Jasper Lipton

About Jasper Lipton

Jasper likes indigo, flight jackets, and boots - but he likes his dogs even more. He dreams of buried cities and the spaces between the stars.

Review: Suitsupply Custom Made Program

The Internet is now saturated with made-to-measure suit programs, all of them offering impeccable fit and finish in an endless range of styles and fabrics to men working in the tech industry. Many of these, however, offer a flimsy product, and many simply don’t look good. Enter the Suitsupply Custom Made program, which you’ll note is explicitly not an MTM program, and which rather cleverly plays to Suitsupply’s strengths. The gist of it is this: Suitsupply offers a range of suit styles and a range of fabrics. You match one to the other using their very simple online order form, and voilà! After a few short weeks your perfect suit arrives.

The reason I say it’s clever is that, when offered an overabundance of choices in the form of internet check-boxes, most men tend to over-adjust. Individually specifying the minutiae of a jacket’s measurements often results in a garment that is either ill-fitting or a Frankenstein of influences. While this is true of the public at large, I think it’s also true of us hobbyists: most of us truly don’t need made-to-measure clothing, or at least, not when it doesn’t come from a tailor. In fact, I think that perhaps the best thing about Suitsupply’s Custom Made program is that, when you’re ordering from your computer, you’re not even given the chance to mess things up.

I should note that between the time I placed my order and completed this article, the Custom Made system has been changed slightly for the better. It appears that most, but not all, of Suitsupply’s jacket styles are available for order through the Custom Made program, as are a couple of trouser styles. In addition, there are a number of fabrics available, both standard worsteds and a rotating selection of seasonal fabrics.

All you need to do is:

  1. Choose your fabric (some of them add $40 to the base price)
  2. Choose your jacket model
  3. Choose your trouser model
  4. Decide whether you want a waistcoat (at an additional cost)
  5. Decide whether you want additional trousers (at an additional cost)
  6. Decide whether you want cuffs, belt loops, and side adjusters on your trousers
  7. Select your size in the above garments
  8. Pay

It’s a very simple process, and after browsing the available winter fabrics, I hit upon the admittedly crazy idea to take a legendary Styleforum suit and see if Suitsupply could replicate it. The garment in question: Peter’s glorious oatmeal Fox Brothers 14oz flannel double-breasted number. Suitsupply had on hand a ‘light brown’ seasonal fabric that seemed close. All that was left to do was order – although I had a few kinks to work out, as I didn’t know my size.

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I chose a light grey/brown VBC flannel, a $40 seasonal upcharge.

Here’s the rub: orders placed privately, online, come with no ‘expedited remake’ option. In addition, anyone ordering a suit online should fully expect that their new garment will require alterations, unless it comes from a tailor or a program with which you’ve worked successfully in the past. This means that if you’re not near a brick-and-mortar location, you can either order a range of RTW garments in order to gauge your size or try your luck and hope you’re not stuck waiting another 3-5 weeks for a remake.

suit supply design your own suit review suitsupply design your own suit DYO styleforumI chose option 3, which was to visit the Denver Suitsupply location. I went there in order to find my size, but while there I learned that Custom Made orders can also be made in-person, with the help of a sales associate who can aid you with things like inseam length. Additionally, Custom Made orders placed in store cover the alterations they expect you to need, and that is a serious point in the program’s favor. Please note that only purchases made at brick-and-mortar stores qualify for free alterations; Suit Supply will not cover the cost of alterations for suits ordered online, without the assistance of a professional Suit Supply SA.

The other Big Deal about the Custom Made program is the range of sizes available. If you’re on the extreme ends of the sizing spectrum, you’ll be able to order things that should, in theory, fit you. If you’re a guy who can never find anything in your size that isn’t in a bog-standard fabric, this is your chance to branch out a bit. One of the best features of the program is that if you’re not happy with your order, whatever it is, you can return it unworn, no questions asked – just as you would an OTR order. That’s not usually the case with systems like this, and it gives Suitsupply a huge leg up.


That’s a lot of words to say that the process of ordering a Custom Made suit from Suitsupply is really very easy. You pick your size, you pick your fabric, and in a few weeks your new suit arrives. In my case, the most difficult part of placing an order through the Suitsupply design your own suit program was assuring the sales associate that there is simply no alternate timeline in which I am a size 38R in any garment.

I think this only bears mentioning because it could very well be the case that purchasing three different sizes in the same RTW jacket and trousers might in fact be easier to do online than bye visiting the store, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. You’ll have the privacy of your own home in which to gauge what feels the most comfortable, as well as the time to make a decision (on size, fit, and finish) without feeling pressured. On the other hand, the sheer number of cuts that Suitsupply offers means that if you have a location near you, you may as well visit just for the chance to take your time and go through each fit and fabric.


Ordering, Sizing, and Alterations:

Upon checkout, I learned (after asking about the drop-down menus on the SA’s device) that minor changes to the measurements of things such as inseam and sleeve length can be made to orders placed in-store. I did not, following my SA’s insistence that these changes were better made in person, which I can definitely imagine being the case – I would rather have to make those minor alterations after the fact rather than being forced to re-order the entire suit if one of those adjustments goes horribly wrong, at least on a first order.

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The jacket from my completed order.

All of the alterations my suit needed were included in the purchase price of the suit and made by Suit Supply, since I ordered the suit in store. These included nipping the jacket waist, taking in the trouser waist and inseam, and shortening the jacket collar. Making those alterations once the suit arrived was very, very simple. I brought the suit into my local store, had it pinned, and left without passing on anything aside from my email address so that said alterations could be added to the order in my account. It was completely painless, and impressively streamlined. You’ll likely pay $100 for the same service at a third party tailor, so although you pay a bit more through Custom Made than OTR, it’s not a huge upcharge, especially if it means getting something you want.

suit supply design your own suit review suitsupply design your own suit DYO styleforumSuitsupply’s Custom Made program is obviously much less friendly for first-time customers, or even repeat customers who may be unsure of their size, simply due to the nature of the game. However, the generous return policy makes ordering a suit a risk-free process outside of the unavoidable wait time. For example, if you’re in a time crunch – I can already predict the number of threads that will pop up in the spring and summer of 2018 asking where a last-minute wedding suit can be found – you may have to be smart with both the timing and contents of your purchase.

As with any online purchase, sizing can be an issue. I asked Ms. Soland how Suitsupply suggests new users make their choice. She responded: “The best way to determine your size is with an in-store try on, or by placing a ‘test’ order from our RTW collection. Soon there will be a prompt for first time customers, which will allow them to chat with a specialist and avoid the need for remakes.”

At the moment, the online process is simple and user-friendly, with the usual caveats: although the fabric preview system does its best, it is still rudimentary, and customers may not enjoy that alterations on an ordered suit are essentially guaranteed to be necessary when there are so many online MTM companies that purport to offer perfectly fitted results. Of course, readers of Styleforum will likely be aware of how rare those companies deliver said results, and I think that for an enthusiast forum the Suitsupply system makes a lot of sense. If the garments fit you well, and you know how to talk to a tailor – or if you generally require only minor alterations to OTR garments – the program offers fantastic value. It’s streamlined, it’s easy, and there’s no emailing back and forth – although as Ms. Soland notes, there is a chat system in the works should you have questions.


The Final Suit:

Three weeks after placing the order in store, my suit arrived, packaged as usual in a zip-up garment bag and box large enough not to crush it:

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Shown here with shoes from J.Fitzpatrick, shirt from Borrelli, and pocket square from Drakes

I’m pleased with the results, and I think that this suit demonstrates one of the program’s strengths: if your product is solid, offering a choice of fabric lets your customer experiment with garments they may otherwise not have considered; streamlining their ability to buy it makes life easy for company and consumer.

Keep in mind that if Suitsupply’s models don’t fit you, you won’t be able to change that with the Custom Made program. Again, it is not an MTM program; the only ‘fit’ flexibility you’ll get is the ability to order your jacket and trousers in different sizes. The usual peculiarities apply: tighter jacket and trousers with intentionally bowed pockets, a tendency towards shorter length all around, and an overall look that you either love – or don’t.


