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In my latest for Highsnobiety, I put together a complete part-by-part breakdown of the technology behind your winter coat, then gave my choices for 2017's best outerwear. Make some coffee, put on music, and put the phone face-down - when I said "complete," I meant it. This one's a longer read than normal.
Still interested? Click here for the full guide, and by all means, enjoy. This piece more than others was a true labor of love, and I hope it shows.
My latest for Highsnobiety, this time highlighting some of my favorite emerging outerwear brands. Some are old favorites (Veilance; Snow Peak). Others are just now stepping into the spotlight (among them: and Wander). If you're seeking out life beyond Canada Goose, check out these brands.
Read the full article at the link here.
My latest for Highsnobiety, talking fabric innovations and the smaller firms that power the industry's growth. Everyone knows Nike and adidas, Flyknit and Boost; now, get to know the rest.
Read the full article at the link here.
Earlier this month, I set out to give one of my favorite menswear brands the history it has long deserved. Visit Grailed to read Climbing Higher: A Complete History of Arc'teryx Veilance now.
Special thanks to Taka Kasuga, Conroy Nachtigall, Bernard Capulong, Gabriel Authier, and Marco Barneveld of The Dyneema Project for making this piece possible.
Shoe: Thursday Boot Company’s “Duke” Chelsea Boot in Honey Suede
Price: $199 MSRP, from ThursdayBoots.com
In the mid-19th century, the British Empire was riding high. Napoleon defeated and the “Great Game” in check, nothing, it would seem, could halt Britain’s trot – as long as they could get on their horse, that is.
Noticing Queen Victoria’s struggles with clunky lace-up riding boots, her shoemaker (an English cobbler named J. Sparkes-Hall) designed rubber-sided “patent elastic ankle boots” to aid Her Majesty’s equestrianism. By the time Sparkes-Hall filed a patent for the design in 1851, he cited the fact that “she [Queen Victoria] walks in them daily” as “the strongest proof of the value she attaches to the invention” to back up his invention’s worth. Probably helped that they looked great, too.
Perhaps due to their equine origins, close to a century would pass before “Paddock” boots (named after the horse enclosure) became associated with “dressing up” instead of “dressage.” During the 1950’s – British Empire now firmly shattered – a group of young filmmakers, creatives, and other selectively-employed youths who hung around London’s Kings Road neighborhood grew to favor the boots. That youthful clique, which included the likes of Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket Greene, was nicknamed the “Chelsea set” by the British media. You can see where this is going.
Born to help a reigning queen with her queenly reins, the Chelsea boot became a shining example of 60’s-era Swinging London as Britain once again colonized the world. Popularized in the US by “British Invasion” rockers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Chelsea boots became the ultimate symbol of sleek, sumptuous rockstar style.
Does a boot designed for easier take-off really signal that much about its wearer? To chaste and proper Victorians, certainly not. Yet, to legions of rock fans (and designers like Hedi Slimane who worship their same gods), the Chelsea boot epitomizes slick, casual cool.
Before we begin, a confession: of all the visions to euphemistically fw, I just didn’t dig Hedi’s YSL at all. Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t afford a $4000 leather jacket. More likely, it’s because everyone I saw wearing the “Slimane aesthetic” (black leather jacket, distressed skinny jeans, suede Chelsea boots) off the runway looked drug-addled or just plain mopey.
Depression memes aside, that’s just not how I try to live my life.
It was this conditioned aversion to all things “Chateau Marmont” that caused me – regrettably - to overlook suede Chelsea boots. Even while YSL and Common Projects turned out grail-tier suede Chelseas as early as FW13, no level of product or promotion could pique my persuasions. In my mind, suede Chelseas were the Father John Misty set’s equivalent to Bapestas: expensive; costumey; a pan-flash, with extra herb.
Then, I actually tried them on.
Father John, I repent.
First, let’s talk comfort. Compared to the lace-up boots I own from Santalum and Wolverine, the slip-on/slip-off a Chelsea boot provides is just plain nice. This one eased friction point is a wonderful introduction to what is all around a very comfortable boot. The elastic has just enough backbone to keep your ankle locked in without abrasion – not like you’ll be making quick cuts in Chelseas, but should you find yourself stage-diving in rocker boots, rest assured they’ll stay snug. Worth noting: I followed Thursday’s advice exactly and sized one full size down my usual US10. Even with think-knit Anonymous Ism socks on, I felt cozy yet never constrained.
Also on the subject of coziness, I’d be remiss not to mention the insole. Materials-wise, it’s a combination EVA comfort strip on top of cushy cork midsole, all under a leather interior lining. Experience-wise, it’s a zero break-in daily driver. My first day wearing the Dukes, I spent a solid 4+ hours on my feet, walking around Princeton, New Jersey to shoot photos with a friend. Compared to my usual experience in Cuban-heeled boots (4 hours standing in Bean Boots = a compulsion to sit known only by father penguins), the Dukes were a remarkably pleasant surprise.
Next, let’s talk about the shoe itself. Rather, let’s just look at it:
The toebox is round and rakish; the heel, stout and firm. My one aesthetic gripe is that I wish the elastic inset were color-matched to the suede, but as to the shoe's architecture itself, I'm beyond complaint. Thursday claims the boot went through 20+ redesigns before coming to its present shape, and judging by the Duke’s serpentine charm, their effort was more than validated. There’s little room to wax poetic about minor changes to a centuries-old design, but one ageless proverb comes to mind: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If the streamlined skeleton of the classic Chelsea profile was good enough for royalty, focus the R&D elsewhere. Like, for example, that skeleton’s skin.
The honey suede is a deep, golden orange, and retains its supple hand-feel despite Thursday’s “WeatherSafe” treating. It’s my understanding that WeatherSafe is a detuned DWR optimized for rough leather – wax without glisten, armor without a shine. Even coated, the suede is buttery and pliable, fighting creases with an elasticity I once only expected from the boot’s heel panels. Plus, like come on – just look at this suede. It’s beautiful! It’s textured! The tasteful thickness of it… ahem. Moving on.
While I haven’t been caught in any claim-verifying afternoon pop-ups yet, this water resistance alone makes a compelling case for the Duke vs. other mid-price suede Chelseas. Even the most committed faux-Buddhist rockers would snap at water stains crashing their style.
Which brings us nicely to wearability.
In my mind, suede Chelseas occupy a privileged position in the pantheon of menswear: true versatility. Like the white low-top tennis shoe, they are both simple and elegant enough to fit all contexts. Despite my seething hatred for the nonsense witticism “you can dress it up or dress it down” (a lazy, even trite piece of ad copy that describes the simple act of wearing clothes), the Dukes feel at home in both t-shirt and button-up alike. Paired with casual outerwear, they’re a no-brainer regardless of any other contexts your outfit implies.
They’re just that wearable.
Case in point: I’m working in a less-formal office this summer. Instead of hauling both casual boots and hard-bottoms to my summer apartment, I’m bringing a single pair of gorgeous suede Chelseas to cover me for both days in and nights out alike. Two birds, one Dukes.
If you’re looking for a versatile leather shoe you can rock with everything but shorts, learn from my mistakes: gives Chelseas a chance. Post-Dukes, I feel foolish for writing off suede Chelseas as costume shoes for the #fashion crowd. In fact, I find myself wearing them all the time. Perhaps I’m overcompensating for the years of wear my ego denied; perhaps they’re just that versatile, comfortable, and handsome on-foot. Whatever the reason, I adore my pair.
