquitous all-black Williamsburg uniform, nor mimicking the Americana heritage formula, Highland is definitely something all of its own.

I caught up with the team to talk Joseph Beuys, Utah and Roberta’s pizza…

Male-Mode: What is Highland? Who does the team consist of?

Highland: Marked by function and utility, Highland is a sportswear collection designed for today’s wanderer and dreamer – those people with a thirst for raw and meaningful experiences. Originally formed in Venice, CA in 2009, the trio that makes up the creative force behind Highland consists of lead designer Lizzie Owens, Mike Franks and Cramer Tolboe.

What motivated you to found Highland?

Being raised in Utah, we all shared a love for the outdoors and the freedom that comes from exploration and experiences in the wilderness. By the summer of 2009, having all worked in various parts of the fashion industry both in LA and NY, we longed to reconnect with our roots. Through this we realised there was a real absence of grown-up, sophisticated sportswear in the contemporary menswear market. We knew we had a fresh cool take on what would feel familiar to a lot of guys, a new perspective to add and a past to legitimise it.

What inspired your current Fall Winter collection?

For our FW12 collection, we were really inspired by an art installation titled “I like America and American Likes Me”. It featured the artist, Joseph Beuys, wrapped in felt and confined in a room with a live coyote for several days. We experimented with the idea of vulnerability in nature and the accepted notion of feeling protected through fabric ‘barriers’.

As self-proclaimed creators of ‘utility menswear’, you’re surely familiar with the flippancy with which this term is bandied about, especially with the recent rise in work-wear – both in American and global markets. What does ‘utility menswear’ mean to you?

When trying to define what utility menswear means to us, early Patagonia or The North Face immediately comes to mind. Those brands represented an early version of work wear meets change/evolution/technology, and we’d like to build upon that by merging technical advances to make “work-wear” even more functional, while adding a fashion forward design.

Growing up in Utah during the 80’s and 90’s, those brands truly captured what it was like living in the mountains around that time. Our brand’s aspirational ideal is freedom. Specifically, the freedom of the American West, and we strive to create clothing that transmits that through the function of the style and the fabrication that serves a purpose.

We think like that when developing new styles or finding fabric; the way our details work together to create a piece you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.

Can you describe your experience as designers based in Bushwick? Is it, in your opinion, the burgeoning creative hub it’s often reputed to be?

Our move to Brooklyn came out of the shared sentiment that, to create clothes that inspired others, we first needed a space that inspired us. We always saw Bushwick as a melting pot for young creatives, and luckily, we found our dream space here. If you walk into coffee shops or overhear street conversations, it seems everyone is working on something expressive whether it be music, art or design of some sort.

It’s also convenient and quick to get to our factories but removed from all the chaos which helps us incubate our creative vision. Oh and let’s not forget Roberta’s Pizza, that place really sealed the deal, if we had to name a NY landmark that embodies our brand, it would be Roberta’s.

What’s next for the brand?

We will continue to develop our collections and refine the Highland aesthetic. We are constantly re-working styles we have done in the past and bringing new ideas to the table. Apart from that, we’ve started planning on a fashion week presentation that will hopefully take place in February. It will require a lot of work, but we feel like our brand is far too good to go unnoticed anymore.

Tailoring or sportswear?

Sportswear.

Brogues or boots?

Boots. Hiking boots.
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Learn more about Highland US | Find Highland stockists here

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Alan Taylor AW12: Concept and Commerce.

There’s been a lot of love for the Irish fashion diaspora in London; from designers like Simone Rocha, Steve Corcoran (who you may remember from here) and Sorcha O’ Raghallaigh to stylists like Angela Scanlon and Twin Magazine’s Celestine Cooney. A recent addition is NCAD graduate Alan Taylor, whose work has its basis in a breed of simplicity that’s not unusual to Irish designers, but is made that bit more complex with the forefront-of-fashion peculiarity synonymous with London. Here, we talk Dublin, London, the state of menswear, and kilts.