Price:

Ultimately, my order cost $679 (covered by Suitsupply), including the $40 fabric upcharge. That’s firmly in the middle of Suitsupply’s range, and for under $1,000, Suitsupply’s suits remain a very, very good value. If you can find a model that fits you, it’s hard to do better for the price without turning to the long and uncertain process of searching secondhand.

suit supply design your own suit review suitsupply design your own suit DYO styleforumIt has always been easy to order the products online, and with the Custom Made program it’s even easier to get what you want. Yes, you pay more than you would for some online MTM competitors, but I would prefer the sound knowledge of an excellent return policy, a streamlined system, and a guaranteed result over trying my look with unprofessional measurements.

Of course, if you don’t really need something special – if you’re just looking for an interview suit – you don’t need to use the Custom Made program, and you’ll save money by ordering from Suitsupply’s already-broad OTR offerings. However, if you’re a fan of the brand, a difficult-to-find size, or you have something specific in mind, you’ll greatly enjoy the flexibility of being able to purchase beyond what’s shown online.

Personally, I would love to see a list of fabrics that expands to include more interesting options (beyond than just flannel in winter and linen in summer), as much of what you see is fairly standard (greys and blues that are mildly indistinguishable online) and having the option of more characterful fabrics would make the program more worthwhile for both enthusiasts as well as those consumers looking to add to their collection.

On top of all that, if you have access to a Suitsupply location, you get the added benefit of free, easy alterations – for most men, that alone is a huge boon. Whether or not you enjoy visiting a Suitsupply store, the company is fixated on making the experience customer friendly. The stores, in my experience, have never been crowded, and the staff are attentive, which allows you to have a beer, a scotch, or just a glass of water while you browse and try things on. Suitsupply remains my pick for easy-to-access RTW suits in the USA.


The Verdict:

Suitsupply has inspired legions of fans in part due to the ‘collectibility’ of its garments (they’re affordable, stylish, and effectively marketed), and the Custom Made operation seems designed to supplement that. If you know your size in a given model but you want to, say, purchase a pure-linen model of your favorite suit for a warm summer, you can do so without any fuss. My experience with Suitsupply garments has been that they are very consistent within sizes, although perhaps less so across models, and I would feel comfortable re-ordering a jacket and matching trousers in a fabric that caught my eye.

All in all, the Suitsupply Custom Made program is slick, streamlined, and impressively user-friendly. It’s a natural extension of Suitsupply’s in-store product and service. Suitsupply may have taken their time in arriving at the ‘custom’ market, but if you can nail your fit, or you have the patience for remakes, I think that this new program will become a go-to for the price range.

Jasper’s Best Cyber Monday Buys

The Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales are still going. I know, I know, it’s hardly believable, and I applaud you for staying conscious for so long. There are plenty of deals to be found by browsing our full list, and I hope that you haven’t buried yourself in debt. If you haven’t quite shopped yourself into a coma yet, here are some gems you may have missed.


 

1. Visvim 7-hole 73′ boots from Idol Brooklyn, $655

I mentioned recently that I had purchased a pair of these, and $665 is a great price (you’ll have to use the code “CYBERWEEKEND” to get that extra 15% off). They’re chunky to the max, they’re super comfortable, and I really like the mix of leather and nylon used for the shaft of the boot. Plus, let’s be honest: zippers are a must on any boot.

Visvim’s one of those brands that routinely sells out on everything despite the frankly absurd prices, and while Idol has a reasonable selection available, in my opinion these boots are the stand-out. I love my pair – in fact, I’m wearing them as I type this, with a heavy cowichan and some very-worn-in cargo pants (olive green, 9$ at Banana Republic two years ago). Two people in the last week have asked me if I’ve ever watched The Big Lebowski, which reminds me that I haven’t had a White Russian in about 10 years.

2. P. Johnson DB Tropical Wool Suit from Mr. Porter – Jacket, $875; Trousers, $265

If you’re going on a beach vacation this winter or spring, pack a suit like this. You’ll look awesome when you’re sipping sunset cocktails by the beach, which is totally a thing that people who aren’t obsessed with Instagram do in suits. Otherwise, it’s a pretty awesome pick-up for the spring and summer when the weather starts to warm up again. Perfect wedding gear, too.

 

3. James Grose Double Rider jacket from No Man Walks Alone – $829

You’ve heard the news, right? Well, at under a grand, SF affiliate NMWA’s selection of James Grose jackets are, like, doubly rewarding. They’re less leather-daddy than most American (and many English) makers, and they don’t have annoying branded tabs on them. I’m betting everyone will gravitate towards the JG ‘Manila’ models, but take a gander at the ‘Clubman‘ as well. There’s a sweet leather jacket for everydaddy in there, and you’re getting great quality for, frankly, an absurd price.

 

4. Viberg Plain Toe Service Boot from Blue Button Shop – $455

Once again, Canadian retailer Blue Button has come through huge on Viberg boots, with the code shoes30 netting you 30% off these Styleforum standbys. I like the plain-toe model, but the slippers are pretty cool too. Buy ’em fast – this is a low price to see for these. Damn.

Deals to look out for on Black Friday

Black Friday is here, and unless you’ve been making meticulous spreadsheets tracking your intended purchases, you might be a little bit overwhelmed. If you’re browsing our Black Friday sales list and you’re wondering where to start, here’s what to buy so that you look awesome.


1. Kanata ‘Swooping Crane’ cardigan from No Man Walks Alone – $296

My own Kanata cowichan is one of my most-worn, most-loved pieces of clothing. It sits in a beautiful place between cozy knitwear and heavy outerwear, and I like to layer underneath it for both chilly days outside or when I’m sitting and reading.

This particular model was designed by Styleforum member @g transistor, whose sukajan-inspired ‘Swooping Crane’ motif won No Man Walks Alone’s cowichan design contest. The unique, medium-blue wool will go with everything from denim to trousers, and is perfect for those days when you don’t feel like wearing a structured coat or jacket.

You won’t find anything else like this out there, and at $296 this is a hell of a deal for a piece of serious clothing that will last you years.

 

2. Eidos x Vanson black shearling jacket from Mr. Porter – $2,096

At two grand, this isn’t exactly pocket change, but a good shearling jacket isn’t just incredibly comfortable and hard-wearing – they’re comfy as hell. They’re comfortable in a wide range of temperatures, and while you can easily wear a shirt or tee and nothing else when the weather’s naught but a bit chilly, layering a thick wool sweater underneath will keep you warm in serious cold.

Plus, this is one of your last chances to get what will soon be referred to as “OG Eidos,” as Antonio Ciongoli has moved on from the brand.

 

3. Shockoe Atelier “Relaxed Kojima” denim – $212

Recently, I realized that I have gone back to wearing raw denim every other day, which I haven’t done in several years. Since these days I, along with everyone else, am singing the praises of looser, relaxed bottoms, particularly when worn with a pair of chunky boots, it seems only wise to combine the two interests and suggest a pair of raw denim that won’t suck to break in. I mean, this definitely isn’t a pair of balloon pants, but if you’re looking to get back to your raw denim days but don’t want to deal with thigh-murdering stiffness, these offer a happy medium.

 

4. RM Williams Craftsman Boot- $396 at East Dane

These, I’ve actually been looking for, and East Dane’s shipping and return policy makes this an easy purchase. Yes, they’re chelsea boots, but they look nothing like the kind sported by the legions of Kanye fans around the world. Plus, a crepe sole is useless in the winter. Wear them with denim and a heavy knit – you know, I’m just realizing that everything I’ve put on this list would go really damn well together. So you’re welcome for that.

 

5. A handful of fragrance samples from The Perfumed Court

Jasper's best Black Friday deals picks styleforum

If you’re interested in experimenting with a new fragrance this winter (say, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan), this is a pretty good time to do it. The Perfumed Court sells small decants of most of the fragrances you’ve ever heard of, and rarely offers discounts – let alone 25% off. I’d expect fulfillment to take a few extra days, but it’s totally worth it to smell really, really good all winter long.

