5 Other New Brands I’m Watching

 

Fashion is often criticized for its creative destruction. Trends are constantly coming and going; new brands are always emerging. What some see as a pointless field, I see as a subject where there's always something new, something interesting, and something different to talk about. For the past few years, I've been doing annual roundups about new brands I'm watching. To be sure, not all of them are actually new -- some have been around for a while. But they're new to me and, hopefully, you. This year, I have so many brands on my list that I decided to break this post into two parts. The first part was published last week. This is part two. 

GIULIVA HERITAGE

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5 New Brands I’m Watching

In an interview with The Telegraph, Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons once described fashion as being an “ever-moving feast.” I find that the quick-paced nature of fashion -- where things are constantly being created and destroyed -- makes the field endlessly interesting. There’s always something new, something different, something to talk about. For the past few years, I've been doing annual roundups on new brands I find to be interesting. To be sure, not all of them are new -- many have been around for years -- but they're new to me. This year, there are so many brands on the list, I'm splitting the post into two parts. Here's part one, with part two coming later this week. 

NORLHA

With a camera in her hand and a translator by her side, Dechen Yeshi arrived at the Amdo region of the Tibetan plateau in 2004. She came partly to explore her family's history on her father's side, a Tibetan academic who once served as a Minister to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She also came at the behest of her mother, Kim Yeshi, a French-American anthropologist who co-founded the Norbulingka Institute, a Tibetan cultural center based near Dharmsala, India. Kim has always been fascinated by textiles, and long believed that yak wool could be a source of income for Tibetan families. So she sent her daughter Deschen to investigate.

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Where To Shop For a Suit

In the last few months, the fashion press has been abuzz about whether the coronavirus pandemic will sound the death knell for the suit. Over on Savile Row, bespoke tailoring houses are getting crushed by soaring rents and the lack of overseas orders. In the United States, three of the largest companies to declare bankruptcy this year — J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and most recently Men’s Wearhouse — are known for their affordable tailoring. In her recently published New York Times Magazine article, Irina Aleksander wonders if Americans may have settled into sweatpants forever.

As most people only wear tailoring to the office, suit sales will likely be in a slump for a while. But for people who dress for pleasure, I imagine the suit and its accoutrements will remain relevant for some time. The fact is, it feels good to dress up. “Outside” clothes help divide the day into distinct periods, which is especially nice now that work-from-home culture threatens to make every activity feel the same. A few weeks ago, I got coffee with my friend Peter Zottolo outside of a cafe, where he told me that he and his wife still try to find occasions to dress up now and again. One day we’ll return to bars, restaurants, and perhaps even offices. And when we do, “nice” clothes will return.

The good news is that the tailored clothing market has never been better. Ten years ago, if you wanted a semi-affordable suit, your options were mostly limited to J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and various haberdashers who worked with Southwick. You could shop second-hand, of course, but what you saved in money, you spent on time. Today, there are many more options at affordable prices, particularly for people who favor classic Italian style. If you’re looking to get a suit any time in the future, here are three places that I think are worth being on your shortlist.

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The Potential for Slow Fashion

Three years ago, I was in an elevator in a San Francisco hotel with Agyesh Madan, co-founder of Stoffa, after he finished a trunk show. We were on our way to get lunch at a cafe across the street. Madan, who's always immaculately dressed, was wearing a grey suede double rider with a pair of cream-colored trousers, a dark blue Camoshita pullover, and some beat-up Belgian loafers. As we exited the hotel lobby, Madan told me about his design process. "We spent years developing this jacket," he said of the double rider he was wearing. "For everything we create, we go through cycles of prototyping and testing, as I want to be confident of the things we offer to our customers."

The things Stoffa offered at their trunk show that day in 2017 — including the luxurious faded chevron scarves, lightweight Tuscan leather bags, peached cotton trousers, and core line of made-to-measure leather outerwear — are still with them today. In an industry that reinvents itself every season, with designers wiping the slate clean and starting anew, Stoffa is a remarkable example of slow fashion. Not only does the company take its time to incubate ideas and develop new products, but items stay in their collection for years and years. In this way, consumers don't feel pressured to continually replace things they already own.

Over the years, I've admired Stoffa's approach to slow fashion, which starts with its product development process and extends through to their repair service. A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Madan and his business partners over the phone about their latest capsule collection. We also discussed whether sustainability is possible in an industry that relies on selling people new clothes every season.

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The Loss of Distinction

In the last few months, as millions of Americans have transported their work from cubicles to bedrooms, the US has engaged in something of a massive, unplanned social experiment. It’s estimated that up to half the US labor force now works from home. The other half is split between those not working and those still working at a jobsite (the second of which is mainly composed of essential service workers). Almost overnight, the US has transformed into a work-from-home economy coordinated through online applications such as Slack, Zoom, and Google Docs.