^ Alan Taylor photographed by Hedi Slimane

Male-Mode: You studied fashion design in Dublin (NCAD) and worked closely with Simone Rocha for several seasons (London) – what was the most important thing you took from each of these experiences?

Alan Taylor: It was the people in Dublin that made it. There is such an amazing network of people who really push us to do better, rather than compete against each other. London, and working with Simone, was learning all the details they can’t teach you in university. I got to see the business grow from the ground up, being a part of everything from the production meetings to the show-rooms in Paris.

 Your AW12 collection might be termed ‘conceptual’ or ‘avant-garde’, for want of better words, but there are still plenty of wearable pieces amongst the experimentation – what are your priorities when designing for men, wearability, imaginative concept or…?

I have a kind of ethos, which is I don’t want my work to be an over-the-top departure from contemporary menswear, rather a development of classic ideas with a fresh take on construction and fabrication. I always want creativity to be at the forefront of my work but I know that fashion is a business at the end of the day, so I look to achieve the perfect balance between the conceptual and the commercial.


The collection seems to be a clash of traditionally masculine tailoring and a not-so-hidden femininity (kilts, plenty of sheer pieces), do you try to disregard conservative notions of what what might deemed socially gender-appropriate when designing?

Not necessarily, I try to keep my designs masculine, but fuck with it a little through the fabrication and garments – like with the kilt. I think that aesthetically and socially it feels like it fits, the clean lines of the pleats and the silhouette compliment the other garments in my collection and the expansion of menswear as an industry has taken a considerable leap in the past few years.

Men are becoming more aware of not only what they wear but how their clothing is made, the quality and the background of every garment. The kilt is also pushing the entirety of men’s silhouettes; kilts even three years ago would have seemed very feminine. I want to make an ‘Alan Taylor’ kilt a very masculine and understated garment to the extent that when the wearer puts it on, he is so comfortable with the idea of wearing it that he completely forgets he is wearing it at all.

What are the dominant fabrics in the collection? 

The focus for this collection was black wax cotton, net and tweed. I like the juxtaposition of textures in my work.


And a couple more candid questions (as suggested by Twitter followers!)…

What are you wearing?

Converse, Cheap Monday jeans, white t-shirt, and a John Rocha jumper.

Would you wear a kilt?

 I’d wear a kilt.

If you could have designed any other collection in history, which one would it have been?

Comme des Garcons Spring Summer 2008 Womenswear, Rei Kawakubo at her colourful best.

Jil Sander Spring Summer 2009 Womenswear, Raf Simons’ pattern-cutting with water.

Early Madame Grés work – her innovation in sculpture through pleating was mind-blowing for her time.

Although the three collections I mentioned are womenswear, I see a designer’s work as a statement of their overall manifesto that shouldn’t be dictated by the gender of the wearer. Rei Kawakubo is a master of both concept and colour, Raf Simons can make a four-layer outfit look as light as a t-shirt and shorts, not to mention his innovation in construction, and Madame Grés is, in my opinion, one of the main influences for contemporary conceptual fashion design.
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Learn more about Alan Taylor

Etre AW12: Honest-to-goodness.

It seems fitting to write about a brand that made its name with a pair of gloves when there’s a relentless blizzard raging outside (first Sandy, now blankets of snow). Etre, a label specialising in honest-to-goodness staples, started out life as an award-winning London-based design agency but made the transition from website-making to design, in a more hands-on sense, with the idea for Etre Touchy gloves in December 2007.