While it won’t outcompete the luxury craftsmanship of Saint Laurent’s Wyatt or its Common Projects equivalent, Thursday made one hell of a Chelsea boot at a fraction of the cost. Made for the Queen yet priced for the people, the Duke is accessible royalty – and in suede, to boot.
Disclosure: Thursday Boot Co. sent these boots along to me for nothing more than a request for an honest review, and to me, an honest review requires the reader trusting the writer - hence, the candor. My sincere thanks to Darnell and Matthew at Thursday Boots for their kind gift.
This week's featured outfit: suede Chelseas, cotton chinos, and this spectacular wool bomber jacket by Swedish start-up A Day's March. For my first outfit shoot back since a bit of academic burnout threw me for a loop, I wanted to build an outfit entirely around natural materials. As much as I love GORE-TEX and the like, there's a textural richness that only organic fabrics like cotton and wool can conjure. While defaulting to texture may seem like a cop-out way of describing an otherwise boring outfit (it's minimalist, Mom! My Tumblr friends think it's cool!), minding small details like how different rough-hewn fabrics look next to each other can add a lot of visual cool to basic palettes.
Unfortunately, if you're like me, even adding "a lot" of visual cool is merely throwing sand back to the ocean. No matter how long you spend comparing textures and hand-feels, the very act of searching out "complementary organics" only exacerbates an organic clash guaranteed to negate any potential coolness: the material conflict of "nerd v. clothes."
Herein lies truth. Finding truly cool clothes takes effort - whether that's stalking eBay or building relationships that grant access to the good stuff. Furthermore, cool clothes look cool in isolation; yet, no one buys cool clothes to not put them on. Cool clothes look cooler on cool people; yet, the societal consensus on what makes someone cool concerns how little effort they broadcast.
Herein lies conflict. If it takes effort to find cool clothes, but looking good in them requires showing the exact opposite, there exists a wide and uncomfortable middle ground. To clarify: this middle ground is not the purgatory so often assigned to people wearing styles they don't understand to build social proof (popular moniker: "fashion victims"). Instead, it's the familiar tread of just the opposite: the hobbyists, the enthusiasts, the people whose deep love for and understanding of the style they wear extends far beyond "CDG is popular now so I'll buy the little heart Converse."
To the world at large, those enthusiasts often aren't cool. They look like they tried (effort!!!), and are therefore disqualified from the pedestal of sunken-eyed, listless-yet-image-obsessed #influencers.
But I never really got that.
Everyone takes care of their appearance, full stop. So why penalize someone who lets that effort be seen?
After all, isn't that person living authentically, a virtue most aspire to yet seldom achieve? Isn't that same person also setting realistic expectations of what it takes to achieve their look, a flashpoint topic in most mental health debates? While it's certainly neither cancer research nor national security, taking little steps to destigmatize public effort would go a long way in discourse.
From my perspective, the best part of this entire "uncomfortable middle ground" is that those same hobbyists, enthusiasts, and cool clothes collectors frankly don't care if passerby like how they're dressed. "Screw what this uptown R train thinks," thinks the dude dressed in full Rick Owens on the subway. He's happy to express himself. In my opinion, that level of authentic self-realization is the coolest thing out there.
TL;DR I'm a huge effin' nerd and writing about why nerds are cool only dug this hole deeper.
Since the dawn of the “Space Race” thrust fabric research into the public consciousness, our societal vision of the future has always included high-tech clothes. From Starfleet jumpsuits to Bond’s gadget-packed suit suits, the pop culture of the time reflected one simple sartorial idea: with the right technology, your clothes could passively improve your life. To a world that was still getting over Tupperware, these dreams of lifestyle-augmenting apparel were, well, a moonshot.
In 1969, the moonshot landed. That year, the father-son team of Wilbert Lee Gore and Bob Gore heated some plastic rods, got frustrated with how slowly they were stretching, and ushered in the future. The Gore family’s invention – a waterproof membrane that could be cut and sewn as readily as a textile – laid the groundwork for some of the world’s first truly-durable waterproof garments. Now, with high-tech fabric alone, simply wearing the right clothes could improve your life. While another, arguably more famous, moonshot also landed that same year, for the world of technical apparel, the invention of GORE-TEX wasn’t just one small step – it was a leap towards the future.
Nearly five decades later, technical apparel has transformed from curiosity to expectation: “athleisure” dominates sales charts, leggings have usurped denim jeans, and running shoes carved from autonomously-woven yarns cost less than a month’s worth of your afternoon coffee breaks. Our pop culture has eagerly reflected this acceptance of high-tech clothing: from the invisible camo bodysuits of “Ghost in the Shell” to the hidden armors of “Deus Ex”, our decades-old vision of the clothes we wear granting us benefits past just avoiding a “public indecency” charge is now moving faster than ever. Last July, Thomas Moon and Paul Lee decided they could move even faster.
Through a closed-list soirée on New York’s Lower East Side, Moon and Lee launched ONU – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything.” With no official pronunciation (“It’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages”) and a devotion to making technical clothing that’s as streamlined as it is stylish, ONU is seeking what it means to be truly “adaptable.” While GORE-TEX redefined technical apparel as a genre, with ONU, Moon and Lee want to carve out a whole new category: “EveryWear,” or, high-tech clothing designed for performance, well, everywhere.
Last month, we sat down with Moon, Lee, and Justin Kim – the ONU team – to discuss their vision, their research, and why the future of apparel means not running home to change.
AR: How did you get the concept for the ONU brand? How did the three of you even get together in the first place?
JK: It’s been in existence since June of last year. We launched with a small event in New York City but we have no physical location, so that event was a place for us to have an introduction to the brand.
But, it’s funny that you pronounced us as “oh-new.” [The brand] isn’t pronounced in any particular way – it’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages and cultures around the world. We are really emphasizing being a global brand that’s as international as possible.
The only way this brand could even happen is through the internet. Paul is working in conjunction with people over in Taiwan, traveling all the time, while Thomas and I are working remotely as well. We’re a “tech startup” in so many ways in addition to being a product company.
TM: When you look at a lot of brands, there’s so much “strategy” in terms of rules you have to follow that at a certain point, it’s almost redactive, right? It defeats the brand and the purpose of it. That’s one of the reasons behind that particular element with the name – we allow people to say it however they want. When we do collaborations with people who do video or photography work with us, we want to bank on their expertise. Otherwise, what’s the point in hiring someone who’s really good at their craft if you’re just going to make them do it the way you want it done. That’s not really a collaboration.
JK: Every single collection is a collaboration and a capsule collection that’s presented as such. The first one we launched in New York, with a launch event in New York, by a designer – Diana Eng - who’s based in New York. We collaborated with her on everything from the bare ideas to the final product. Then the second collection, which was launched just end of January, was launched in Shanghai, by a designer – Christina Liao – who is based in Shanghai. It’s a very international collaboration on all levels.
Could you tell me a little bit more about your vision for ONU? That phrase you guys use – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything” – is pretty ambitious. How can technical clothing really improve our everyday lives?
JK: *laughs* Well, Paul’s wardrobe has vastly improved since we got started on this. Right, Paul?
PL: Yeah, the company was really built more out of necessity than anything. I’m a creature of comfort, and all of a sudden moved from LA (where the weather is an immaculate 72 degrees all the time) to Taiwan, where it’s not just hotter but also 90%+ humidity. The three lifestyles Justin, Thomas, and I all lead are very different, so we wanted to be able to create clothes that could fit all of our lives without being defined by them.