Now it seems that many companies may continue with this arrangement even in a post-COVID world as a way to save money. This summer, Facebook and Twitter captured headlines when they announced plans to let some employees operate from home indefinitely. Financial giants Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and Nationwide say they intend to do the same. At the moment, roughly 90% of Morgan Stanley’s 80,000 employees work from home, a process that CEO James Gorman says has been remarkably smooth. “We’ve proven we can operate with no footprint,” Gorman told Bloomberg Television. “Can I see a future where part of every week, certainly part of every month, a lot of our employees will be at home? Absolutely.” By the time the coronavirus crisis is over, we may emerge from our homes only to be told to go back inside again.

The opportunity to work from home has some obvious benefits: more time with family and pets, not having a stern boss peer over your shoulder, and being able to intersperse work periods with leisure activities (work at your own pace, so goes the theory). But when you check emails where you sleep and type where you eat, it’s hard to beat back the workday’s colonizing tendencies. Professors and freelancers know this all too well, as their constant-work culture deprives them of true leisure. When you never officially clock in or out, it’s easy to feel like you should always be using your time more productively, so you start to feel guilty for enjoying anything outside of labor. “I should be working,” says the nagging little voice in your mind.

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So Ordered: The Messy Nature of Dress Codes

Even on lockdown and while working from home, in what I can only presume to be sweatpants and t-shirts, Americans love debating what others should wear to work. Last week, political blogger and Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias responded to a tweet asking people to share their hottest, non-cancelable takes. "It would be better, all things considered," he tweeted, "to go back to the norm where everyone has to dress up (suits/ties for men, etc.) for work at office jobs."

Naturally, not everyone on Twitter agreed. Atlantic staff writer Amanda Mull replied: "This is incorrect and reinforces class and gender inequity, and I couldn't find anyone who studies the modern workplace who thinks it's a good idea." She later added racial inequity to the list and noted that dress codes, at their core, are about who is allowed to feel comfortable in the workplace. For some, the stiff layers and layers that go into buckram-reinforced clothing represent a kind of tyranny imposed from the top down. How you feel about strait-waist-coat attire depends on whether you're someone who makes rules or someone subject to them. In her tweet, Mull included a link to her May 2020 article for The Atlantic, where she argued that dress codes are not only wrong, they should be consigned to the dustbin of history. Let workers dress according to simple dictates, she implored, so that you treat them like adults and not "not babies at productivity daycare."

Gurung, Cawood, and Hall all agree that the mandate for greater fairness in the workplace — spurred by nondiscrimination laws and the need to retain workers in a tight labor market — will likely spell the end of the dress code as we know it, sooner rather than later. For traditionalists, this might sound like an abandonment of pride and professionalism, but in reality, Cawood says, companies that overhaul, simplify, or drop their dress code rarely do anything but make their employees happier. 

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On Emotional Durability

The hottest trend last year wasn't the oversized puffer jackets, patchwork coats, or resurgence of lowbrow patterns such as tie-dye and leopard prints. Instead, the dominating trend of 2019 was the topic of sustainability. During the spring/summer seasons, major brands such as Ralph Lauren and Adidas capitalized on a growing consumer interest for eco-friendly products by releasing green polos and running shoes wholly made from ocean waste and recycled plastics. By autumn, Kering — the parent company to Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Brioni, among other big luxury labels — announced that it would commit to being carbon neutral across all of its operations. At the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, also spearheaded an effort to get other major labels to do the same. Known as the Fashion Pact, the global coalition includes over 60 signatories, ranging from H&M to Hermes. They say they'll make significant changes in their business to help meet science-based targets in three areas: achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, restoring biodiversity, and preserving oceans by reducing their use of single-use plastics. No punitive measures, however, will be imposed should they fail to meet their goals.

Of course, much of this comes as a result of the scrutiny the fashion industry has faced over its impact on the global climate crisis. There have been a lot of disturbing facts hastily thrown around, many of them not carefully checked. It's often said that nearly three-fifths of the fashion industry's annual production — estimated to be upwards of 150 billion garments — ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made. That results in about 10% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined. As Vox noted, actual evidence for this is scant, although the fashion industry is indeed a mess. If anything, we know there's too much clothing in the world by merely looking at our closets. Similar concerns have come up before, even if not directly about global warming. During the 19th century, as industrialization made things more affordable, many Europeans felt wonder and anxiety over their new material abundance. People worried about how to use goods well, what abundance might be for, and how not to be spoiled by possessions. Human virtues such as restraint and simplicity came to the fore, and some questioned whether the sheer quantity of objects around them would dull their senses.