Jasper’s Favorite Chunky Boots for Autumn

I’m a boot guy. The only laced shoes I wear outside of weddings are sneakers (and even then, I wore loafers to the only two weddings I attended this summer), and if I’m not in sneakers I’m in boots. Granted, it’s less pleasant for me to stick to my guns during the Colorado summers, which regularly crest 90 degrees for months on end, and getting to slip back into my favorites is one of many reasons I love dressing in autumn and winter. These days, my tastes are running to chunkier silhouettes, and I’ve largely phased out my collection of sleek side-zip models, and with that in mind I hope here’s a selection of some of the chunky boots I’ve both enjoyed wearing and looking at online, ready for adoption into your autumn wardrobe.


Combat boots

Most combat boots that high street brands release still tend towards the dainty, and while a sleek silhouette can be nice, I think it often comes at the expense of character. I’ve been very happy with the pair of Visvim 7-Hole ’73 combat boots I bought a couple of months ago. Despite the hefty shape, they’re very lightweight, and the addition of a side-zip appeases my lazy side (it also makes them just fine to wear in an airport). Visvim has done several iterations of this boot, and past releases have sported commando soles instead. It also comes in three colors: the black, shown below, brown and khaki, and black and olive. The price of a pair of these boots is fairly high (though you can, as I did, find ways to score a deal), and in combination with the somewhat distinctive styling they’re certainly not for everyone.

To me, that’s part of the charm. It’s easy to end up with a giant shoe wardrobe with no variation in it – for example, owning 5+ pairs of near-identical side-zip boots (guilty) allows you to swap out your pairs depending on your mood, but it’s not particularly interesting. These days, I much prefer to reach into my closet for something that’s more distinctive, as it lets me change up silhouettes more than the alternative. Take, for example, these admittedly absurd Feit combat boots – they’re something of a hybrid shoe that, despite their bulk, nonetheless seems possible to work into an outfit built around a tweed or flannel trouser. Nonnative’s recurring ‘Wanderer‘ boot offers similar styling to the Visvim model, but it’s a bit too 1:1 for my tastes. Of course, if you’re after something sleek that’s a surer bet for classic and classic-casual wardrobes, I’ve always thought that Carmina’s ‘Jumper‘ boots seemed attractive.

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Visvim boots shown with Monitaly x SF mountain parka and Niche patchwork jeans.

 


Chelsea boots

I’m not really a chelsea boot person, and that’s mostly because I’ve never loved the rocker/mod aesthetic, especially as it’s been presented in recent years. I’ve also never been certain of how I feel about an elastic gore which, despite my love of easy to put on shoes, I’ve always found a touch off-putting. Recently, this has changed somewhat, largely because I’ve taken the time to look at different silhouettes. Takes such as those offered by Common Projects and YSL have never held much appeal for me, but once again, expanding my world a bit has revealed some attractive options.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum, you’ll find boots such as the Clark’s Clarkdale Gobi. I purchased these on a whim about a month ago, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve worn them. They’re a good middle-ground in terms of silhouette, and crepe soles remain comfortable. The problem, of course, is that they don’t do great when the temperature plummets, and really aren’t wearable in the snow. Even so, the lower price makes them an easy pair to test out.

 

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Gobi boots shown with Kapital Century denim and a vintage chore jacket

If you’re looking for a longer-lasting, leather-soled model, you’ve probably already been sent in the direction of RM Williams boots. I’ve been keeping an eye on these for the better part of this last year, and there are two different models that have retained my interest: the very classic Comfort Craftsman and the Yearling, both of which are wholecuts, but which have very different silhouettes thanks in large part to the height of their respective heel. While the ‘Gardener’ model is a bit too blobby for my tastes, I appreciate the relative heftiness of the silhouettes on offer. If you, like me, are a fan of Western and Western-inspired footwear, there are a few models – such as the  – that, especially for an American, offer a wearable twist on Western wear. Sporting a pair of cowboy boots really takes some commitment (more on that later), and it’s a world I haven’t quite dived into yet, but RMW’s designs are perhaps a bit more forgiving than a full-on croc boot.

Another option that has caught my eye recently is Viberg’s chelsea boot. They’re not brand new this fall, but they offer – as does RMW – a heavier take on the chelsea. As is the case with most Viberg models, you can find it with a variety of leather and sole options, and if you want a workboot that you do’t have to lace yourself into, this is an attractive – and long-wearing – possibility.

 

 

 

 


Work Boots

By now, I’d be surprised if any forum member hasn’t heard of Viberg, and they’re still a go-to for heavy workboot styles. Every season, you can find a huge range of models at Viberg’s many retailers, but right now the makeup I have my eye on is this Scout Boot that Viberg is selling through its own webstore. Perhaps that’s because it’s fairly similar to the other boot I’ve had my eye on, which is Visvim’s now-venerable Virgil. Unfortunately, my feet don’t seem to play nicely with the Virgil’s last shape, and Viberg models lack the lightweight, sneakerboot feel of Visvim’s footwear, which is part of what makes the latter so appealing to me. New webstore Miloh Shop is also offering what I think is a pretty handsome ‘Triple Black‘ makeup that would work well with olive chinos, among other things.

If that’s not your style, you might prefer Alden’s classic moc- and plain-toe models, but I feel I hardly need to mention them here. One budget option is Timberland, a brand my cousin (a field researcher) swears by, so if you want something that might actually keep your feet dry and warm this winter they’re not a bad bet. This fall, both Nonnative and Sophnet have done a Gore-Tex and an all-black zipper-finished model, respectively, and I have to say – both look really good. Unfortunately, if you have large feet, you’re probably SOL.


 

Western boots

As mentioned earlier, I haven’t quite had the courage to dip my toes into a true Western (read: cowboy) boot – there’s a lot of cultural baggage for me there, and I am endlessly undecided as to whether I think I’d actually wear a pair. Even so, there are some boots out there I think are undeniably cool, and there are others that are likely a bit more accessible in terms of shape. If you’re interested in a true-blue cowboy boot, I think that Heritage Boot Co. is making some designs worth your while. They’re far more interesting than most designs you’ll find from big makers like Lucchese, and from what I’ve read they’re made to a much higher standard as well. My only experience with Lucchese resulted in two returns do to two separate QC issues, and plenty of boot people on the internet reckon that Heritage Boot is making some of the nicest boots on the market, especially considering what they’re asking for them. A few stand out to me in particular; their basic black ‘Apache,’ the French-toed ‘Ranch hand,’ and the exotic ‘Stingray.’ The first two options seem the like relatively low-risk and low-effort ways to give a boot like this a shot, while the stingray boot requires a step up in commitment. Some of the inlaid models are worth a look as well, although I imagine most people would find them a little harder to work into a regular rotation.

On the shallower end of the pool you can also find models such as the Lucchese Shane and Cannon, both of which are available via Huckberry. Both are roper-style boots with an un-embellished shaft and a rounded toe; obviously at home with denim, but potential options for textured trousers as well. At under 400$, the ‘Shane’ strikes me as a sensible entry-level attempt, especially given Huckberry’s easy return policy – I’ve seen the same model available through Amazon before as well, though you’ll have to check the shipping and return terms on your own. The Lucchese Jonah was also briefly popular on the streetwear side of the forum, and is a much, much easier boot to work into a variety of wardrobes. It’s a pricier zip roper, with a hefty sole and a slightly wider shaft that accommodates a straighter-leg jean or trouser. Unfortunately, I’m one of several people who, as mentioned, had some issues with QC, so if you’re interested in these boots make sure that you have the option to exchange or return.

 

 

 

@Baron’s Take on ‘Tailored Contemporary Casual’

baron elevated basics tailored contemporary casual styleforum

It’s rare that long-time member @Baron posts a photo in our WAYWT threads, but in this case the quality makes up for the infrequency. I love outfits like these that blend contemporary brands with a sharper, tailored look; all the more impressive considering the cut of the oversized shirt worn as outerwear. I suppose I could go on, and refer to a style like this as ‘tailored contemporary casual’ in true internet speak, but instead I’ll leave @Baron to tell us more about what he’s wearing:

I bought the shirt and trousers from NMWA. I’m a big fan of the store and their whole aesthetic, especially the Japanese and Korean brands. I mentioned in my WAYWT post that I took inspiration from the recent editorial they published, styled by Antonio from Eidos. That shoot was in my sweet spot. I realized I could do a few of those looks with things already in my closet. Some new, some old or vintage.

