Okay, I’ll admit it: while I was wandering around Man Paris last January, the real reason I stopped at DDUGOFF to look at the clothing is that Daniel Dugoff looks really friendly. That, and also because Eric (@noiseranch, our photographer) and I had walked past him three or four times, and the labyrinthine hallways that wind through the building that houses Man are so narrow that it was starting to get awkward. I ended up being really glad I did, because not only is Daniel a friendly guy, he makes pretty cool clothing.
I think that most people would refer to it as “minimal,” but if I were going to give it an over-simplified marketing descriptor (and we must, mustn’t we?) I’d call it “quirky intellectual,” sort of like Daniel himself. He studied architecture, then interned at Patrik Ervell, worked a stint at Marc by Marc Jacobs, and finally decided to start his own brand. There are certainly echoes of Ervell and Marc in the cuts and the colors, but it’s a much funner brand than either – the kind of brand that would maybe even use “funner” to describe itself, with a nod and a wink thrown in.
Expect bold prints, shirts with zip closures, and a mix of natural and technical fabrics – including, back in F/W 2015, the world’s comfiest winter onesie. But despite the colors – for which I was thankful, after surviving several seasons of almost drowning in black – Daniel wants his clothing to be everyday wear. I figured we should talk about how he makes that happen.
You can see the full range of DDUGOFF’s offerings at www.ddugoff.com
You trained as an architect before interning at Patrik Ervell and working at Marc by Marc Jacobs. I seem to recall that your initial interest was in furniture design – something about menswear must have resonated with your sensibilities. Were there similarities between the fields?
One of the things that architecture school is really good at teaching is how develop and sustain a project. In school I began to realize that I was much more interested in how design relates to bodies. I was, and am, interested in how design relates to the world around us, but I like to work with it at a scale that I can hold in my hand. When I graduated from college I wanted to work in a design studio where things were being made; not in an architecture studio where the work was digital and for months (or years) just drawings in a computer. I wanted to see what it was like to work somewhere where there were prototypes that were evaluated for their usefulness and their beauty. I wrote letters to a bunch of furniture designers, artists, and fashion designers that I admired, and was lucky enough to land an internship with Patrik Ervell. It was the absolute perfect place to start – a small studio, all hands on deck, working to make incredible menswear happen. I learned about the whole cycle that happens in a studio to make a new season, to produce a collection, to get it out into the world.
One thing I’ve noticed about the way your clothes are cut is that you’ve got a very keen eye for space, and for negative space in particular. Does that come from your background in architecture?
It’s very easy to think of fashion as a two-dimensional thing – as a front and a back. But it’s really a bunch of shapes that don’t want to be flat, sewn together, so that they can hold a body, because bodies aren’t flat – they have lots of weird ridges and valleys. I can’t stand when the only interesting thing happening on a jacket is on the front. It should be on the back (a surprise for the person walking down the street behind you) and on the inside (something only you know about). In menswear, where the goal (or my goal) is to make something that at the end of the day is wearable above all else, I can’t get away with what womenswear designers can do to add interest – ruffles, volume, shine – the details that make you love the piece have to be quiet. It has to be a jacket first. It has to be something you can wear all the time. I really do want to design your favorite clothes. My favorite things to wear are usually the simplest pieces. But it can’t be so simple it’s nothing. (Almost) everything should have pockets so you don’t have to carry anything in your hands if you don’t want to. (Almost) everything should have a locker loop so that you can hang it up at the end of the day to wear again tomorrow or the next day. (Almost) everything should be soft and comfortable, unless it’s express purpose is to be rigid and tough.
That sounds a lot like an idea of ‘utility,’ to me – I think the problem that men (or men’s companies) run into is that so much of the clothing has to be “go anywhere” clothing, and that the end result is excruciatingly lame. I know that a handful of designers have said that working within menswear’s constraints is almost liberating. Where do you stand on that? Are you looking at peplum tops with envy?