JK: We really consider ourselves “performers” in the sense of not only how much we travel and move around, but what we demand from our clothes. What we were looking for is something that fit everything. That includes commuting to work, living your life, and then also play afterwards.
We started by saying “work, play, and live” as the three parts of our lives where one, we need to be clothed, and two, we don’t want to change our clothes just to move within those three. If I dress in clothes that make playing basketball easier because I’m going to go shoot hoops later, then everyone is going to associate me with a certain “b-ball” look. I don’t necessarily want to be associated with a certain activity and have to plan out my day so far in advance.
Basically, we started to see clothes as a limiting factor.
Thomas’ story is very interesting in particular because he comes from the perspective of being an athlete and someone who’s like an extreme performance athlete in all regards – but he started making these clothes himself, and that’s how he fell into the fashion design space actually.
TM: Yeah! *laughs* So I used to freelance in New York for a lot of ad agencies, living every year as “hustle for six months, make my year’s salary, then leave for six months.” I would travel and run races or go rock climbing, and through that I realized I didn’t want to carry so much crap because you have so much gear as it is. I wore a lot of merino, but performance cuts aren’t the most flattering. So, I decided to take it into my own hands.
I found a place here in New York that was willing to make patterns and samples for me, and then I would contact different merino vendors from different parts of the world and ask them if they would send me fabric samples. Then, I would make stuff and test it out.
*laughs* Some of the stuff worked, and some of the stuff did NOT work. It’s a little disheartening when you’re in the middle of the jungle and your shirt starts to fall apart. But it’s your shirt, you made it!
Eventually, it got to the point where the clothes I was actually making for myself were good enough that people started asking me for them. It’s interesting – I remember talking to Ricky, the owner of Isaora [another technical apparel brand], and he was like “dude, you should get into business for yourself,” and I told him that I never would. He then told me: “This is how it always starts.”
When we talk about “Clothing For People Who Do Everything,” a lot of the brands that produce clothing that is in our space promise things from their clothing that is simply unrealistic. When people say that it’s “the best t-shirt ever,” I mean, let’s be real: there’s no such thing as “the best t-shirt ever.” All we wanted to do with ONU was apply good design to innovative materials so that when you wear your garments, regardless of what you do, they almost become invisible.
I think that alone provides an opportunity to open doors for people to do more than what they were originally thinking they were capable of. If you know your jacket is waterproof, you’re less hesitant to go out in the rain – but if you have a cotton hoodie, you know you’re gonna get soaked. It’s not just the versatility of the garments and what they’re capable of, it’s that these garments almost allow you to be versatile along with it.
JK: That doesn’t just mean “sports” either. Re-envisioning and redefining performance in everyday contexts is something that hasn’t been explored really well, and that’s a big part of what we do with each of our products.
TM: We want to make sure that our clothing is a benefit to people. If you have a jacket on and it starts to rain and your jacket is waterproof, that’s a benefit in itself because now you don’t get wet and you show up fresh to wherever you’re going. That now gives you the capacity to pack lighter and still look good. You now have one garment that can handle a variety of situations.
Returning to your point about “opening doors”, did you ever think you were going to be on the “creator” side within fashion? Were you artistic when you were younger, or was your foray into design pure necessity from which you never looked back?
TM: I guess art kinda runs in my family. We’re either artists or doctors. *laughs*
I was a designer for a long time for many ad agencies, so I guess designing apparel was never really something I thought of myself doing. But, after you get to a certain point in your design journey, [your design fundamentals are strong enough that] sure you won’t understand the nuances of a new subject, but you can self-teach yourself anything.
PL: While none of us are formally-trained in fashion, we bank on the expertise of fashion designers and fashion production houses because we do know our limitations. We look to buttress our capabilities by working every season with experts in their fields and truly collaborating with them.
And that’s how you end up with incredible pieces like the Laser Lace Shorts, for example.
TM: Exactly. I think it’s also because we have a huge capacity in terms of the technologies we have access to. A lot of the time, designers don’t get access to some of these because of the minimum orders they have to create that give larger brands those same materials. Since we’re doing smaller runs, we don’t have to worry about creating hundreds of thousands of garments, we just have to worry about creating one hundred, so let’s push it.
Tell me about some of those innovative technologies you have access to. What really goes into ONU clothing?
TM: Right off the bat, I think one of the biggest things is that we actually have our own R&D to make our own tech. For that first collection, we created a fabric called “Synthmere” that came exclusively from our research and development. It’s a synthetic-based cashmere which has a cashmere core wrapped around with nylon and tencel to protect the cashmere.
In the second collection, we developed the fabric that goes on the Baselayer and the Qipao dress. It’s a N66 nylon facing coated with C6 DWR, with merino wool underneath [editor’s note: this is a BFD].
Then, in the third collection, we have something very special coming out which I can tell you has microscopic jade particles in it that we’re actually developing right now. For each collection, we try to create some sort of new and innovative fabric. It’s not just about innovation in terms of the design: we want to look at the design the designers come up with and think about what’s going to be the best application in terms of the material.
Our whole process is a little bit backwards in terms of how fashion designers normally work. Typically, they’ll pick the fabrics first then create a design based on that, but we’re doing it the opposite. We want to be first be mindful of the design, then choose fabrics that make sense for it.
That sounds so exciting - you get to push boundaries with your apparel, from both sides of the design/production equation. What energizes you the most about being in this new, young “technical apparel” segment?
TM: I think a lot of people are trying to put us in the athleisure market, but we’re more of an “innovation” company which happens to make clothing and I think that’s something that’s important for us. Down the line, hopefully those initial technologies will have been fleshed out, but we have also been contacted by our manufacturers and they are very happy to develop new technologies for us and with us based on requests that we have. It’s pretty crazy.
PL: Just seeing the eagerness of a lot of these big huge companies wanting to innovate, hitching their wagon to our vision of moving clothing forward is really exciting. I never expected it this early on.
Question for Paul and Justin: being e-commerce only, I’m getting some almost “Ghost in the Shell” vibes from all of this. There’s a connected network, international reach, and then all of a sudden, ONU will materialize for events. How did you even think up this concept for the business?
JK: We took a very intentional approach to staying out of the reseller/wholesale stockists market because we really wanted to make sure that, in the end, we could provide the best value for our customers. In the end, that’s all that keeps you coming back to a brand, right? A style can change every season for different brands, but we’re not trying to make a brand signature style. We’re creating a brand with longevity that hopefully people will keep coming back to.
*laughs* The “Ghost in the Shell” reference… that’s pretty esoteric. But also really eerie and coincidental considering how this brand came to be.
It’s the whole “Deus Ex Machina” idea of it all, right? We’ve played upon those themes quite a lot in the lifestyle photography and the writing, copy, and most recently, our second collection is very technical in nature and therefore tech-inspired. But wow – I think that’s a really good metaphor for what we’re doing.
I don’t want to push this a direction it may not be, but would you classify ONU as “techwear”? Or is it technical apparel that’s bordering that space? I know “techwear” has a certain connotation in fashion as a whole.
JK: That’s why we’re working to create our own category of “EveryWear.” Hopefully, as time progresses, that will become a coined term. You know, “athleisure” had to come from somewhere, right? It’s not just about the certain demographics that already exist – we’d rather create one.
For example, women don’t have their own techwear space really. There are a couple little pockets here and there, but we wanted to really grow that out for women with Collection 2. So, we made their stuff as dope as possible.
The Qipao dress? It’s insane.