I’ve bought several pieces from the store over the years – I try to find things that are versatile and easy to wear in a variety of contexts. Elevated basics, I guess, to use a #menswear cliche. The shirt is a band collar flannel from Document. The fabric is unusually dense and textural for flannel, and the band collar is in a heavy oxford cloth. The pants are from Scye, pleated and slightly cropped, in a slubby olive cotton. I really love the pants – they’re “overbuilt” with a few unusual details. Scye seems to be influenced by traditional English tailoring, from what I can gather online, and you can see that influence in the waistband and fly construction.

The over-shirt is from this season’s Uniqlo U/Lemaire collection. I’ve picked up things from this collection for a few seasons running now. This shirt didn’t catch my eye online, but I saw it in store and I really liked the boxy cut, the heavy flannel and deep indigo color, the interior pockets. The shoes are Loake Camdens. They’re desert boots, more or less, which I’ve been wearing since I was a kid, but they have the structure and welt of a regular English dress shoe.


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A Talk with Ian Segal of Nine Lives Clothing

If you haven’t heard of Tokyo-based brand Nine Lives clothing, you’ve been missing out. Their line of high quality denim, cutsews, and heavy outerwear is produced in Japan, and combines the quality and material know-how of a heritage brand with the razor-sharp edge of Japan’s v-kei and mod scene; all of it seen through 9L’s particular, ‘piratical’ lens. If you’ve been looking for a new rider’s jacket, a sashiko-embellished varsity-jacket-turned-chesterfield, or beautifully realized jacquard-weave flannel shirts, you’ve come to the right place.

I spoke to Ian Segal, who’s approximately one half – the American half – of the operation, and asked him about the brand, about his clothing, and about how he went from being a poetry editor in New York to making rock ‘n roll clothes on the other side of the world. 


Jasper Lipton:  How did you end up in Japan in the first place, after working as – correct me if I’m wrong – a poetry editor for the New Yorker? Which is also awesome.

Ian Segal: It was fun. Yeah, I always say I was a Lehman Shock baby. I graduated into the maelstrom there, and I took a consulting job in LA to get home – my dad was sick, so I wanted to be close to home. When the market looked like it was turning, I headed back East, as that was still where it seemed I had to be to build a career. I was making electric guitars – shittily, I might add – in my girlfriend’s basement in central New Jersey while I was applying for jobs, and in the same week I ended up interviewing at the distressed debt desk at Merril Lynch and the assistant poetry editor position at the magazine. While I was in the Merril interview – and mind you these buildings were directly adjacent to each other; Condé Nast was in what’s now the H&M building. So the same week, I go in for these diametrically opposed job interviews, and the Volcker rule was announced while I was doing the Merril Lynch interview, which more or less iced the job opening.

I mean, I was happy to have Obama win the Presidency, but he was sort of surreally speaking through the television while I’m in the middle of the interview, and everyone was sitting there a little dumbstruck as to what we were all still doing having the conversation. So I ended up at the new Yorker, and that was really fun – did it for about a year and a half and met basically all the people I wanted to meet, in terms of meeting all my heroes. It was an honor to do it. But I was young – I was 25, maybe, and I’d have these experiences where I’d go to parties and people would be like “Oh, you’re the New Yorker guy,” and I was like “No, I’m Ian.” Have you done any New York living?

JL: I’ve been around a little bit, yeah.


ian segal nine lives clothing styleforum nine lives brand

Kotaro and Ian of Nine Lives

IS: The thing about New York, in contrast to LA – and this is an LA partisan thing to say – is that New York is a renter’s city, and LA is a homesteader’s city. There’s this idea in New York that there are all these great jobs, all this great opportunity, but there’s always a line of 100 people to jump into that position behind you. You’re still a cog – you’re maybe a beautiful cog, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be a cog in that industry, but nevertheless you’re a cog. Whereas to me, LA still has a little bit of the – you can go and build your own fuckin’ life.

So anyway, after about a year and a half at the New Yorker I realized that everybody was either only there for a year and a half or two, or they were lifers. And it’s one thing to be a lifer there if you’re coming in as a journalist and you’re 35, and you’re like, “This is it, pinnacle of journalism, I’m gonna do this,” but the idea that you’re gonna be a lifer as a poetry editor is sort of an oxymoron to begin with, and I just was like…I just needed to do my own shit.

So very randomly I was given a job doing real estate, like, asset management and finance stuff in Tokyo – that was 2011 – so then I came over here, and I was doing that for a little while. It wasn’t a very good gig, but I didn’t really have enough money to get home, and I didn’t really want to come home with my tail between my legs just totally flamed out on something. So I was just in a holding pattern.

I went out to dinner with an acquaintance of mine, who I’d met through Josh Warner, of Good Art Hollywood; he was a Japanese designer and we went for drinks, and he was asking what he could do to do a little better in the States, and in the West. We were a little tipsy, and I was like, “Here’s an idea for a brand, here’s what you have to do,” because I thought he was a good designer and that the product he was making was really nice, it was just – very Japanese. Very Tokyo mod. And you know, I’m a half-Irish, half-Jewish kid from LA, so sarcasm’s my first language, and Japan’s a very earnest country that doesn’t really understand sarcasm, so he was just like “Great! Let’s do it!” and I said “Great!” and the next day I had pretty much forgotten about it, and he was like “Oh, I’ve opened an account and we have production meetings next week.”

[Laughs]

IS: Yeah, so I just said ‘Fuck it.’

JL: Nice.

IS: Yeah, and that’s it. That was 2015. And this guy, he was doing his own brand called ‘Cruce,’ and it was very – well, it was connected to the visual kei world, right? So I met this guy originally through Josh, but it was actually through Die, from Dir en Grey, that I actually ended up following him, so Die was a sort of a casual acquaintance of mine, and Die wore a lot of this guy’s brand. I saw him posting about it on some – I don’t know – but I was like ‘Oh, I’ll go take a look.’

JL: That’s kinda wild. Were you, like, a clothing guy beforehand? I feel like landing in Tokyo, and then your first interaction with the clothing business is some guy’s visual kei brand, that might be kind of overwhelming.

IS: Yeah. So, my cousin, when I was younger, owned a clothing company. And so when I was in middle school, without really knowing it, there was a lot of osmotic exposure to clothing, because we’d just go and hang out, and I just ended up spending hours walking the racks. I mean, I didn’t pay heed at the time – I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything that lasted – but what did last was that my cousin became very good friends with Josh Warner of Good Art, and so it was through my cousin that I ended up becoming very close with Josh, and it was through Josh that I met Kotaro. So that’s the whole daisy chain.


JL: So, Good Art seems much more in line with what Nine Lives is, currently.

IS: Yeah, I mean, that’s certainly got to be a part of it; it’s gotta be partially the air we breathe, and partially because I’ve known Josh since I was, what, fourteen or something. He’s family now. One thing I’ll say is that Nine Lives as a name was actually partially inspired by Good Art – I love Good Art as a name because of its vacuity.

JL: Right.

IS: And I mean I tell this to Josh, I love it because it’s so empty. It’s almost a meaningless shell that you have to backfill – this is the product and this is what it is – and that informed picking ‘Nine Lives,’ because Nine Lives is kind of a generic name. I’m sure that there are a thousand brands and, y’know, projects in the universe – not to mention, apparently, a terrible movie a couple of years ago –

JL: Yeah, that comes up a lot on Google.

IS: Nine Lives, it’s a cliché. And it was picked slightly for that reason – I liked the idea of picking something that, y’know, it’s not that it sounds bad, it’s fine; it has on a literal level a sense of the varied life and various energies that are being brought to the project, but in a sort of literal sense is trite, and is not that memorable, and people have to focus on product and have to actually see what it is for that name to take on life and take on meaning.

That’s actually a terrible business decision. I don’t know that any marketing MBA would tell you that was the right move. But that’s probably where I share DNA with Josh; a little bit of the punk rock, fuck you, I’m not gonna do it by your rules.