No, not at all – I’m not envious of peplums one bit. What I mean is that I see my job as having to be inventive within such a narrow confine. I like to work up against challenges, both ones I know about from the onset and ones that pop up along the way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I find the limitations of what “works” as menswear as being liberating, but I like working on a set of products that are meant to be used. Sure, utility can be a little stale, but it’s clothing. It should be useful. It should provide for you. The part of design that I find most exciting is when I’m playing with an idea for days or weeks and all of a sudden a beautifully simple answer emerges. I think it’s often too easy to make bold moves – to make a loud statement often doesn’t require that much thought. There is so much elegance in simple, thought-out solutions. There’s a leather jacket in the Fall/Winter 2016 collection with a shearling panel right where you hand goes into the pocket. It’s one of my favorite details from the collection because it puts the most luxurious texture right where you hand is going to enjoy it the most. It’s subtle. It isn’t a big collar or even a lining. It’s such a small amount of material, but it accomplishes so much.
You’ve said in other interviews that you want to make people’s “Favorite clothes.” When you design a shirt, a coat, or a pair of pants, how do you approach the creation of an object so that it becomes more than that – more than just a shirt, coat, or pair of pants?
When spend so much time developing the prints for each collection. How can a print be subtle enough that it is extremely wearable and be part of your wardrobe instead of standing out from it? How can it fit in while also being unlike things you already have? I play a lot with textures we’re used to seeing and changing the scale or abstracting it from the object it came from. For Spring/Summer 2016, there’s a print that’s from a photograph of a blue plastic bag. But it’s manipulated into an infinite repeat, so you never see the edge of the bag or the handles – you just see crinkly blue plastic. When you know it’s a bag it’s obvious, but before you figure it out, it looks like an oceanic topography and from far away it looks like your shirt is super wrinkled. I love when the answer to a question is so simple you’d never think of it. I’m working on a print for next Spring right now that’s scans of torn paper. Those edges are beautiful.
As objects go, plastic bags and torn paper are pretty un-sexy. Why no florals? Crosses? Rottweilers?
Haha – why isn’t DDUGOFF more like Givenchy? Because Givenchy does a really good job being Givenchy. Designers all have their own obsessions. I keep coming back to material textures, how birds flock and fish school, stripes, collage… season after season. I did photo prints the first season, taken from iPhone pictures I took from a plane on a really clear day flying from New York to San Francisco. To me, those images were perfect for clothes because they were instantly recognizable as earth while also not being overly specific about location. The clothes should be beautiful and wearable – I’m not trying to sell an ideology above that.
On your website, one of the words you used to describe your brand is “realistic.” How so?
These clothes have to be realistic. They have to be the kind of clothes that fit into people’s lives. I don’t want the people wearing DDUGOFF to feel like they’re wearing a costume – they should feel like themselves. But what sets it apart from everything else all of these people already own? The fabrics, for one, which I source from amazing mills, primarily in Italy and Japan. The make of the clothes is also extremely important. Right now the clothes are all manufactured in the United States. I like being able to go to the factories on a regular basis. I like problem solving with the people making the clothes. Having production happen in New York, New Jersey, and California means that I can stay involved in a way that would be significantly more difficult if it were overseas. This may change as the brand grows, but I am definitely proud of the quality of the products coming out of these US factories. These are clothes that are well made, from materials that are beautiful and meant to last.
Yeah, let’s talk about costume, because that’s fascinating to me, industry-wide. Like for DDUGOFF, you also designed some kind of quilted onesie a couple of years back – which is totally awesome, but maybe not totally “realistic” for most people. How do pieces like that fit in?
I get that menswear consumers are, largely, boring as fuck, but you’re in this zone where you’re not making clothing that’s going to fulfill anyone’s James Bond or boardroom fantasies, and you’re also not as wild as Comme. People who wear DDUGOFF are definitely making a conscious decision to do so – who does it appeal to?
