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The Art Of It: an interview with Zwade Devenish

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The Art Of It: an interview with Zwade Devenish

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.  

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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.

Zwade Devenish presenting one of his gowns to supermodel Naomi Campbell (photo courtesy of the designer)

Zwade Devenish presenting one of his gowns to supermodel Naomi Campbell (photo courtesy of the designer)

 

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. 

A tweed coat from the Zwade Devenish men's collection (photo courtesy of the designer)

A tweed coat from the Zwade Devenish men's collection (photo courtesy of the designer)

 

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.

 

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New York Fashion Week: My Day Behind the Scenes

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New York Fashion Week: My Day Behind the Scenes

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:

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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.

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2:00pm: “That’s a wrap. Great work, everyone.”

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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.

Photo: Nabil Miftahi ( @nvbilll )

Photo: Nabil Miftahi (@nvbilll)

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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.

 

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Self-Loathing Ninja Slippers

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Self-Loathing Ninja Slippers

This week's featured outfit: technical athleisure and the Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto. I pared down the rest of the look to draw attention to the shoes, but made sure to choose pieces with tech detailing (minimal branding, matte neutrals, synthetic fabrics) to play up the context created by the ultra-functional Prestos. The result is somewhere between Arc'teryx and Nike Pro Combat: functional credo, fashion execution, and overall one of my favorite new looks. 

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

The techwear nerd in me wants to use these DYNE Tech Chinos as a foundation to go full GORE-TEX ninja, but every ounce of that Deus Ex internal monologue ends the moment I look down.

I'll put it bluntly: for ninja shoes, the ACRONYM Presto is awful at not being seen. 

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

That's not a bad thing - I actually think the "Neon" colorway rocks. Of this season's three Nike x ACRONYM colorways, this one is undoubtedly the icon. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's objectively one of the strongest Presto colorways ever dropped. Ever since Common Projects started the #whitesneakertrend close to a decade ago, there's been a disturbing lack of risktaking in footwear. Most major collabs are now popular silhouettes decked out in Switzerland-level neutrals, then labeled as valuable due to a "limited release" rather than deriving value from their design merits alone.

Egregious examples include the Livestock Samba, which is - wait for it - a black adidas Samba.

In this context, the Nike x ACRONYM Presto is a breath of fresh air: bold, daring, and still supremely wearable. Paired with these DYNE Linus Sweats, it's a tech-inspired casual shoe rather than a Blade Runner prop. That being said, the shoe sings against all black: the iridescent contrast colors shine like a solar flare against skin-covering neutral pieces, and with a plethora of white/black details to break up the lava lamp toebox, look like deliberate complements rather than a gasoline spill. In short: they look sweet. 

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Which is good. Since you'll be seeing them a lot. 

Seriously. Dressing in all black then strapping into biomorphic mid-tops does feel unquestionably cool, but every now and again, you catch a flash of pink/yellow as you reach down to check your texts. In these brief moments, you grapple regret: the realization sinks in that the limited release you proxy shipped from Germany is a triathlete nun away from Nike's UNLIMITED colorway, and suddenly, you're just a nerdy dude who bought zip-up ninja shoes.

Limited edition zip-up shoes. 

That are visible at night.

You're just a nerdy dude who bought useless ninja shoes.

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

But hey, once the self-loathing subsides, you've got a Nike x ACRONYM Air Presto! And that's not nothing. In fact, in a year saturated by Yeezy drops and yet another "luxury" Air Max, it's one of the best sneaker releases of 2016. Stay tuned for a full review coming soon. But until then, thanks for reading.

 

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A Complete Visual Guide to Spring Jackets

A Complete Visual Guide to Spring Jackets

Flowers are blooming, St. Patrick’s Day is over, and that still-hidden Easter egg is starting to smell. All over the Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung!

The transition between Winter and Summer is defined by many things: snowmelt, pastel colors, and above all else, irrational weather patterns. Dressing for spring is a delicate act that’s both fun and frustrating. On the positive, once-covered skin gets its first Vitamin D in months! On the negative, wide daily temperature ranges and unpredictable weather means a seemingly-contradictory set of wardrobe traits.

The right spring dress is light, breathable, and ideally bright; however, it must also be weather-proof and versatile. After all, that seersucker shirt won't do much to keep you dry when clouds gather. As for stretching your cold-weather garments, I’d seriously think twice before you don a down parka in May. Asking double-duty from your winter coat will leave you schvitzing on a 60-degree afternoon, or one step from goth ninja when it’s 40 and foggy.