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JL: ‘Zen as fuck,’ I think your website says, which also seems like an oxymoron. There’s also something a little bit of Baudelaire, of the flaneur, especially when you link it to clothing – but then it’s, like, a cat thing, and you guys are into coyotes. So where do the coyotes come from?

IS: So that’s one of the funny things. Yeah, I like animals – I mean, cats are fine. But Kotaro and I are very much dog people, and we basically started the whole project and were eventually, like, “Ehhh, I don’t know, we’re not the ‘cat guys,’ we gotta push against that.” So I thought, okay, what’s a really weird, cracked thing? And I said, “Coyotes have nine lives.” And that’s – we had a dog living with us that wandered in off the street when I was eleven, and was with us until he died twelve years later, and the legend was that he was half coyote. He certainly looked it. He was a feral, noble, prince of a mutt.

It sort of dovetails, because I have one line of poetry that’s sort of deliberately a purple prose line, and it says ‘Glinting mongrel in a dying land,’ and we ran with that line, and have adopted the coyote. You’ll see it a little more – this winter, we’re doing a little more Americana, whereas last spring was this pop horror, Lovecraftian Jurassic Park response to the Trump. This collection is a little bit more going into shadow country, and doing some more mod Americana.

I don’t love putting our brand name on stuff, and that sort of speaks to the ‘Zen as fuck’ line; y’know, even when stuff is more pugilistic and strong, I still hope that there’s a certain degree of minimalism, and it’s obviously not that branded – and we’re not really making money by selling a brand. So there’s an essentialism to it, and because of that I always feel funny making a t-shirt that actually says ‘Nine Lives.’ We did it that first time, because we just kind of didn’t know what we were doing, and now we’ve finally managed to be making a full collection where we’re excited about everything – from the crazy outerwear down to the t-shirts – we feel like we’ve hit our stride. In that context, well, okay, we still want to do some printed t-shirts, we want to do a remake of a 70’s nylon Kawasaki long-sleeve jersey. And it can’t say “Kawasaki,” so we won’t put that on there, but I don’t want it to say Nine Lives, so we’re gonna use ‘mongrel.’ So that’s what we’re using in place of the brand name when we want to do text.

Continues on Page 2

Autumn Style: Odd Flannel Trousers with @Heldentenor

odd flannel trousers

A pair of odd flannel trousers is one of Styleforum’s universal recommendations, and in addition to featuring heavily in WAYWT, flannel is a staff favorite. It’s not hard to see why: it’s soft, warm, and adds lovely visual texture to any outfit, especially if you choose a fabric – as @Heldentor has – that has enough character to stand up to patterns.

Even so, my favorite part of this outfit is the fit of the sport coat. It’s not often (or ever) I see a combination that I think could be simultaneously referred to as “sharp” and “soft,” but I believe this qualifies. “Rumpled elegance” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in discussions of menswear, and when referring to tailored clothing it often seems to be used as an excuse for poor fit. In this case, however, I think it’s an apt descriptor largely due to the weight of the fabric (of both jacket and trousers) and the moderately built-up chest and shoulders of the jacket.

Note how comfortable @Heldentenor appears when seated, and how well the fabric hangs. Not only are the proportions impeccable, but the outfit is wonderfully evocative. Of course, that’s partly due to the quality of the photograph and the setting, but everything – from the crisp blue shirt to the patch pockets to the knit tie and lack of pocket square  – suggests comfort, confidence, and an absence of pretension.

This is a great example of how classics and standbys can be styled in a way that’s far from boring, and a wonderful appetizer for the fun of seasonal dress. Hats of to @Heldentenor, and to the rest us – now we now what to aim for.

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The Yoox Friends and Family Sale Ends Today!

The Yoox Friends and Family sale is ending today, which means that if you’re willing to roll the dice (or are certain of your size across various brands), you can still find some fantastic deals on both established lines or on pieces you may not have dared to buy at retail. Although I buy much less from Yoox than I used to, it’s still one of my favorite retailers for this exact reason: it’s like digging through the huge, rambling closet of a person with incredibly eccentric tastes.

My tip for Yoox shopping is to essentially ignore how the garment fits on the model – if there is a model. It’s hard, I know, but since everything is (still!) squeezed onto people far too large for the clothing, Yoox has the magical ability to make any piece of clothing look terrible (see: Ann Demeulemeester bombers paired with washed DSquared jeans).

Take note when you’re adding items to your cart, as many of them are final sale. Selection isn’t massive, but if you’re willing to sort through the pages, this is a good opportunity to find old-season products and excellent basics.

One further tip is that not all designers with items included in the sale show up in the dropdown. Searching for a name within the dropdown search (not on the top of the page) will yield more participating brands, but you have to search for them specifically. Try these: Tricker’s, Zanone, Lemaire, Blue Blue Japan, Ts(S), etc.

Here’s the link to the sale, and here’s a selection of some interesting pieces:

Happy hunting!

An Interview with Déborah Neuberg of De Bonne Facture

I’ve been a fan of Déborah Neuberg’s De Bonne Facture since the first time I saw it at Pitti Uomo. I’ve been lucky enough to see her collections (or éditions) numerous times since, and she’s not only a talented designer but a thoughtful, intelligent person.

I reached out to ask if she’d be willing to talk about “The brand, fashion, and style in general,” which I admit is an impressively vague request. What followed was a discussion not just of De Bonne Facture, but of style, gender, and the importance of discovering your own style.


Jasper Lipton: Let’s start from the ground up, and talk about the name of your brand. Not just what it means literally, but what it means to you, and what it means to your ethos and who you are as a company.

Déborah Neuberg: I had a really hard time finding a name. I didn’t want it to be a brand, at the beginning – I still don’t really want it to be a brand, in the sense of a traditional brand. As in, the word brand comes from the brand you’d put on cattle. It’s the mark you put on something to identify it, which is quite the contrary of what I’m trying to do with De Bonne Facture – which is to not have any visible signs of what it is, such as a logo. That is also the way a lot of consumer goods are marketed to the public: ‘We sell milk, but we want our milk to be identified, so we’ll put whatever – Jasper milk – on it.”interview Deborah Neuberg De Bonne Facture Styleforum

JL: I’m sure there’s a market for that.

DN: It’s huge, dude. You should tap into that. No, I’m just saying that the idea of a brand that visibly identifies a product – if that’s all that a brand is, I’m not a brand. I wanted to make well-made and brandless – as in this sense of a brand – products, and I wanted to communicate that it’s well made.

I had a friend who had a really old-fashioned way of speaking French, and he would say expressions like “Ah, this is de bonne facture,” but say it tongue in cheek, because de bonne facture means ‘Of good make.’ I was sitting with my cousin and my ex-boyfriend, and talking to a writer friend, and I kept saying “I just want it to be de bonne facture,” thinking of this old friend who always said that, and the writer said, “Well, why don’t you call it that?”

It’s not a very pretty name, I mean, I didn’t think it was pretty at all, or evocative – it was just kind of funny. You know, that’s what it is – you get what you get. It’s de bonne facture. It has to be good because it’s well made.

JL: Does that tie in to the reason you choose to disclose all your manufacturers? Most brands want to do the opposite.

DN: Yeah. If they’re working with subcontractors – which is hugely the case in the textile industry – they totally keep that a secret, and they will never say that so-and-so made their scarves. When I was working with Hermès, we would work with beautiful ateliers and subcontractors and we would just say “Made in Italy,” “Made in Nepal,” “Made in India.”

I always thought it was kind of a shame because we were working with those manufacturers because they specifically had the know-how and craftsmanship that came from their history and location. They all have really interesting backgrounds, and I was excited as a product manager to be working with those people. I thought it was a loss of information that it wasn’t mentioned, and I didn’t see why it was better not to disclose them. I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s the story I’m telling myself, but the fact that you’re not acknowledging the people you’re working with totally enables you to shed responsibility if you’re making another manufacturing choice. It’s just product. It’s not about where it’s made, it’s not about your subcontractors, it’s not about your supply chain, your economic entity is about the brand you’re going to put on your garment.

interview deborah neuberg de bonne facture styleforum

 

DN (cont): I feel it’s pretty dangerous, and there’s been a lot of stuff about what happens in the textile industry with all this opacity. You’ll make another [manufacturing] choice and it’ll be “Oh, it’s cheaper to go there and I don’t have to tell my consumer, I can just write on a tiny label that it’s made in somewhere else.”