Costume is fascinating. And Fashion (capital F) is often more costume than real-life. The distinction I’m making here is: when I put on a piece of clothing, do I feel like myself or do I feel like a character? If I feel like I’m playing dress-up, that’s a costume. The beige snowsuit – the quilted onesie you’re talking about from Fall/Winter 2015 – was teetering on the edge between realistic clothing and something a bit costume-y. A small portion of the collection each season veers towards a more editorial eye. These pieces stand out in the lookbook and usually don’t sell a huge number of units, but they take ideas elsewhere in the collection and amplify them. The snowsuit was made out of a waterproof nylon, with a hefty layer of insolation, and a cotton flannel lining – it was a serious winter piece. The same idea came as an overcoat, and it is an excellent winter coat – super easy to wear, warm, not too bulky, plenty of pockets. When you put on the coat, you feel like yourself in it. That’s the goal. DDUGOFF doesn’t need to be a heady brand where you need to know the back story in order to enjoy the clothes. I don’t want to have to tell you some convoluted story in order for you to appreciate why something is the way it is. The clothes are solid, stand alone products.
It’s refreshing to meet a young designer who’s not afraid to use color. Even your winter collections have largely shied away from black – is that a conscious decision?
In the first five seasons of DDUGOFF, there have been one or two pieces in black. There is such a beautiful range of navy blues in the collection, I don’t feel a need to have black. A head-to-toe navy look is so much stronger than a totally black look – there’s so much life in navy, but black is often so flat and dead. The collection doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m trying to prove that every day clothes don’t have to boring. Wearing some color, some texture, can break up a monotonous wardrobe.
I’m a fan of navy – are there colors you wish we saw more of in menswear?
For Fall/Winter 2016, the collection explored all of these rich greens. I liked the idea of using this color that looks good on pretty much everyone, and using it in the winter, when people tend to dress in dark monochromatic outfits (at least that’s the case in New York). The city in the winter is weeks and weeks of grey skies and concrete and asphalts and big black parkas. I wanted to break that up with lush greens that really felt alive. But I didn’t want it to feel neon. It still has to be wearable. Bottle greens, grass greens, and a little bit of ochre all break up the collection which otherwise is grey and navy. I used gold buttons and zippers for the first time for this season as well. I wanted to play with giving winter clothes some life. But, trust me, I understand why we all wear dark colors. I wear almost all navy almost every day. It’s easy and it looks really good. A dark green shirt with navy pants and navy jacket is a good look, too, though.
Do you feel that New York is a sustainable environment for a young designer?
Is New York a sustainable environment for a young designer? I talk about this with my friends all the time. New York is extremely expensive and that’s really tough. But I cannot imagine doing DDUGOFF outside of New York. The city is so crucial to the brand right now. I can’t even quantify how much of what happens with the brand comes from situations like running into someone on the street and having a quick conversation about a gallery show that in turn inspires a print. Having proximity to all of these other people who are doing amazing things with their lives is so important.
There are definitely some interesting brands coming out of New York these days. Are there other scenes – art, photography, museum-going – that you’re involved in, that end up having a dramatic effect on the clothing you design?
Along with that – when you’re a young brand so surrounded by brands both young and old, how do you stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve, instead of focusing on what someone else is doing and trying to make it work for you? Is it possible to keep your process and your ideas insulated? Is that even desirable?
There are so many people making amazing things in this city. I like making things and I love talking to people about the things they make. Friendships with artists and designers and musicians are crucial because we’re all struggling with the same things – figuring out how to make something good, and how to know if it’s good, and how to know when to show it to other people. That’s a higher-level answer, and then there’s also a low-level, super practical level. An artist friend may be using a material in a really cool way. Or another designer may have found a factory that does a specialized kind of sewing. Or a furniture design friend may introduce me to a film director who works with fashion brands. Being in tight quarters with creative people helps encourage collaboration and sharing resources and knowledge. And I love that.
Portrait of Daniel courtesy Tictail. Lookbook photos courtesy Daniel Dugoff. Showroom photos by Eric Hanson.
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