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

Williamsburg Garment Company: Brooklyn-based denim.

Maurice Malone’s Williamsburg Garment Company is pretty much the quintessential American story – one of jeans, entrepreneurship, and making it big in the big city. Having moved from Detroit to NYC several years ago, Malone identified a niche in the casualwear market for a denim-based label that took heed of current trends, prized quality craftsmanship, and understood both retailers and consumers demands for affordable pricepoints. Combining this opportunity with his already existent urbanwear expertise, Malone founded Williamsburg Garment Co., and hasn’t looked back since – not that  he has the time considering his chock-full schedule.
Based out of his Williamsburg residence (unbearably swish and Hudson-side), Malone designs, markets and manages the sales of the entire brand alone, taking every opportunity to eliminate complications and iron out middle-men nuisances which drive up the cost of production and often frustrate lines of communication. Surprisingly, for a man helming a label that’s stocked by some of fashion’s most hallowed retailers (Opening Ceremony, Lane Crawford, Brooklyn’s Bird), Malone is incredibly modest about the whole thing, barely giving himself credit and diverting all attention to his brand rather than himself.
He’s ambitious, though, which is less surprising considering the rampant success achieved by the brand in such a short space of time. And he’s passionate, repeating several times during my visit, his primary motivation: to cut costs for retailers, allowing for decent mark-ups, thus cutting costs for consumers, allowing for savings on great product, whilst never losing sight of the ebb and flow of fashion.
And so you have camo-printed slim-fit trousers in both a light- and heavyweight style, denim shirts with intricate detailing and a range of jeans that runs the gamut from skinny to straight, light-washed to raw. Priced at $102 to $139, it’s hardly difficult to see why it’s America’s selvedge sweetheart.

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See more from Williamsburg Garment Co.

Tim Hamilton for Bergdorf Goodman: Upmarket Casuals.

Tim Hamilton – or should I say Tim? I feel like I’ve lauded his work so much on this blog that it’s now high time we did away with formalities – has only gone and done it again. Having cultivated a lucrative business relationship with NYC luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman since 2007, Hamilton Tim has just launched a capsule collection to be sold exclusively at the big BG on their 3rd Floor
It’s in much the same vein as Hamilton’s own-label fare but seems that little bit tweaked; gone are the graphic print knits and leather trews from the Autumn Winter 2010 collection, in their place is a wealth of casual classics that aren’t going to reinvent the wheel but are pretty sexy all the same. These are sportswear pieces that scream the minimalism meets understated luxury Tim does so well. We had a brief Q+A to dig a little deeper…
MM: What brought you and Bergdorf Goodman together? 

TH: I’ve been working with them since I started my main line in 2007, so we have a history.

What was the intention behind the collaboration? 

TH: To achieve something that represents my brand and a fundamental feel to the Bergdorf customer.

MM: Was there something in particular that inspired the aesthetic of this capsule collection?
TH: We sort of went through some older archives and came up with about 15 styles.
MM: There seem to be slight traces of a skinhead aesthetic in the collection? Was a reference to this sub-culture intentional?
TH: Well I think that is more in Chris Wetmore’s (lookbook model) look, There was a slight intention to bring a new spirit into a luxury Bergdrof world meets casual contemporary.

For me, it’s like a This is England cast-member was transplanted to NYC and spent their time batting at baseball games, rather than attending BNP rallies. So, er, good, then.

Ninh Nguyen’s Autumn Winter 2011/2012 Vampire Hunt.

I’m by no means unpatriotic but being one of ethnic-origin through-and-through (Irish, by the way, just in case you didn’t quite get that from my near constant mentions of hangovers etc.) sometimes leaves you feeling lacking when you’re in the company of someone part-French/German/Swedish, or second generation Irish , their family having moved from somewhere like Australasia before settling down in the Emerald Isle.
Emerging NYC-based menswear designer Ninh Nguyen is one such envy-inducing person. Born in Paris, Nguyen (who I’m rather presumptuously supposing is of Asian origin purely based on surname) was raised in Texas and now designs in America’s fashion capital inspired by the motto – “Dress without taste and they will remember the clothes. Dress with taste and they will remember the man”. Makes sense.
Whether this multi-ethnic, multi-national, and multi-disciplinary (although making menswear is Nguyen’s current occupation, he studied medicine and psychology in his home city) upbringing has made a significant impact on his work is difficult to say just yet since the first teaser of his work assures universal appeal (amazing outerwear generously plastered with military and punk-inspired detailing), not one set to work in just one market.

Still, his rather unconventional life experience has led to a new perspective on the world of fashion and its fairly rigorous strictures and schedules. Instead of showing clothes during fashion week and then garnering PR in mag editorials, Nguyen has opted to put together this vamped-up shoot to raise awareness prior to his NYC fashion week show. And although I’m not all that hot on the Adidas-esque trews here, the mass of black leathers and rugged double-breasted outerwear and v. sleek black and white shirting has me fixated.
Roll on fashion week.

Photography by Duc Nguyen

Revising John Bartlett.

It might come over as all too ambitious but this year I’ve resolved to have the best year of my life so far. Vague? Yes. Difficult to achieve – or more pressingly –  to accurately assess? Certainly. Still, I like to think we, all of us, know what makes us happy and by extension, then, how we can try to carve the happiest year out of the mass clay (potential) we’re presented with on January 1st – by filling our time with the happy-making things.
OK, you’re probably tempted to report this post and have me committed at this stage, but as Miranda‘s Tilly would say, bear with.
This mammoth resolution aside, I’ve also taken up something much more quantifiable – poring over the v. many pages of an old Taschen book I’d bought ages ago in an attempt to educate myself, but had never got ’round to actually reading. Fashion Now, in which Brit-cool mag i-D selects the world’s 150 most important designers, is one of those treasure troves of information; more than a mere reference book, it offers insight as well as aesthetic appeal. And not only does this provide daily opportunities to improve my fashun skillz, I’m also getting a bit of much-needed Deutsch practice in (before moving to Berlin in a couple of months…).

^ John Bartlett

First up is John Bartlett (b. 1963), a menswear designer who hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, but who rails against the philosophies of his Middle American origins. I’d not heard of him before happening upon his entry in the book but having read the mini-interview and gained more of an understanding of his aesthetic leanings, I reckon I’ve found a like-minded individual when it comes to all things menswear.

^ Fall Winter 2010
^ Spring Summer 2010

^ Spring Summer 2009

A FIT grad counting Genet and Mapplethorpe amongst those who inspire him, Bartlett says he seeks to “merge masculinity and fashion”, and in the process he’s become fixated on uniforms, esp. those of the military. Although his parents sought an investment banking future for Bartlett, he opted instead for a full immersion in the world of clubbing and clothing in 80’s London, frequenting the King’s Road for his gear, and club Taboo for antics. It seemed to work for him, too, considering he was the inaugural recipient of the CFDA Perry Ellis Award in 1994.

Looking at his work now, I couldn’t honestly say I’m enamoured of his collections in their entirety, the silhouettes being that bit flabby by today’s modern, much more svelte and closely-cut standards, and the visual effect having something of the kitsch to it (and not in the ironic hipster sense). Still, certain elements (those above) assure that Bartlett can hold us own amongst contemporaries, and that’s noteworthy enough, no?