I don’t believe in that way of creating brands and immaterial value, while dishonoring the material steps that go into the product. It’s not anchored in reality, or in the industry. I really wanted to honor the industry and the craftsmanship – wherever it is.

Making it part of our label is a way to be responsible, or a guideline you can’t really go away from. Because once you decide to do it, you’re like OK, this what I’m doing, I need to be proud of what I’m doing.

JL: Was the decision to be so heavily invested in the manufacturing and textile industries made at the same time as you conceived of your label, or did that come later?

DN: No, it was part of what was driving me to create the label. Initially, I didn’t even want to create a collection. I had this fantasy that by going to all of these local manufacturers with specific talents I would be able to put together a very essential men’s wardrobe – a white poplin shirt, or flannel trousers, or knitted ties, or a Breton sweater – I was just imagining that by going to these ateliers they would all have their own factory brand, and that it would be very well tailored to whatever I thought was cool.

It wasn’t the case at all. They just didn’t have that. At the beginning I saw it more like a federation of makers that I would put together. It was much more coming from the craft, and the regions, and the makers. My naive idea was that I would find what I was looking for already there.

interview deborah neuberg de bonne facture styleforum

I had a huge impostor syndrome about being a designer, because that’s not what I studied, and the system in France is very rigid. When I went to people with my project they’d say “You went to business school, you’re not a designer.” And I was like…yeah, yeah, I’m not a designer. So they’d say “You need to find a designer.” I was uncomfortable with it, but I was like yeah, you’re right, I don’t know what I want.

That syndrome is widespread in women – to lose confidence very easily when you’re trying to do your own venture and everyone seems like they know better than you. So I was really confused – I knew what I wanted, but it was like ‘either you’re going to be a platform for factory products, or some kind of brand but then you won’t be a designer.’ That was the feedback I got when I was looking for advice.

In the end I was like, fuck everyone, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care about you, I know what I want, I want to do this project in the way I wanted. But it took me a long time to own my idea, because everyone was telling me, no one does that. They didn’t get it.

JL: Let’s talk about that moment of knowing what, exactly, you wanted. The poplin shirt, or the flannel trouser. How did you go from the idea of a collection of makers to the idea of a collection?

DN: It was just being so frustrated. What actually made me own it was having that idea but not really being able to take the space to put it out there, because I was too dependent on other people’s opinions, or I was afraid to disappoint or be judged by people in the fashion industry because I was working at Hermès before – which is like, the epitome of luxury and taste and creation – and I thought, “Oh my god, what if the art director at Hermès saw I was starting something and thought it was so horrible?” I would make psychological barriers for myself.

She actually started following my brand [on Instagram] – I say brand because it’s like, whatever – about two years ago. I don’t even know if she knows it’s me, but it wasn’t a big deal. At the time, that was a huge deal! Am I going to be approved of? Fear of being approved of was a big barrier.

I think that what made me actually take that step was that first of all, I spent money – because I trusted people who told me I needed a designer – working with a designer. It was a catastrophe. I explained the concept – very simple, understated garments; French modern classics made by all of these factories that we’re going to be co-branding with.

The guy told me he needed magazines to get inspired, so we went to this fashion magazine shop and I bought 100 Euros worth of magazines for him. And I was really trusting this whole thing, because so many people told me I couldn’t be a designer! So I thought he would have the answer to whatever I was looking for.

Then he started cutting out these various, random inspirations that had nothing to do with my original concept – and just came up with this collection. He said “OK, it’s going to be inspired by this really beautiful series I saw about cosmonaut suits, and I think that’s really inspiring and interesting so we could take these details from that.” And I was like, ok, is this a joke?

JL: You mean you don’t reach for your cosmonaut suit every morning?

DN: Yeah, it’s a modern classic! It was so absurd, but he was so serious about it. This guy was creating a collection from thin air, it had nothing to do with whatever. He thought being a designer was just doing whatever is commonly thought of as being creative. As in out there, eccentric, which was for me totally disconnected – it was just producing, kind of like a hamster rolling in one of those hamster things. Yeah! Let’s make product! Let’s have ideas! Oh, a cosmonaut! Let’s make something like that!

I was so scared and anxious, because I really thought he was going to help me – because I had been told that he was so talented. And so at one point I was actually paying this guy – not a lot, but I was paying him…I realized I’d gone through one year of trying to set up my idea, and paying people, and it just became unbearable to be wasting time and money on something that was clearly not what I wanted.

At that time, I was also paying to go to the ‘incubator’ of my business school. It was not in tune at all with my ideas. It was super start-up culture – raise a lot of money, very technology oriented, very innovation oriented, maybe 1 in 15 of those companies will make it and the others will die and that’s the game. It was like Hunger Games.

I didn’t think that’s what creating a company was about. I was super old school about it, and wanted to be working with all these factories that are still linked to regional culture, and work with them to make garments. The response was, “What is the innovation in your business?” And I said, “Uh, co-branding and re-enchanting that culture of craftsmanship that is being lost, making a collection that honors that craftsmanship, that is durable and lasts a long time and is sustainable – and that’s what’s innovative, because the industry is very driven by fashion.”

And they were like “No, there’s nothing. That’s not an innovation. There’s nothing interesting about your project.”

In French, there’s a saying: conseilleur n’est pas payeur – the person who gives you advice is not the person who pays. It’s easy to give advice. So, shut up, I heard your advice, very interesting, thank you, bye.

I was too frustrated with having wasted all that. And then I decided to go to all the factories, do all the documentaries myself with a photographer, and decided to work with a pattern maker. I had a little experience with the technical files. I had shopped for these vintage pieces, gone to Première Vision [the French fabric fair], and looking in the hundreds of booths for these fabrics eventually I found my way. I said okay, I’m going to make one pair of flannel trousers, and this one poplin shirt I’m imagining, and I’m going to make the Breton sweaters with this really cool factory that I found. I told myself I was just going to make a few garments and see where it took me.

interview Deborah Neuberg De Bonne Facture Styleforum

JL: The last time I saw you, you said that someone had asked you when you were going to make a women’s line. And you said “I am making a women’s line.” So, why menswear? Is it menswear?

DN: The first answer is that I’ve always liked craftsmanship. I’ve always liked concrete product. In 2010 or 2011, all of the interesting brands or companies that were highlighting tailoring and craftsmanship were menswear companies. All of the women’s companies were more style-oriented, or fashion-oriented in my perception at the time.

That’s a reason, but it’s also because I always thought it was really cool to dress in menswear. Classic menswear always really appealed to me. I always liked to steal my brother’s clothes, or my father’s clothes. When I look deeper into it, the men’s wardrobe – the way traditional genders are constructed – what is associated with the men’s wardrobe is more powerful in mainstream culture than what is associated with the women’s wardrobe. At least, that’s the way I perceived it.

I didn’t want to be associated with doing women’s clothes in the way the fashion industry does them – “Oh, that dress is so wonderful! Why don’t we just talk about dresses, and being pretty for parties!” – I didn’t want to be associated with that part of what being a woman can be. It’s not my style.

It was helpful for me to appropriate the codes of masculine garments to express myself, in the way that was the most empowering. It might not be empowering, in the end. I don’t know if it is. I felt it was something that gave me more confidence. It seemed like there was more freedom and power associated with being a guy, and I think it would be hard to argue against that, although it could be said that being imprisoned in those binary genders is keeping men from expressing a part of their personalities.

JL: Would you ever design a dress? Or is that antithetical to your entire conception of clothing?

DN: Hmm. Today, I have no desire to design a dress. None. That might evolve. I don’t know. I follow a lot of non-binary, trans, and gender-fluid people. Sometimes they’re biologically male and dress super feminine – traditionally feminine – or be one day like this and the next like that, and I think it’s interesting how we’re trapped in these worlds.