The idea was simple: design a pair of gloves that looked good and guaranteed warmth whilst also allowing you to operate your myriad mobile devices. Etre Touchy gloves proved an unprecedented success, prompting the brand to expand the empire in 2008, with the launch of Etre Shop.
October 2012, and Etre continue to charm with the launch of their Autumn Winter 2012 collection, celebrating all several aspects of British style, from Oxford-inspired college scarves to the Fisherman jumpers; an exploration of the sartorial leanings of several social strata.
So far, so boring, right? Another bloody workwear-inspired collection that references the wardrobes of labourers from decades past, but targets graphic designers in Hoxton and Williamsburg? Wrong. Etre puts its money where its mouth is, seeing that each piece is lovingly crafted in the British isles, using responsibly sourced British materials.
Take, for example, their workwear jackets which are fabricated from 100 percent Melton wool, manufactured by a 150-year-old family-run business in West Yorkshire. Or have a gawk at the Gansey sweaters, knit from the finest 5-ply worsted wool, spun and dyed in Yorkshire mills. The indigenous craft industry love goes on with the leather gloves crafted by a family business established in 1944 (one of the last surviving British glove manufacturers, to boot) and satchels and holdalls fabricated by a small Cornish leatherwork company.
So, now you can look great, and look much less of a tosser knowing this brand does exactly what it says on the tin.
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Learn more about Etre | Shop Etre

Nicolas Ghesquière, Balenciaga and a few notes on menswear.

Another day, another dramatic upheaval at a Parisian fashion house. Since news of Nicolas Ghesquière‘s impending departure from the house of Balenciaga broke earlier today, I’ve mostly been wondering why hysterical fashion types lament a designer’s mere career-change as if it were a tragic death.

Aside from that, I’ve been trawling through the GQ archive of Balenciaga show reports, familiarising myself with the lesser known of the two branches helmed by Ghesquière at Balenciaga – his truly unique menswear. 

^ Spring Summer 2007; suiting and collegiate styles dominate

Singular, incomparable, individual since its inception in 2004, Ghesquière’s clothing for men was at times genius in its ahead-of-the-curve daring, and at times not only questionably styled, but entirely questionable; obviously relegated to the back-seat behind its older, attention-grabbing sister, the Balenciaga menswear line under Ghesquière is a curious mix of spot-on – and way-off – the mark. 
I’ll happily ‘fess up that I’ve never had the privilege of attending a Balenciaga men’s show, nor have I any reference points to base this post on bar these images from a scattered selection of seasons. Still, in turning an objective eye towards Ghesquière’s contribution to menswear, the boons and blunders are pretty plain to see. Juxtapositions of skinny and slouchy silhouettes that were a little too jarring, token splashes of colour lazily injected into a Spring Summer collection seemingly just for the sake of it, an oftentimes underwhelming impact in comparison to its womenswear counterpart.
Here, though, I’ve rounded up a selection which, for me, neatly summarises those triumphs the designer’s tenure at Balenciaga deserves to be remembered for – from the preppy, nattily tailored beginnings to the Futuristic minimalism of the more recent offerings.

^ Autumn Winter 2007; military influences and a slightly more experimental bent emerge

^ Spring Summer 2008; short-shorts make an appearance several seasons before their being adopted widely ca. SS12; minimalist interpretations of sportswear enter the mix

^ Spring Summer 2011; the Futuristic vision now synonymous with Ghesquière’s reign at Balenciaga is fully visible

^ Autumn Winter 2011; Parisian chic reminiscent of contemporaries Lucas Ossendrijver at Lanvin and Kris Van Assche

^ Spring Summer 2012; a knock-out collection of sharp cuts and geometric colour-blocking

^ Autumn Winter 2012; continuing on in the previous season’s vein, Ghesquière’s adds another string to his bow

^ Spring Summer 2013; explorations in cyber aesthetics give way to a more subdued, naturalistic minimalism

It saddens me a little to think that Ghesquière departs just as the house’s men’s divison has begun to cohere, excite and vie for a long-awaited place amongst the menswear greats. That said, I’m sure there’s plenty more where that came from,
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Can we all now get a grip, reign it in, recognise nobody’s died, salute Ghesquière for Balenciaga and wish him well in his future endeavours?
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Read more about the parting of Ghesqière and Balenciaga here

Images from GQStyle and New York Magazine

A Selection for Pickie; Gift Ideas for the Guy with Relaxed Style

Who dubbed Berlin ‘start-up city’? Since arriving in NYC, I’ve come across more online fashion-related start-ups than I can shake a mouse-pointer at. It’s difficult to think of the economic landscape as particularly nurturing for a new wave of innovators what with sky-high rents, often crippling taxes and decent salaries that trump the paltry few euro-an-hour wages of the German capital, and yet, NYC is brimming with new fashion-related e-commerce concepts.
Case in point: Pickie; a new iPad app designed to make the process of gifting entirely seamless. Having just announced their reaching $1m in venture funding investment, Pickie are well on their way to carving a niche in the re-torial market.
As part of their Holiday Gift Guide, I shared a few thoughts on what to buy the more sartorially laid-back guy in your life; sneak a peek, and click through below for more…
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The Khaki Contrast Jacket.