TM: Right?! Every piece is thoughtfully designed, conceived, and has just so much going on that it’s really difficult to encapsulate the whole collection into a simple theme. I think that’s why the techwear community has been latching on to us We’ve designed things in a way that it can reference certain styles – we reference “Blade Runner” in a lot of our photography, for instance, with the neon and neo-noir themes – but it can also fit normally with someone who’s just at work.
In that way, we are trying to be versatile, truly, in the clothes themselves from a utilitarian point of view, but also versatile in style. So yeah, the visual part [of techwear] isn’t nearly as important to us.
Who – or what brands - would you say are your real contemporaries in the space? Some pieces immediately take me to Arc’teryx Veilance, then there are others like the Membrane Pullover that are perhaps more on the Stone Island side.
TM: I think we’re talking about brands that are mostly menswear. I don’t think there’s really a competitive brand on the women’s side – Lululemon Lab does some cool stuff, definitely. They do have some interesting pieces, but the composition of their textiles isn’t really anything new.
JK: We don’t see many brands really innovating with any experimental technologies as much as they are experimenting with shapes and patterns. For us, we don’t really have other brands that are precisely in our space.
For instance, you mentioned Stone Island. There’s relevance there. Of course, there’s ACRONYM, and ACG, and there’s a lot of reference there. And then there’s NikeLab, which is definitely very relevant to us. Outlier is a huge one on the men’s side. And [Arc’teryx Veilance] is close to us – Snowpeak, as well.
So, I guess it’s more like other brands that are working with some of the same technology that we’re close within the space. But style-wise? That’s a tough one, man.
PL: From the very beginning, we noticed that there was not another brand that incorporated all three as very strong pillars of their company and of their vision. We knew from the get-go that there wasn’t anyone going to be like us, particularly in the space that we wanted to create.
We pick and choose what we like in other companies, whether that’s the performance here or the aesthetic value there, and we really amalgamate that into something that’s truly our own and unique. That’s kind of been the goal.
That’s a good place to be in.
JK: But also, this is not the endgame for us. There are going to be a couple “next steps” for the company, and this [the current state of ONU apparel] is just one component of a larger company we want to build out.
So where do you see ONU in the Year 2020?
TM: (without hesitation) I see us working with KAAREM. *laughs*
We’ve got our calendar pretty tight up until then. KAAREM will be working with us in 2020 – they’re an amazing brand, I mean the way they go about creating their garments is just incredible.
JK: There’s not much we can go into about it, but it is a collaboration with another brand as opposed to a single designer. That’s the future of where we’re going. We will be expanding our business along more of the business-to-business side as well. For instance, the technologies that we develop – those fabrics like Synthmere – we’ll be able to have those available for other companies to use. We want to be able to do this R&D and not just hoard it for ourselves, but eventually be able to open it up and to share this knowledge with other brands that get into this space.
TM: Right. Because somebody might be able to do something amazing with something we created that we would never think about. It’s far from us to stop somebody from doing something super dope for people to have.
JK: I mean, that’s how we started with a lot of our stuff, too. Like those laser lace shorts that you mentioned were a great example of this: why not have the mesh pattern and it be a lace, and have that have some sort of utility to it? And then why not have it be like a skort instead of just a skirt? Taking something that already exists, flipping it, adding a unique perspective to it.
But of course, ONU’s going to push that boundary first.
TM: This is almost like our test for the people that we want to eventually release it to.
Almost like Arc’teryx and GORE-TEX Pro Shell?
JK: Exactly. We’re lucky because we don’t have to deal with the crazy minimum order quantities that big brands do – they can’t even make decisions or have access to the libraries that we do just because it’s cost-prohibitive.
TM: Yeah, it’s really cool. Sometimes, you see the stuff made and get it in hand and it’s like “oh my god, we made this!”
JK: It’s almost like, “what do we do with this?” As opposed to the designer getting a couple of swatches and being told “here, pick.”
I know the brand is still young, but to wrap it up, what’s your favorite piece that ONU has ever created?
JK: The men’s stretch shorts. I wore them all summer, literally all summer long almost every day, and they’re the best pair of shorts I’ve ever owned. The shorts are all bonded around the leg-holes so you don’t have the extra weight of the seams weighing you down. All summer, my friends were like, “are you still wearing those same shorts?”
TM: My favorite is the Merino T-Shirt from the first collection. I think that piece in itself is incredibly versatile. Being a traveler, you really can take that with you and go run through the jungle, go climbing in it, but then you can also go out to dinner because of the Bemis that’s on it. It makes it look really premium. Paul, what’s your favorite piece?
PL: It would have to be is the latest jacket we just released, both the men’s and women’s. For me, it’s a testament to where this company is going. Each collection, each item we go for is going to try to one-up the last, and the jacket really was a big step because I never expected to be able to make something so amazing, so soon in ONU’s lifetime. Being able to push that boundary – not the way that it looks, but the energy, the love that went into it – that’s what really makes it my favorite piece right now.
Finally: unrelated, but I ask this to everyone I interview. What is your all-time favorite pair of sneakers?
TM: Nike Gyakusou Lunarspider LT 2’s, 2010. Done. That is my hands-down, favorite pair of sneakers that Gyakusou has ever produced. And they don’t even carry the Lunarspider LT 2’s anymore! They were kicked out by Nike in 2012, and it’s so annoying.
JK: *laughing* Which one of us is the designer? Take your guess.
PL: I have mine – the adidas Stan Smiths that were made with Primeknit. These were the very first sneakers I had that used that knitted woven material, and that just blew my mind. They were so much better than any other sneaker I had owned in terms of comfort, and to me, that was just an evolution of the material.
JK: And mine is really similar. Mine is the Nike Flyknit Racer. They have just been the most revolutionary shoe for me over the years. I’m a bit of a sneakerhead, and these just completely changed the game for me. I like the Oreo’s the best – they’re just super pretty. They go with everything.
The following was the cover story of the Spring/Summer 2017 "Art of Fashion" print edition of SHEI Magazine. All rights reserved by owner.
While most high schoolers pinch pennies to buy fresh threads, Zwade Devenish had a different plan for that spare change on his dresser: “I saved my allowances from 9th to 11th grade because I wanted to make clothes,” he laughs. “I had money saved up, wanted to do a collection, but had no idea how to do it. So I just ran into a fabric store and started buying by feeling.”
For Zwade, those two years of saving – and that one fateful afternoon where his senses led the way – have blossomed into nearly a decade of following the passion that stoked his high school frugality all those years ago: designing beautiful, sensuous clothes. With a resume that includes experience at the world’s most buzzworthy names in streetwear (Billionaire Boys Club) and luxury (YEEZY), to his own personal line of private client couture (the eponymous “Zwade Devenish”), it’s easy to forget that the artist himself is not yet 30. Talk to him about his art, and that temporary amnesia becomes a borderline gaslighting: there’s no way someone this skilled, this dynamic wasn’t alive for the “Seinfeld” premiere.
Yet, to call Zwade Devenish a “prodigy” is to sell short the countless hours of hard work that have enabled his craft. Michael Jordan was cut from his middle school basketball team; it was the thousands of midnight three-pointers, not raw talent, that crafted the sport’s greatest player. Here, in a world every bit as glamorous as championship sports, is another phenom forged through their passion and devotion to pure human potential. As Devenish prepares for a busy spring season, SHEI Magazine sat down with Zwade to talk about his triumphs, his inspirations, and clothing as art.
AR: Tell me a little bit about how you got started in fashion.