We think we choose our style, but it’s also very much determined for us by what we think it should be. Style says a lot about who we are – what age we are, what social class we’re from – sometimes it’s not even conscious. Sometimes we think we’re doing a great job, and something escapes that’s a tell of who we are.  I’m interested in the way that people – bravely – break that trap, or that binary, of ‘men should dress this way, and women are like this, and so they should dress this way.’

De Bonne Facture is a lot about me being a woman, and designing this men’s wardrobe and wearing it myself and wanting women to appropriate it and play with it, precisely because it’s associated with masculinity. It can be kind of like a charm, a talisman – I can be who I want.

JL: It seems very quiet, though. What do you make of a brand like Rick Owens or Rad Hourani?

DN: I think it’s great. Obviously, what I’m making is way more conservative, but it’s also because I was socialized as a woman that I find this magical, powerful quality and designing men’s clothes, you know? As a man like Rick Owens or Marc Jacobs, designing dresses or skirts and wearing it themselves or putting them on their male models, I think there’s something that must feel so transgressive and so empowering and make them feel like they’re breaking barriers. Femininity is so devalued.

JL: It’s much more of a taboo for a man to go outside in a dress than for a woman to go outside in a suit.

DN: Exactly. The whole of the structure relies on the inferiorization of women, and the fact that if you take on those codes that are attributed to women – style of dress, speak, voice – you’re going to be effeminate, and that’s the worst that can happen to traditional masculinity. Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs, all of these trans activists that I’m following, they’re very brave and courageous – they’re reclaiming their own power in feeling themselves in this kind of dress.

Very personally, I find those clothes disempowering. I want to maybe have the choice to wear a dress and heels – very rarely, like never – but I want to not be harassed. One time recently I was wearing something moderately feminine and I followed in the streets for 15 minutes by this guy, and he asked for my number and told me he’d been following me.

100% of women have been harassed in a public space in their lives, and when I’m dressed in De Bonne Facture I feel more protected. Which is fake! I just read about an exhibition on “What Were You Wearing When You Were Raped?” and it was everything from dresses to baseball tees to trousers – it can be anything. It has nothing to do with clothing – but symbolically, in my head it does.

JL: “She was dressed like she was asking for it.”

DN: Yeah, exactly.

JL: In addition to the ‘fakeness’ of that feeling, is there a ‘hiding-ness’ to it?

DN: Oh, yeah. Women’s bodies are so sexualized. It’s so problematic – what you are covering and what you’re not. Hiding has to do with what we were brought up to find “sexy.” There’s this cultural battle where people are always trying to see your body.

JL: There are so many men who think this same way, just on a different tack. You know, who think that men should look as though they don’t care. You get up in the morning and you look in your closet and you think “OK, I could wear that, but I don’t really want anyone to notice it or talk to me about it. I just want to look like nothing.”

DN: Neutral.

JL: Completely neutral. For example, last week I met a stranger who told me that he – he was telling me about how expensive his jeans were – was so into clothing that he was ‘verging on f****ry.’ There’s always been this idea of clothing as armor, in these different ways.

DN: Wow. Yes, but I also think there are women’s lines – like Olivier Rousteing at Balmain – his woman is very much a conqueror, an Amazon, wearing very sexy dresses with an armor-like quality to them. I think this idea of what can be armor is very personal. I’m expressing mine in my way, that is very connected to my story. It’s what I’m comfortable in and what I aspire to make.

But if I were to wear an Olivier Rousteing dress in the street…I don’t want that experience. I admire women who do it, I admire activists who fight against all of those stereotypes. What this guy told you is that an interest in fashion makes you feminine, which makes you inferior.

[Laughs]

He’s a victim of the system too. High heels were invented for men, in the court of France – men were like peacocks.

 

JL: So that was never a question for you – menswear vs. womenswear.

DN: No, it was very natural. If I was every dressing up for a carnival or a party, I loved to dress up as a man.

JL: What does that mean? At this point, as a grown woman with successful business, do you get up in the morning and say “Today, I’m dressing like a man?”

DN: No, I meant as a teenager for Halloween and things. Instead of being a nurse, or a prostitute, or these social archetypes. I would dress as a man and paint on a mustache and wear flannel trousers. Right now, I’m dressed in De Bonne Facture trousers and a Paris tourist t-shirt. I bought it from a guy on the street and I really enjoy it.

JL: What was it about these essential pieces that you decided to make for De Bonne Facture that made them ‘French’ to you?

DN: That’s a really difficult question, because I think that what is commonly associated with France is a very narrow-minded vision.

There’s something about being born and brought up in Paris that makes you value clothes that are understated, simple, effortless, but still studied. When I was in Shanghai, people didn’t dress that way. It was much less understated. I think [French] brings to mind something quiet, refined, and subtle, and it’s what I associate with Frenchness.

But it can be so many things – when I was Beijing, I found the same understated quality in some of the people I encountered. Old people walking in the park with very simple camel or black coats that I would never see in Shanghai. And I would think ‘Whoa, these people remind me of Parisians!’ so it’s not only French, but there’s an element of Parisian style in that aesthetic that’s French.

Kind of like Boston, also. When I was living in new York I went to Boston and everyone was in navy and white and it was so quiet and serene.

JL: Boston is still kind of a bastion of East Coast prep style, and it’s interesting to hear your admiration for it as someone whose life outlook is so far from conservative.

DN: I see in certain types of aesthetic conservatism a minimalism, or quiet – stillness, maybe – which can be bad, too, but I find beauty in it. I also love the idea of dressing conservatively and being very anti-conformist, in personality or culturally. I’m interested in that imbalance between exterior minimalism and interior fantasy. I like serenity. Using the navies and whites and camels is so appeasing aesthetically.

In Boston, everything was white – it was covered in snow – and all these silhouettes in camel and navy were out walking. I had this very calm experience of it.

JL: I think that classic is very different from quiet – does that idea of an interior fantasy help bring to life an idea that might otherwise be dull?

 

DN: Maybe. I like the idea of having this very still picture of the white, WASP-y persona – or the French equivalent, such as my style is born out of – but have it appropriated by me, and Asian people, and African people, and the diversity of the American people. It’s like, anyone can walk in your shoes, dude. I can wear your costume. It’s kind of like vogueing. You have a costume of power, and I’m going to wear it.

There’s something subversive about putting out that aesthetic, but having it worn by a diversity of models and people. That’s where I want to go moving forward. It’s kind of why I finally asked my [Japanese] friend Jumpei to model the brand, instead of a white guy who would seem ‘French.’

JL: Is there a healthy way to develop a style, then? I think you could point to 23 out of 24 little boys in America, and they probably all learned to dress from their fathers. How do you balance the desire to imitate with the desire to branch out without knowing what you’re doing?

DN: I started this project called Patina – it’s on the website, but not linked to the products -that’s about pieces and garments that you own and have acquired patina with use; have acquired your character, and telling stories about how clothes are linked to identity or memory. They can be frivolous, but they can also be part of who you are. You’re wearing your dad’s shirt, and you’re connecting to your memory and your history.

JL: You’re not scared of talking about other brands.

DN: It’s very stifling to think that your brand is some kind of tyrannical system.There are certain guidelines in my brand that I will respect, to warranty some kind of cohesiveness, but I’m not afraid to talk about other companies. Being a brand doesn’t have to be about “Oh, you’re not wearing the latest Dries trousers! This is last season!” It’s so fucking stupid, and so disconnected from reality. And very anxiety-inducing. People can get very petty, and in the end it’s really very sad, because it becomes about making people buy stuff out of fear. It’s not building confidence in people. I don’t like making decisions out of fear.

I think this happens in style as well – you’re afraid of being judged, or you’re afraid of what will happen to you. But fashion – not wearing the latest – is not a matter of life and death. I don’t really like that aspect of fashion. I’d rather see experimenting with costumes, and who you can be, and various aspects of identity and gender.

As a designer, I will never say “Yes, this is style. This is how people should dress. Follow me, I’m a guru.” I hate that. People should feel comfortable. Today I was dressed 100% in De Bonne Facture, but under my sweater I had on this souvenir t-shirt, and it made me feel more comfortable and more myself.