Picking the right spring jacket, then, is as much features comparison as it is a personal style choice. Over the next few lines, I’ll walk you through 12 popular jacket archetypes all suited for longer days and sunny afternoons. Each is lightweight and offers varying degrees of weather protection, from “partly cloudy” to “hydrophobic.” Simply read about each, consider your budget, then select the jacket that best fits your needs. Outerwear ahoy.

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Anorak

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In the modern era, “anorak” refers to a lightweight, hooded pullover jacket typically associated with nautical pursuits. Most anorak jackets are made of cotton-nylon blends, then treated with a DWR (“durable water repellent” – think RainX for your jacket) coating to resist weather. This fabric/coating combination will keep you dry during pop-up drizzles, but will quickly “wet out” (or become saturated) in anything longer than 30 minute exposures. I probably wouldn’t pack an anorak for your trip to the Amazon.

As a fashion piece, however, anoraks are second to none. Pullovers provide a visually-interesting silhouette with the added benefit of simpler chest lines than a full-zip alternative. Fjallraven’s High Coast Wind Anorak (above) is my favorite in the segment for its sleek lines and minimal detailing. However, all that sleekness does come with a cost. The traditional pullover anorak sacrifices exterior features for packability. My LL Bean Maritime Anorak, for example, has but three pockets, of which exactly zero are easily-accessible. That being said, it looks phenomenal - which makes it even more tragic that it was discontinued like last year come on L.L Bean take my money.  

My recommendations: Land's End Outrigger Anorak ($), Fjallraven High Coast Wind Anorak ($$), Brattenwear Scout Anorak ($$$)

 

Light Technical Jacket

While anoraks may have been designed for wet climates, these are the first proper rain jackets on our list. “Light technical jackets”, as I’ll refer to them, are defined by a simple formula: nylon exterior fabric, DWR coating, and a 2.5L polyurethane laminate inside to resist whatever water gets through the outside. Whereas the cotton-nylon jackets on this list are potentially compromised by an afternoon shower, light technical jackets are designed for rain exposure. Patagonia’s Torrentshell, for example, will take a full 30-45 minutes of concentrated rain before saturation. Unless you’ve got a reason to be outside and the motivation to stay there, light technical jackets will be more than enough weatherproofing for your daily use.

All this technology doesn’t look half bad, either. Gone are the days of the oversized yellow slicker: modern light tech jackets are trim, athletic, and generally minimal. Streetwear forums gravitate to The North Face’s Venture jacket for its flat front and high-contrast (but unobtrusive) branding. If you have the budget, get the DYNE Life Runner Jacket (above). It was designed by Christopher Bevans, an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, and is as close to “art meets science” as a light jacket will ever get. You can probably tell that I want one.

My recommendations: LL Bean Trail Model ($), The North Face Venture ($), Patagonia Torrentshell ($$), DYNE Runner Jacket ($$$)

 

GORE-TEX Hardshell

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GORE-TEX Hardshells are the Ford Raptor of outerwear: you may never test the full extent of its abilities, and yes, that Honda Fit would’ve been lighter on your wallet… but god damn is this thing fun to own. GORE-TEX is the brand name for a family of textiles imbued with waterproof membranes that are distributed by W.L. Gore & Associates, widely considered the most influential textile innovator of the twentieth century. A GORE-TEX membrane works by exploiting the pressure gradient between you and the inside of your jacket. On the outside of the jacket, a tightly-knit face fabric backed by a PTFE membrane (think 8 billion micropores per square-inch) prevents water from entering. On the inside, the pressure difference between your body’s sweaty microclimate and the outside world pulls your sweat towards – and almost through - the microporous membrane. However, because your sweat droplets are larger than the membrane openings, your sweat is literally vaporized as it’s pulled through the micropores. Science, bitch!

Modern GORE-TEX hardshells look more like body armor than outerwear. While the style isn’t for everyone, GORE-TEX jackets are at home in streetwear, techwear, and even some Americana/outdoors-influenced wardrobes. All that fashion and function does come with a price: GORE-TEX jackets typically start around $300, and climb exponentially from there. Fashion-focused shells from brands like ACRONYM, nanamica, and White Mountaineering can easily hit 4 figures.

Worth noting: the best hardshells in the world are made by Vancouver, BC-based Arc’teryx, the outdoors innovator responsible for the look and fabric behind 99% of the world’s modern technical gear. Arc’teryx is the Blastoise to a light jacket’s Squirtle.    