ZD: I met this counselor in high school, a woman named Tracy Karas – she saw my work sketching and designing junior year of high school, and really believed in me. One day, she told me that “this guy Chris [Bevans] and Billionaire Boys Club are going to be at this [NYC Teen Live] event.” I felt like the stars were aligning. I shot my collection, brought photos, and went. Chris gets up to speak, and at the end - as people are asking him questions – the moderator, a woman named Bevy Smith, turns to him and says: “This guy in the back was the first one in the room. You should ask him a question.”
That guy was me.
I forget what he asked me, but after his Q&A we spoke briefly, and I showed him the photos of my collection. He wasn’t just nice to me – he was legitimately impressed. He looked over everything I designed, turned to me, and said: “For you to be thinking on this level is f*cking crazy.”
I was so nervous - this was someone in the industry that understands my work and respects it! We talked a little bit more after, then he told me flat out: “you should come to Billionaire Boys Club.” I started working in fashion professionally, when Chris [Bevans] discovered me.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Since forever. I was born in Trinidad, and my Mom owned a boutique. I would spend a lot of time in there and see what type of projects she was working on. I was fascinated with how a garment was executed – I’d see a lady in town wearing something, and just wonder how it was made.
That fascination stayed with me when I moved to the US. In high school, I saved my allowances from 9th to 11th grade because I wanted to make clothes. There’s a quote from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: “Preparation meets opportunity.” I had money saved up, wanted to do a collection, but had no idea how to do it. So I just ran into a fabric store and started buying by feeling. I only had two garments [out of eight] sketched, but ended up choosing materials for every piece entirely by what I visualized in my head. Then, I made my first collection. That was Spring/Summer 2013.
Tell me about your first fashion internship with Billionaire Boys Club. This was at Roc Nation HQ in New York, right? What was it like to be there, in that environment, surrounded by that incredible creative team?
It was really DOPE. *laughs*
I learned so much from Chris himself. Chris and the BBC team had me involved in every part of the brand from designing and styling lookbooks, to communicating with factories and making sure our samples were in on time. One of the things he taught me early on was that your schedule can be so demanding, but if you really love what you do, none of it matters. I also learned how important it is to be ahead of everything. It doesn’t matter what’s trending now – at BBC, we were focused on the bigger picture. We were pushing brands forward.
Usually you think of internships as “grab coffee” or “run to the store”, but they had me actually working in fashion. That’s how me and Chris really built a relationship – I’ve seen people my age feel so entitled [at internships], but those people crash and burn. I just went in there and went to work. I didn’t jump in there and start taking pictures for my Instagram, like “Yo here’s me with Pharrell! Here’s me at BBC!” I was just part of the team.
Related, but I also learned how to be around celebrities/high profile people and not be shook up about it. Those relationships mean so much to me now going forward, too.
Your personal line, “Zwade Devenish”, has some truly elegant – even, dare I say, artful - pieces. What inspires such exquisite, ornamental work?
I don’t even know where to start. I’m really inspired by Rhianna, Naomi Cambell, and Cassie - those women exude confidence. They could wear a garbage bag and just be killing it. I always tell people that I design for a woman who is confident in her skin, but comfortable in her clothes. It’s not really about me [as the designer] – it’s all about how YOU wear the garment.
Sometimes I’m inspired by music, sometimes I look at Naomi’s catwalk and think “I got it.” I might listen to a Rhianna album, try to understand her mood, and think “she’d rock this.” I’m also inspired by the mystery of Cassie: you don’t see her, but you know her. But ultimately, I’m focused on the customer. Sometimes I go over to Chelsea, see a woman walking down the street and just think “that’s the woman who wears my clothes.”
I know Naomi’s got one of my garments, and I can’t wait for her to wear it. *laughs* I’ve never been starstruck, but I was then. Naomi Campbell is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous.
AR: Fashion occupies a dual role in our society: it’s both legally necessary (outside of a nudist beach) and a medium of artistic expression. What’s your take on clothing as art?
Clothing is art. Point blank. The end.
We’re gonna be buried in clothes. It’s just so important. When I design, I understand that clothing is an artistic expression of someone’s feelings or mood.
It’s almost like looking at someone’s playlist. They listen to A$AP Rocky, they listen to Future – ok, they like trap. If they’re wearing Celine shades and a Goyard bag, mixing brands but doing it well, then you just know they understand fashion.
Take Alexander McQueen, my favorite designer – you can’t look at his garments and not think that they’re art. I remember reading this interview with him where he said he was just inspired by this certain natural scene he saw and created an entire collection based on that. That’s art. And it’s one of his dopest collections ever.
Zwade Devenish has, for the first time, entered the menswear world. What are some of the challenges that come with adopting “fashion as art” for a male audience?
It’s totally different. I wouldn’t say I’m “adapting” to menswear because somehow I get involved with mens clothes at every turn. However, to my heart, I’m a womenswear designer. Every blue moon, every time I get inspired, I come out with a few pieces for men.
The aesthetics are different because my customer is different. My male customer is chill, as opposed to my female customer who is sophisticated with an edge. I personally enjoy working for females more.
In the year 2020, what does success look like for the Zwade Devenish brand?
Giving back. I went to junior high school in Brooklyn then high school on the Lower East Side, but I really wanted to go to [The High School of] Fashion Industries or Art and Design High School [two application-only high schools in New York City]. I was declined from both schools. Now, Art and Design has reached out about me coming in as a guest speaker for their students. I think it’s really dope that I can come have a live Q&A and speak to the students, telling them about how it all works, even at a place that turned me down. Success for me is about reaching out to those kids who really want to work in fashion or the arts.
In fashion, your chances are always slim to none. My story is slim to none. There were no opportunities for fashion in Brooklyn, so I had to go out and find it. Chris didn’t come to my school, I had to go out and find him. So it’s really important to go out and tell the kids “do your research, find things out.” That’s my way of giving back.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you also worked on the YEEZY Season 1 collection with Kanye West – not much of that distressed sportswear vibe is present in your current aesthetic. How did that experience shape you as a designer?
A LOT. Because Kanye is really artistic, really an artist, a real real artist. *laughs*
[Working on YEEZY meant] switching gears in terms of being at BBC. There, we were always on the computer, [whereas with] Kanye we were actually cutting and sewing. A Zwade garment is executed cut and sew, so it was my style. I also learned the importance of mood boards – how to work a mood board, but still get the garment done on time.
I apply a lot of what I learned at YEEZY to Zwade [Devenish] - that street aesthetic, but still in cut and sew. I’m in that constant battle between being urban, but also chic and sophisticated. Working on YEEZY taught me how to build that reference. You’re wearing YEEZY to the airport, but once you get off the plane and go to the Ritz, you’re wearing Zwade. My customer is a traveling woman, so it’s important to understand all parts of her lifestyle. Working at BBC and YEEZY [two international, mass consumer brands] taught me a lot about that.
I hate thinking like that all the time because it might cripple the art of it, but that’s the part of being a designer. You have to bring function. McQueen didn’t bring in function at all, and that’s why his pieces are in museums now.
*laughs* But no one’s gonna wear his dress to the airport.
One final question: since this is the “Art of Fashion” issue, what’s the one fashion show that moved you the most?