It’s a rare occurrence that a major womenswear trend will wander from its original context and migrate to men’s, but the now ubiquitous khaki contrast leather-sleeved biker jacket seems to be proving itself an exception to the unwritten rule.

A punchy combination of a quintessentially military/safari style with the timeles bad-ass insouciance of the biker jacket, this hybrid garment has swamped the high-streets since its recent emergence on the runway, with every accessible womenswear retailer offering their own version (Primark, Zara, Topshop etc.), and now with menswear designers trying their collective hand at it, too.

I’ve – so far – seen a Simon Spurr version as well as several bomber styles from the likes of McQ and Undercover. The below, from the house of Balenciaga, is the undisputed highlight so far. Here’s what to wear it with…

1. Balenciaga tweed and leather biker jacket from Matches Fashion; 2. Church’s Grizedale pebble-grain leather brogue boots from Mr Porter; 3. Thom Browne black half-frame sunglasses from Farfetch; 4. Sparks Blitz jeans from Topman; 5. Mulberry day leather gloves from Matches Fashion; 6. Belstaff Dorchester leather tote bag from Mr Porter.

Q+A: NUMBER: Lab

Continuing on from the sports spruced-up tendency I attempted to define, or at least draw attention to, a few months back, this is NUMBER: Lab; a label, for those of you unfamiliar, that at its core seeks to mesh a technical, sportswear influence with a tailored, formalwear-informed aesthetic. It’s triple-lined garments, reversible jackets and totes that double as backpacks that are created with equal attention to the matters of form and function. Five years since the brand’s birth, designer Luis Fernandez and business partner Greg Lawrence continue to deliver.

Male-Mode: What is NUMBER:Lab? 

Luis Fernandez: NUMBER:Lab is an American, men’s advanced-sportswear brand, for the man who is tech-savvy, athletically-minded and constantly on the go. We call it TECH+TAILORED, a collection geared towards keeping relevant in today’s modern world. Just like great architecture can impact the life of its inhabitants, we think that fashion too, should empower and enhance the performance of the wearer while still looking tailored and polished.

^ NUMBER: Lab Fall Winter 2012

Who does the team consist of? 

Greg Lawrence and I founded the company in 2007, and we both still run the company together. I am the Creative Director and Designer and Greg deals with the business and operations side of the company.

Who is the NUMBER:Lab man?

Our ideal man is a perfect blend of the intellectual-with-athletic-sensibility or the stylish-athlete-with-smarts.

Where do you glean inspiration for your designs?

Art and sports are always an initiating source of research and inspiration for me and architecture, for sure, is always very present. I’m always fascinated by athletic and performance gear; it’s such a rich and educational source, from the super-techy and futuristic to great vintage images.

Blurring the boundary between tech and tailored is your speciality, what is it about this combination of form and function that is so important to you?

I have a suspicion it might have something to do with my ‘modernist’ architectural training at Cornell. I still keep Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture on my nightstand. Even 90 years later, this book still holds a very pure lesson of form plus function that can be re-interpreted for today’s modern world. Technology has started to rule and influence our lives in ways we don’t even perceive anymore. We are surrounded by apps and gadgets that enhance our daily life, and that give us more efficiency, speed and comfort. I think that our clothes should speak to that, and do the same thing.

NUMBER:Lab is currently involved in the CFDA {Fashion Incubator}; can you tell us a bit about how this program came about, and how it benefits your brand?