Building a healthy style has to do with educating yourself with what style can be for you; understanding the politics of style can be interesting too. Style is very political – it connects to class, gender, race, culture, age – if you’re a poor, black, inner-city kid, vogueing as a rich white prep student, it says something. You can experiment with so many parts of you through dressing up, but it does take experimentation. Being fearless, and confident, and not caring about judgement. I would say that’s what a healthy sense of style is.

JL: You have real economic concerns weighing on you a lot of the time. How do you balance this love of weird things, or your love of vintage things, with the need to keep creating new product?

DN: It’s complicated. When I was starting this project I was measuring my desire to get on with it with my desire to ponder the necessity of another label. Do we need new products? I try to be conscious about the ecological impact of the clothing industry. The fashion industry is so polluting, in all ways – from cultivation of cotton that causes desertification, to pesticides used on the crops, to all of the chemicals used in fabric creation or dyeing, the manufacturing, the usage, the water usage, the fact that you’re renewing your wardrobe all the time…I believe that there is a way that we can connect with clothing that is cultural, that is not some unhealthy, neurotic way of over-consuming stuff. I do believe there is a cultural need for a clothing scene. It’s kind of like an arts scene, or a food scene. It’s a cultural object. That is ‘fashion,’ in the good sense. Clothes are cultural artifacts.

My love for old things makes me conscious of the need to make things that are nice when they are old. I’m studying ways to make our clothes more ecologically-friendly, but I’m trying to balance that with durability and other concerns about development. In the meantime, we have to make collections to make a living, so that our suppliers can also make a living. It’s a long process – there’s a rhythm you have to respect.

I think my love of old things also has to do with how appalled I am with how quickly we consume things. So I’m trying to find a way to make things that is respectful to all the people who make our clothes, and to the person who is buying and wearing them, and the earth, and honoring the craft that needs to be kept alive to manufacture things.

JL: You mentioned that you find the idea of sharing your ateliers romantic. Over the last few years, there has been a focus in menswear on the nitty-gritty, on the details. How do you keep romance alive in what you do?

DN: What comes to mind is streetstyle. I find a lot of romance in watching people in life. Sometimes when I’m walking I see someone with an interesting detail, or observe the way they’re carrying themselves. Whatever is expressed I find romantic or interesting – watching people making style real. I mean, I do also find runways and presentations romantic, but I find people romantic in their diversity. Recently we were choosing fabrics, and one reminded me of an old professor – and I know you have met someone in your life who exuded that geography professor aesthetic or character. Anything can be an inspiration, and that’s where I see the romance.

JL: Once, I texted you a photo of LeBron James wearing one of your sweaters, and you got a kick out of that. What are your thoughts on celebrity style?

DN: I was so mad. I made this really nasty Instagram post and everyone told me to delete it. I got tagged in this random celebrity Instagram post, and realized LeBron James was wearing our turtleneck. I was in the office, and I said “LeBron James is super famous, right?” And it gave me an up, like an endorphin, so I posted about it on Facebook, and it was probably my most-liked post ever.

And then I started getting super bitter about it. “Oh, you need an NBA player to think my stuff is nice?” Everyone on the internet was commenting about how beautiful and wonderful my work was, and I thought, is this what you need to see that I’m doing great work? So I made this post on my personal account about celebrity culture, and how dispiriting it felt that people only thought that what I was doing was good when this NBA star wore it. I was so pissed. And then my friends talked me down and told me to delete it, which I did.

There are people interested in our fabric, in our manufacturing, in what we make – and there are others who are like “Oh yeah, you got LeBron!” Yeah, cool, you like my brand. Thanks. I was happy, and then I hated it when I realized it was the only reason people were interested.

Photos: Sports Illustrated


JL: If you could strip your collection down to its four most essential pieces, which would they be?

D: Definitely the jockey jacket – the bomber – and I like the flannel carrot trousers. I wouldn’t wear those together, though. I would wear the trousers with my souvenir t-shirt, I would wear the bomber with some really run-down jeans and trainers. The oxford shirt – the button down, with the American placket, now it’s in Japanese brush oxford, which is an oxford fabric but flannel-ized, so it’s kind of confusing because it looks like a normal shirt but when you get closer it has this vintage-y, wabi-sabi aspect. And I’m thinking of the bathrobe, that I really like – that you inspired….

[Laughs]

I’m kidding –

JL: I hope you know that’s on record now, and I’m claiming credit for it.

DN: Probably the piqué sweater, the crewneck with the enlarged polo knit.

JL: I think I’ve only ever seen you wearing one thing, which is a striped essential shirt and navy trousers.

DN: Yep.

JL: Is there such thing as authenticity in fashion? Is there anything wrong with never settling?

DN: No! Maybe there are four essential pieces of De Bonne Facture, but I would never wear them together. I think authenticity is being in tune with yourself, with whatever choices you’re making. Being authentic is being honest and sincere, finding your voice through experimentation. It’s not an equation. There’s no solution to style. That’s a good way to sell magazines, to have people be fearful instead of carrying on with their lives.

I think a lot of the media surrounding style perpetuates the fear of not being up-to-date, that’s feeding into the nasty part of the fashion system. Do you remember when we were making fun of the minimalism trend ?

JL: In Paris last year, yeah

DN: Yeah. “Be a minimalist, buy my magazine, I’m gonna teach you how to be minimalist, and the way to be minimalist is to throw out everything you own and buy a minimalist wardrobe.” It’s cool to be evolving. There’s this culture of the rules of style in menswear –

JL: You don’t say.

DN: Yeah, and it kind of drives me crazy.

JL: One criticism I’ve read – on websites that will not be named – is that De Bonne Facture looks like just another minimal French brand.

DN: Yeah, like APC or whatever.

JL: How do you prevent that? How do you –

DN: I really don’t care. I don’t give a fuuuuck. I care about what my customers think about it – if their coat is not well cut, if the fabric isn’t warm enough, then I care. But I’m trying to speak with my voice. I’m not trying to be out there so that I’m making the point that I’m different, like everything I make is orange because I’m so original and it’s unlike any other French brand you’ve ever seen.

Buyers at big department stores have told us “Oh, we’ve already got the minimal French whatever, we don’t want you.” I think “Well, you have a brand that’s made in Portugal, and uses plastic buttons, and the fabric they use costs 2EUR a meter, and oh, this other brand’s shirts are made in Bangladesh for 8$ and they’re selling them for 160EUR.”

They’re selling to customers that don’t care about those details, and don’t care about our ethos that I admit is kind of invisible. It’s subtle. It’s all the choices we’ve made. It has soul. We hope to sell our clothes to people who care about that.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lookbook photos via De Bonne Facture.

Photos of Déborah by Eric Hanson for Styleforum.

 

How to Style Country Tweed with Mr. Knightley

style country tweed styleforum

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m American, and half the reason I like this outfit from Mr. Knightley so much is that all the brands in the original post sound so charmingly British. I’ve been streaming a show over Netflix called “Escape to the Country,” which is kind of like a super chillaxed British version of House Hunters where everyone just wants to buy a cottage in little countryside villages that all end with ‘-shire’, and let me tell you, I could really go for a nice walk through the Dales these days. Imagine it! No cars, no coffee shops, no Macbooks, no jokers on the internet telling you to adjust your sleeve pitch or change the cuffs on your jeans; just you, your binoculars, country boots, maybe a walking stick, and some tweed. Ideally, I’d drop my iPhone in the mud, look down at it, shrug, and move on. The only problem is that every house on the show has a 6-foot ceiling since they were all built in 1308 or whatever.

The other reason that I really like this look is that the colors are fantastic. Regardless of whether or not you’re actually in the countryside, earth tones have always been a go-to for fall, and we all want to look as though we haven’t got a care in the world beyond viewing seasonal foliage and maybe some sheep, especially when the exact opposite is true.

In this case, the overall effect is kept very handsome in part because Mr. Knightley hasn’t country-fied everything in his outfit – a smart shirt, shoes, and trousers tie things together very nicely while serving to keep those earth tones from getting too muddy. All in all, this is a great example of an outfit that features seasonal fabrics, pleated trousers, and even a bit of romance.

You can see Mr. Knightley’s original post here