Givenchy Fall 2011/2012 collection. Ricardo Tisci [Givenchy Creative Director, 2005-2017] was using pearls on mesh fabric, and everything was hand-sewn and hand-beaded. The pure technicality of making those garments was very, very hard. A collection like that can be hit or miss, but it wasn’t a miss for him. The silhouettes were simple, functional, and above all, artistic. Managing all those three - that’s hard to do. But Ricardo Tisci at Givenchy really killed it!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
A special thank you to Mr. Zwade Devenish for making this interview possible. Learn more about “Zwade Devenish”, his by-appointment-only women’s couture line, at ZwadeDevenish.com or follow @zwadedevenish on Instagram.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 edition of SHIFT Magazine. Photos by Courtney Evans.
Coco Chanel was inspired by equestrianism. Hermès became famous for its saddlery. Fitting, then, that the story of Lazlo (Detroit’s own eco-conscious luxury line) begins with a horse.
Under the charcoal overcast of a winter’s noon, Lazlo co-founder Christian Birky reflects on the first time he felt compelled to do better: “I grew up on the west side of Michigan, and a bunch of neighbors asked me to mow their lawn. At first I thought ‘yes! This is gonna be great! I’ll get to drive a tractor, make some money.’ Then I found out that gas mowers polluted 40 times faster than cars because they had no emissions regulations at the time.”
Rather than turn a blind eye to their noxious output, Birky and his sister - then ages and 10 and 12 - borrowed money from their parents to buy a cart-mounted Amish mower. Then, they bought a pony to pull it. “That was my first big step into what you’d call now call ‘social entrepreneurism,’ said Birky, both bashful and rightfully proud. “But for us, it was just saying ‘the way that we do things isn’t necessarily the best.’”
Their eco-friendly lawn service would soon take the Birky siblings from small town Michigan to helping the UN plan sustainable development conferences, and eventually, on to some of the world’s top universities. But for Christian, the same desires that led him to redefine his summer lawn job – undo the ordinary, apply creativity, benefit humanity – burned as strong as ever. That’s why, when a senior year closet inventory turned up only sweatshop-made shirts, he again felt compelled to action.
After graduating, Birky (with his sister as business partner) set out once again to undo the ordinary. Their goal: create the world’s best t-shirt – a garment so luxurious in every dimension (fabric; fit; manufacture) you’ll buy it to treasure as well as to wear. In essence, the opposite of the disposable shirts that cram both our closets and our landfills. Choosing Detroit as a home and employing rehabilitated prisoners as fair-wage clothiers (see: “benefit humanity”), the Birky siblings have once again to set out to improve their world. Earlier this winter, SHEI visited Christian at his workshop inside the fortuitously-named “Ponyride” space to talk fashion, sustainability, and the luxury of a life well-lived.
AR: Can you tell me about Pony Ride as a community brand within Detroit? Do you feel like people are starting to “catch the bug”?
CB: It’s a really strong community – we all support each other. I’ve learned a lot from people in the building, whether it’s trading t-shirts for coffee, or whether it’s getting help from the guys downstairs in the woodshop, it’s really a strong community, and I think people outside of it see that.
Could you talk about some of the collaboration that’s happening between different businesses here? Not just fashion labels throwing labels on each other, either - I get a sense there’s something deeper within Pony Ride.
When Detroit Denim was here, they wanted to make an amazing belt. So, they did the leather, and they had the smith shop downstairs make a custom belt buckle. It was beautiful. We’ve also done some shirts from our TBD line that Detroit is the New Black printed on, and those have been selling well. A lot of it is just in being around other creative people. The building just has an ethos of bringing people together from different creative fields, and more around a shared set of values as opposed to just “I do fashion” or “I do concrete.”
Tell me more about how you came to do fashion.
I think we should back it up first, just so I can frame this better:
So I started with Lazlo, trying to make “the perfect t-shirt” – the best tee in the world. I really wanted to expand what this idea of “best” might look like, and use one simple item as a model to show what we might be moving towards as an industry. To us, “best” means: where’s it made and who’s it made by? It’s made in Detroit, and we’re working with the Department of Corrections to hire people that learned to sew while they were in prison. We’ve already hired one person out of that program – Aaron, who spent 22 years in prison then got out and joined us about a year ago.
My background is actually in social environment justice. When I was a kid, my sister and I started an Earth-friendly lawn service. I grew up on the west side of Michigan, and a bunch of neighbors asked me to mow their lawn. At first I thought “yes! This is gonna be great! I’ll get to drive a tractor, make some money.” Then I found out that gas mowers polluted 40 times faster than cars because they had no emissions regulations at the time.
Well, I didn’t want to breathe that, and I didn’t want to put that into the environment. So, with some help from our parents, my sister and I borrowed some money and bought an old-fashioned, Amish-made lawn mower pulled by a pony.
Did you use an actual pony? Where did you even get the pony?
We, uh…. We bought it. *laughs*
That was my first big step into what you’d call now call “social entrepreneurism.” But for us, it was just saying “the way that we do things isn’t necessarily the best or the right things.” The hard part is making the decision to do something different, not necessarily finding or doing it.
And, because we were doing something unique, we got to have thousands of conversations about the impact of our choices that even led to working with the UN. I helped plan and run a conference for 500 kids from 100 different countries around the world. That was when I was 13.
That continued through college. During my senior year, actually, I realized I had done all of this work and had a closet filled with stuff made by modern slaves in toxic conditions. Like, a total disconnect between what I’m wearing and how I’m trying to live my life. At the same time I was figuring that all out, I was writing my thesis on prison policy and found myself really bored in the politics space. I’ve always been interested in more “on the ground” creative solutions to big problems as opposed to staying in the theoretical “policy” realm.
That led to me just looking everywhere for sustainable clothing options, but not finding enough and not necessarily ones that I was really excited about either. I just remember thinking that if I can feel guilty about wearing something made in a sweatshop, I can probably feel amazing about wearing something made sustainably.
And that led you to Lazlo.
The line [LAZLO] started with 30 items that I sketched out, then I got it down to 7, and then I realized “I have no idea what I’m doing” so I decided to start out with a white t-shirt and said “we’re gonna take each piece and do it as well as possible.”
We just released a second line called “TBD” that’s mens and womens t-shirts and sweatshirts, still made here, still 100% American made, sustainability is still at the core of it, but we’ve taken out the “luxury” and simplified the construction to use – while still great – a lot less expensive fabrics. If Lazlo is “no holds barred,” doing absolutely everything we can without any thought regard to price, TBD is “how can we find a balance of quality and sustainability?”
So a temporary “sweet spot?”
We’re still learning like crazy. We’ll figure stuff out. *laughs*
What does the distribution look like for both lines? It sounds like Lazlo is something you’d have to discover then seek out, whereas TBD is going for a lower, more accessible “contemporary” price point.
Right now, Lazlo is selling in a store in Grand Rapids called A.K. Rikks. A year ago, they were named one of the 10 most influential menswear stores in the world. This year, I’ve been to stores in New York and L.A. and Stockholm and Copenhagen and Amsterdam and… A.K. Rikks is on par if not better than anything I’ve seen.
As for TBD, we’re keeping it online only. Moreso, if Lazlo is for the people that really care about what they wear, TBD is – we hope – the go-to for people who just want simple, sustainable apparel. I think minimalism – both as a design aesthetic and as a lifestyle – is only going to explode.
What are some of your inspirations behind these collections? Not just for the minimal clothing, but for the minimal lifestyle as well.
This is, I guess, a humblebrag in some ways, but this spring I won an award as one of the leading young innovators in the global garment industry. I got to go up to Copenhagen to the biggest sustainable fashion event in the world. Spending time in Copenhagen was like “ok, these are who we’re going after with Lazlo.” In a lot of Scandinavia, people aren’t buying flashy things, they’re buying quality. These timeless, simple, quality pieces with great stories.