The CFDA {Fashion Incubator} is one of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s programs, which supports the new generation of fashion designers. There are ten designer brands that were chosen to be a part of it, for a two-year period. It’s really quite an honor. Aside from this great space in NYC’s garment district, there is an amazing mentorship program with some of the best industry leaders. It is an incredible support system which aids in fortifying our business and helps us to be competitive in the fashion industry.

Since founding the brand in 2007, what’s been the highlight so far? And the most difficult challenge?

Oh wow, that’s quite a loaded question. It has definitely been a roller-coaster ride. That’s the fashion world for you – never a dull moment. There are tons of highs and lows (sometimes just in one day alone), and you just have to keep bobbing and weaving. You know, rolling with the punches, and that keeps you on your toes. As a designer, anything that keeps you on your toes and that keeps you moving (sometimes even running) is a good thing. You can never stop observing, learning or asking questions. It’s what propels creativity. As for an all-time high, there is no better feeling than spotting someone wearing something you’ve created. Every time. And if they make a comment about how great they feel wearing it, or if they thank you for it, it really hits you inside. It tingles, in a really good way.

You’re done and dusted with SS13, what’s next for the brand? Are there are any particular long-term goals? Interest in collaboration(s)?

Well, sort of. Now comes the production and execution of the SS13 collection, which is almost just as important. It’s the last step in making that sketch a reality. But yes, as a designer, you are always living and thinking in the future. I’m almost done with designing FW13 (it’s a bit crazy, because it doesn’t even feel like Fall 2012 has arrived yet). I’m always thinking of collaborations and design partnerships. It’s such a cool concept to bring two points of views, and two different areas of expertise, together to create something. There are a couple of them cooking which are very exciting. But our main goal is, really, to continue to grow the brand, and to continue to explore and express our point of view.

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Learn more about NUMBER: Lab | Shop NUMBER: Lab

Weekday AW12: Spare but sound Scandinavian style.

God, I love Weekday. How the Swedish brand manages to continuously release collection after collection of styles that should, in theory, be boredom incarnate, but in reality, inevitably worm their collective way into my top ten of the season is pretty laudable.

I mean, you’d be totally right in saying what we’re looking at here is a pile of grey-hued (with the startling variety of raincloud-grey to charcoal!) separates, but really, this is something so much more. I could v. well be impartial here, given that these colours (plain), these cuts (largely unremarkable) and these fabrics (functional) make up what I’d describe as my personal style, but Weekday really is so much more than that.
It’s the detail (or complete lack thereof), the intransigent simplicity, the downright refusal to entertain flounce and whimsy for no good reason and, here, the series of subtle nods to styles as disparate as military, hip-hop-cum-streetwear, classic sportswear and formal tailoring. If anything, it’s wearable, versatile and – based on previous purchases – reasonably good quality for the price. 

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See more, and shop, Weekday.

Stighlorgan AW12: The Rain Never Stops.

Remember Stighlorgan? The London-based accessories brand that takes inspiration from Ireland’s landscape and cultural heritage to create bags, belts and scarves that are utilitarian, hard-wearing and chock-full of singular design details? 
They’re back for Autumn Winter 2012 with ‘The Rain Never Stops’ (never a more collection title for an Irish brand…), a collection intended as equipment for embracing the rain, featuring a slew of coated fabrics including two newly developed by the brand, the 18oz Fisherman’s lacquer canvas and 16oz paraffin wax canvas. 

^ From top: Sé, a dual function suede leather tool bag, and a new addition to the Stighlorgan family; can be worn as a holdall or rucksack; Reilly, roll-top rucksack, crafted from the 18oz Fisherman’s lacquer canvas

^ The Driscoll drawstring returns; Oisín (bottom, left) mustard zip-top rucksack, made from another custom fabric – 16oz paraffin wax canvas; Roban (bottom, right) remains a staple

^ Boann canvas webbing belt; cable knit Cian scarves
As intrepid explorer Rannulph Fiennes so brilliantly put it: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’.

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See more and shop the collection at Stighlorgan