When it comes to sustainability in fashion, discussions follow a very predictable course. The focus is often on tangible dimensions, such as build quality, materials, technology, transport, and recycling. In an interview on the podcast show Time Sensitive, Gabriela Hearst says her experience growing up on a ranch gave her a deeper appreciation for the calmness that comes with knowing that things around you don't need to change, including the clothes on your back. "I really thought about why I am so attracted to things of quality," she said. "It is because things have to be made well to last and to endure, so I grew up with things that were made to last and endure, not necessarily from an ostentatious point of view but from a quality, utilitarian aspect." The only sensible and sustainable antidote to throwaway culture, then, is to purchase timeless, long-lasting clothing that you can wear for life.

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Things I’ve Bought On Lockdown

Last week, the editors of GQ posted a story showing how they dressed for digital fashion week. I was surprised and relieved to find that many of their outfits nowadays are just as casual and comfort-driven as mine. At the beginning of this lockdown, I mostly stayed at home wearing old jeans and plaid flannel shirts. After a while, I started burrowing into the back of my closet to pull out forgotten Camoshita shirts and Chimala chambrays, trying to find new ways to wear old items. Still, with nowhere to go, it’s been a challenge to really make an effort. As writer John Paul Brammer humorously tweeted: “OK, so it turns out I was in fact dressing up for other people and not 'myself.'”

Even on lockdown, however, I’ve been shopping here and there. Sometimes it’s for practical things to make life at home a bit more comfortable. Sometimes it's to purchase things on the hope that one day this pandemic will end and we'll dress up again. Other times, I bought something just to support stores I want to see survive. It's been hard to hear about how many businesses are struggling, but I've been emotionally buoyed by Simon Crompton's suggestion that quality makers will survive because people care

If you’re in a position to shop these days, I encourage you to shop small, shop responsibly, and shop at places you love. Here are some things I've purchased this season. Maybe you'll find something you love too. 

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Lamb Chopped: The Story Behind Brooks Brothers’ Bankruptcy

Two years ago, at a black-tie gala held at the Jazz at Lincoln Center, nearly 1,000 guests gathered to commemorate Brooks Brothers' bicentennial anniversary. While sipping on themed cocktails named "Modern Classic" and "Golden Fleece," guests enjoyed an all-American jazz program befit for an all-American clothier. Since their founding in 1818, Brooks Brothers has defined classic American men's style, invented the ready-to-wear suit, and dressed nearly every US President. Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio del Vecchio, who has been widely credited with reviving the company since it fell out of favor under previous owner Marks & Spencer, told The New York Times that he's working to reinforce a culture. "I have to make sure that we are building a company that will last after me," he said while sitting at his 346 Madison Avenue office, where his polished mahogany desk faces an antique grandfather clock once owned by the store's founder, Henry Sands Brooks. "I don't want to be here another 20 years. Forget about another 200 years. It's really about trying to build a culture that will last longer than the business. That will make it very hard for the next guy to screw it up."

Last week, Brooks Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, making it the highest-profile men's clothier to do so during the coronavirus pandemic. The company says they plan to close about 51 of their stores, a decision they attribute to the toll of mass shutdowns. This comes on the heels of their announcement that they'll close all three of their US factories by the end of this summer. So far, Brooks Brothers has shut the lights at their Garland, North Carolina shirtmaking factory, which employs about 25% of the town's residents. The company's Southwick suit factory and New York tie factory have been reduced to producing masks, but they too will shutter unless the company can secure a buyer.

Soon, the fashion press will churn out stories about what went wrong at Brooks Brothers. I suspect theories will include something about rampant globalization, rapacious capitalism, corporate mismanagement, and mass-marketization. Brooks Brothers either failed to adapt to changing consumer tastes, or they adapted too much. For diehard trads, the decline of Brooks Brothers will undoubtedly be linked to the decline of Western civilization itself.

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No Man Walks Alone Starts Sale

No Man Walks Alone is a sponsor on this site, but also genuinely one of my favorite stores. It's hard for me to think of a place with a better selection of both casualwear and tailored clothing. This morning, they started their end-of-season promotion, where you can find select items discounted by as much as 40%. You don't need a promo code, but since sales are final, you'll want to double-check sizing and measurements (the store has excellent service and you can always email them for advice). Here are a few highlights:

Glenn's Denim Slim-Tapered Jeans

After working for years behind the scenes designing, cutting, and sewing for others, Glenn Liburd started his namesake denim brand at the age of 62. Glenn's Denim is one of those rare "maker-brands," where nearly everything is done in-house. While other companies typically outsource their production, you can find Liburd making almost everything himself out of his small, Brooklyn-based workroom (the exception is the workshirts, which are produced in Portugal). The company also sources their denim from some of the few remaining American weavers. Glenn Denim feels like on one of those obscure, local brands you find at a cool NYC boutique. 

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