There’s a lot of luxury fashion that’s going after massive logos, embroidery, like the kind of the stuff that Gucci’s doing right now. All those things that are super hot right now but in a few years are going to just look ridiculous. So, for us, it means staying away from the trendy, hype-driven fashion scene and really finding those regions and places that appreciate details.
I think Scandinavia and Japan are the parts of the world that I’m really interested in. I mean, I love Norse Projects. Then, visvim (from Japan) is probably one of my favorite – if not my favorite – brand.
I noticed the “Deconstructed” New Balances on the way in, so I figured you were all about the “pared back” aesthetic.
*laughs* Yeah, yeah, exactly. I’m a big fan of Today Clothing in Ann Arbor. It’s people like them [Kevin and Eric of Today Clothing] who’ve made this possible. I spend a lot of time in there just hanging out, asking questions, and I’ve just learned so much.
I’m a big fan of planning out what your purchases are for the next year. I’m like “okay, I need a great jacket. I’m gonna buy a timeless jacket so it doesn’t matter if it’s one season older. It’s more like looking ahead so I can get the few pieces that I’m very excited about instead of the trendy crap that I’m gonna wear a few times, then throw away.
It’s like fast food. Eventually, you’re gonna hit a point where it just doesn’t appeal to you. That’s how fast fashion has gotten to me.
I would say, in many ways, that’s the core of Lazlo: let’s make things that bring a lot of joy to people that get it. So, every time I put on this Lazlo t-shirt, I feel amazing. And I put it on every day.
*laughs* Not this exact shirt, though. I own more than one.
Going back to your point about networks within Michigan – A.K. Rikks in Grand Rapids, people like Kevin and Eric at Today Clothing – do you feel like being in Detroit, Michigan as opposed to Denmark, or Tokyo, or even New York has been more of a benefit or an opportunity cost for Lazlo?
It’s a mixed bag. One of the things that’s been huge is that it’s cheap enough here that we’ve had the time to get things right. Over two years into this, there’s now some pressure to build momentum, but we’ve been able to really dive into the craft in a way that perhaps we wouldn’t have within a city like New York or LA.
At the same time, the networks just aren’t here. I mean, the market’s just not as big, especially in a thing like luxury fashion. The Midwest in general doesn’t have the same emphasis as either of the coasts or Europe.
I’ve done a fair amount of travel this year which has been really, really helpful, but Detroit just has this energy about it. I don’t know whether we all just wanted to be here so we pretend that we feel it, or if it’s actually just that strong, but everyone is here for a reason.
So I recently talked to Shinola CEO Tom Lewand about the story of Detroit has helped their brand grow globally, and he mentioned that outside of North America, the Detroit brand just doesn’t really carry clout. As Lazlo looks to expand, how much of a focus are you placing on the story vs. the product itself?
We’ve said from Day One that product has to be good enough that it could sit on any shelf and people would buy it without knowing the story behind it. We haven’t figured it out, but we have been very conscious that people won’t buy Lazlo because it’s from Detroit, they’ll buy it because they love it. So Detroit’s a part of our story, the sustainability’s part of our story, but it’s gotta be about great products.
I think with this city, the potential is sky-high and the problems are sadly still a whole lot more prevalent than we think. You forget that the bad stuff is still very present and real.
But then, you get to bring people like Aaron along for the ride.
Oh yeah! And that’s wonderful. He’s got this amazing smile. *laughs*
So when we interviewed him for the first time, he was still in prison so we had to do it over Skype. He didn’t stop smiling the entire time. And we just knew. We were just like “this is the guy.” It’s great. He calls me out every time I come into work with not a lot of energy. I’ll just come in, and he’ll be like “where’s your energy at, boss?”
There’s four of us on the team right now – me, my sister, Aaron, and Catherine, who actually went to U of M. None of us have any experience working in a production fashion house or a factory, so we’ve been learning the fashion piece from scratch. It’s been a lot of fun.
Luxury is superfluous by definition - so why is a survival parka designed for Arctic explorers suddenly this season's must-have? For the latest edition of THE PLAYBOOK by Greats Brand, we broke down the contradiction of "luxury utility" all while showing off the latest in winter styling. Read the full story (and see more photos) at the link here.
A special thank you to Benji Bear for shooting this article's photos.
The following article was originally published February 4, 2017 on SHEImagazine.com.
Last week, I skipped my Social Media Marketing class to run Instagram for a brand during their New York Fashion Week debut. And that was just the beginning. Here’s what happened on the craziest, most energizing day of my life:
6:00am: The first of five alarms rings. Although I went to bed “early” by collegiate standards, I’m waking up even earlier. Outside my window, the inky indigo predawn filters through New York skyscrapers. Inside my window, I’m scrolling through social media, clinging desperately to my consciousness and praying my eyelids stay open. The second of five alarms rings. Time to go to work.
6:30am: One final check of my bags before I jump in the shower. Packing for this trip was more actuarial than inspired, and so, my prepared checklist guides this last count while my tired brain struggles to reboot. Camera? Check. Chargers? Check. Tripod? Check. We’re in business. Clothes laid out and bags properly combed through, I can finally groom myself.
6:45am: The third of five alarms rings. I step out of the shower and get dressed, exactly on schedule. By now, at least one neuron is awake and firing, and so my mind is free to direct itself toward priorities off the checklist in my pocket. Chief among those: man am I hungry.
7:00am: I grab an omelet, coffee, and a muffin right by the 1 Train. By some pure stroke of luck, I’m running enough ahead this morning to linger over breakfast. I unset alarm #4 ahead of its trigger point, open the WSJ app, and dive into today’s events. Before long, I’ll be ripped back into reality. For now, I have warm food and the glow of my smartphone.
7:30am: The fifth of five alarms rings. In T+2, I’m waiting for a downtown 1 Train.
7:50am: Above ground on 14th Street Station. Bags in tow, this young man goes West.
7:59am: Arrive at Samsung’s 837 NYC space on Washington Street, one minute in advance of “be at the venue by 8am.” A Samsung security guard checks my name off a list and hands me a wristband. I do not, however, receive any bonus points for being early.
8:00am: Five hours ‘til showtime. I meet up with the DYNE team, receive my headset and my instructions. I’ll be running Instagram, Facebook, and Facebook Live during the show itself, but for now, I am an extra set of hands. The earpiece buzzes to life, and like that, I’m in motion.
8:15am: Task #1: set every device in the space to DYNE’s website. Armed with an NFC chip (more on this later), an hour of touch screen swipe-to-type becomes 10 minutes of “tap device, then find the next.” This is some seriously cool tech.
8:30am: I meet Nabill and Sheroid, two of the other guys helping DYNE out with the show. We shoot the shit, complain about the snow outside, then it’s back to work. Nabill and I float around with our DSLR’s, getting as much content as possible for later web use; Sheroid, a fashion designer himself, talks to the stylists to see if they need a hand. Even during this self-directed work time, the three of us are on alert for the slightest buzz of the earpiece. If God calls, we (collectively referred to as “I need somebody”) must answer. It is equal parts tense and invigorating.
9:30am: I get the Samsung devices I’ll be using to cover today’s show. Since we are in the 837 NYC space (Samsung’s gorgeous experiential retail footprint, just north of Meatpacking), anything “i” is strictly verboten. BJ, Dyne’s marketing manager, logs me into the company’s official social accounts before handing off my Galaxy. This is happening.
10:00am: I test out Facebook Live video using the Galaxy and my tripod. Live video is all about timed “fire and forget”: set up, hit play, change angles every so often. For this test, I set the camera up backstage and put 5 minutes on my watch. As the video played, I could still move around with my DSLR – or, when it came to show time, the “Instagram Live” phone currently occupying pocket #3 on my Nike ACG cargoes. I’m not sure “carry 3 phones and a mobile battery” is what Errolson had in mind when he designed these pants, but hey, if the slipper fits.
10:05am: Live test ends. Just as I move the tripod, my earpiece sparks to life: “I need someone to run and grab cases of water.”
10:10am: Nabil, Sheroid, and I are speed-walking towards Google’s algorithmic output for “grocery store near me.” Not that we’re late or anything – it just happens to be 20 degrees with reduced visibility. With Maps as our eyes and hands tucked in pockets, the 3 of us walk 6 blocks to grab 4 cases of H2O. Nabil: “At least the water will be cold when we get back.” Silver linings, indeed.
11:00am: We get back just in time to catch the 11:00 show rehearsal. Chris, Ryan, and the entire DYNE team run through technical details as the Samsung team begins prepping the venue for the real deal at 1pm. Mr. Jeremy Ellis (the beatmaker for The Roots) holds it down, mixing live in front of rows of not-yet-styled models. For a dry run, this is explosive. T-3 hours until show time.
11:15am: It’s a little after 8am on the West Coast, and DYNE’s Portland-based audience should just be settling into the morning. I fire off my first round of 3 Instagram photos – all exclusive, behind-the-scenes shots, exported from camera to Phone 2 via Nikon’s wireless utility. If the 30 foot video screen didn’t sell it, today is all about the tech. With that, phone 2 goes back into its pocket, and back comes the DSLR.
11:20am: As the models are dressed and styled, Ryan directs a lookbook shoot with a snow-covered skyline in the backdrop. From my perspective, this weather could not be better. For a technical sportswear brand launching a Fall/Winter collection, an icy cityscape as backdrop just can’t be beat.
11:50am: After half an hour of odd jobs, my earpiece is back: “Alex, meet me on first floor.” I now have a duty. Since delivery will take too long in the snow, I’m the lunch gopher. I take Jeremy’s order, turn my earpiece to high, and book it to the West Village to pick up lunch. Even 5 blocks out, my walkie-talkie is coming through loud and clear. Moe, DYNE’s master manager and all-around operations guy, calls out both a warning and a rally cry: “One hour til showtime!”
12:05pm: Juggling lunch orders and my own once-banned “i" device, I send up round 2 of behind-the-scenes photos, this time, including a callout: “Watch the show live on Instagram at 1pm EST.” One hour ‘til showtime, indeed.
12:30pm: I fist-bump Jeremy from The Roots. Intern (literally) delivers.
12:40pm: I find my checklist from earlier, grab my backpack, and start loading up for go time. Tripod? Check. Mobile batteries? Check. Phone? Check. Phone? Check. You get the idea. Everywhere backstage, both models and DYNE staff are loading up devices with the NFC (or, Near-Field Communication) tech at work.
In short: the NFC chip in each DYNE garment pushes a signal to your phone that activates a web experience, tailored specifically to the item you’re wearing. Unlike Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require you to “buy in” to a battery-wasting signal, either – just placing your phone on your clothing’s chip activates the mobile experience for each. For a running jacket, the NFC experience may be local weather radar and a curated workout playlist. For others, it may literally drag you through a Flux Capacitor into a shiny, technocratic future – at least, that’s how it feels.
12:45pm: BJ, Moe, and I touch base on expectations for coverage as models, stylists, and 100 other moving parts swirl around the whole of backstage. Eugene Tong (THE Eugene Tong) rushes by, while Chris gives everything a final nod. The energy is intoxicating, and best measured in kilotons.
Camera on neck and gear in hand, I head down to the stage to set up angles. On my way from third floor to first, I catch a glimpse of the Fashion Week crowd lined up outside. Even with the storm, dozens have come early to be the first to experience DYNE. Exhale, dude. This is it.
12:50pm: “Ten minutes, people. Ten minutes.”
12:55pm: Models are in place. Jeremy Ellis is in place. I’m in place. Blue lights glow; orange lights burn; a thirty-foot video screen blasts video of DYNE in action. I set up the Facebook Live phone on the tripod stage left, the IG Live phone stage right, and take some test shots with the DSLR. Then, for the first time today, I simply sit and wait. In five minutes, this will all take place.
12:59.99pm EST: “Showtime.”
1:00pm: And we’re live.
1:10pm: Switch angles.
1:20pm: Switch angles.
1:30pm: Switch angles.
1:40pm: Walk the floor with the Instagram Live phone. I’m having the best problem I’ve had all day: there are too many people here to get the phone close enough to the models for full-portrait coverage.
Ryan Babenzien sticks me on his IG story, and for a brief moment, the world sees Instagram Liveception. Front and center: my exhausted grin and messy hair. After a 6am wakeup, there are many reasons to be thankful I’m behind the camera.
2:00pm: “That’s a wrap. Great work, everyone.”
Chris takes a bow, joined by his wife and family. Kayt, BJ, Moe, Ryan, and the rest of the DYNE team surround him from just off-stage. From my view in the pit, today was pure adrenaline; for them, the people who made on stage possible, it was so much more. Months of work, hours of prep, and one final sensory overload: world, meet DYNE F/W 17.
2:01pm: I fire off one final round of Instagram posts, and can't help but start smiling.
I haven’t stopped since.
Special thanks to Chris, BJ, Moe, Kayt, and the entire DYNE team for inviting me out. I was not paid to be there - I volunteered my time and paid my own way to support a brand I believe is the future of sportswear. The memories, however, came free of charge.
This week's featured outfit: black chinos, wool overcoat, and the Greats Royale "Black Friday." I built this look around the monochrome contrast within the shoes, keeping my shirt as simple as possible to highlight their features. Then, I chose cotton chinos over jeans to play up the luxury connotation of the shoes' black-white-cream colorway. Finally, I threw on a wool overcoat (in this case, a charcoal grey Lands' End duffel) to better balance the outfit's proportions. It's hard to stand north of six feet without owning extended-length everything.
Long story short, I accidentally dressed like a James Blake album cover. And I'm damn proud of it.
To a whole generation of #internetfashion dweebs, James Blake is one inspirational dude. He may not have the style-cetric stage presence of anyone prefixed A$AP, but his music helped popularize the electro-alternative sound that now burns white hot in many of the same "culture" circles that fashion forums orbit. In my mind, music, fashion, and art are three slices of a congruent whole; an interlocked triumvirate, each part symbiotically necessary to create a complete aesthetic experience.
It's the same reason why fashion shows play music rather than a talk track bleating "Look! Clothes!" - it's also, more relevantly, why Blake's music is in an inextricable feature of the same cultural loop as fashion brands like adidas Originals, TopShop, and Alexander Wang.
James Blake, if you're reading this: "Take A Fall for Me" singlehandedly reignited my love for music. I still get chills hearing it in Hi-Fi.
Also, good call on the whole "stare wistfully in overcoats" thing. I have not yet gathered enough wist to be full enough for the intended effect, but the look is A+ regardless. While it may take me an album release or two to really nail the vibe, considering how often I YouTube "Retrograde" when walking through fog, I like to think there's potential. Until then, however, accidental album cover will have to do.