My recommendations: Patagonia Piolet Jacket ($), Arc’teryx Beta AR ($$), ACRONYM J1A-GT ($$$), nanamica Cruiser ($$$)

 

Mountain Parka

Decades ago, a 60/40 cotton-nylon utility jacket was the peak of mountaineering technology: wind and water-resistant fabrics, heavy duty zippers, and reinforced seams built for trekking. Just the name “Mountain Parka” brings to mind newsreel images of explorers on windswept peaks, conquering the heavens in the name of glory and empire. The traditional Mountain Parka is a zip-front, multi-pocket garment that’s equal parts anorak and military field jacket. In its day, both summit-chasers and weekend hikers alike owned one of these venerable – and functional – jackets.

In the present, Mountain Parkas have become a rugged style piece, due in no small part to their legendary pedigree. The Mountain Parka is the best fashion-meets-function garment on this list – modern iterations are windproof, lightweight, and remarkably handsome for their age. My current favorite is the Penfield Vassan in Navy pictured above: it’s the perfect complement to neutral chinos and leather boots, with all the tech you’d want without any over-the-top features. If I had to choose a single spring jacket, this would be it. 

My recommendations: Uniqlo Mountain Parka ($), Penfield Vassan ($$), Topo Designs Mountain Jacket ($$$)

 

Retro Pile Fleece

Continuing with our celebration of the great outdoors, the Retro Pile Fleece represents all things warm and good about dressing for spring. The archetypal Retro Pile Fleece is made of polyester fleece and abrasion-resistant nylon paneling, designed to take a beating and smile through it. Polyester fleece is warm, breathable, and altogether durable – what’s more, it’s even eco-friendly. Most modern polyester fleece is made from recycled plastics, meaning your new favorite spring jacket helped save shorebirds from castaway soda bottles. That fuzzy feeling you got from saving the planet? A Retro Pile Fleece keeps you warm, inside and out.

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It’s truly hard to go wrong with a fleece jacket. I own multiple, wear them often, and love the comfort and durability of a well-made piece. Some fleece jackets may be a little toasty for 55 degree Spring picnics, but there’s nothing stopping you from shedding a layer when you get warm. As for style selections, stick to the outdoors brands that made fleece famous. Old school-inspired options from Topo Designs (above), Penfield, and Patagonia round out the package, making the Retro Pile Fleece a solid choice for Main Street and mountain trails alike.

My recommendations: Penfield ($), Topo Designs Fleece ($$), Patagonia Synchilla Jacket ($$$), The North Face Denali ($$$)

 

Mac Coat

Backing away from more technical options, our first “fashion-oriented” entry on this list is the Mac Coat. Also known as the Macintosh Jacket after its inventor, Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh, the first version of this eponymous rain coat was produced in 1823. The traditional Mac Coat is a knee-length rain jacket made from laminated fabrics coated in liquid rubber. The result is chic, waterproof, and loooooong. If your winter coat can be described with the adjectives “parka” or “Expedition”, a Mac Coat will feel right at home.

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I often recommend Mac Coats to my tall friends or those with office jobs. For all intents and purposes, it’s the functional equivalent of a “light topcoat”: Mac Coats retain the uninterrupted lines and tailored silhouette of a wool overcoat, without the heavy wool that would boil you during even the coldest March rain. The Mac Coat is right at home in Northeastern Prep/Trad wardrobes. Nearly every major fashion brand, from Gap to Land’s End to Banana Republic, produces a Mac Coat equivalent (similar styles go by the name of “Commuter Coat”, “Car Coat”, etc – just make sure you’re not buying one with winter insulation). For a particularly stylish take on the heritage design, check out the J. Crew Bonded Mac Jacket (above). It’s surprisingly technical, and handsome to boot.

My recommendations: Gap ($), ASOS ($$), Lands End Canvas ($$), J. Crew Bonded Mac Jacket ($$$), Mackintosh ($$$)      

 

Blazer

A refined jacket for a more civilized age. Internet #menswear writing voice aside, blazers really aren’t bad outerwear. They’re warm for their weight; wool is naturally water-resistant; and they’re tailored to accentuate the male silhouette. It sounds clichéd, but blazers just look put-together. Most American traditional brands will produce an exceptionally elevated piece. Own more hoodies than button-ups? No problem. Thanks to modern trends towards fashion casualization, blazers are available in a wide variety of fabrics and fits – it’s not uncommon to see a cotton blazer worn casually, sometimes even paired with a tee and sneakers. In my opinion, it’s hard to beat the classic navy wool. When it’s time to dress up, a notch-lapel blazer says “I mean business, but casually.” Just don’t touch that bottom button.

Off-the-rack blazers are a difficult game. With 95% confidence, even the jacket that “fits” you in the store won’t actually fit you right. And with anything that leans towards business attire, getting it right becomes invaluable. So, if you have the time, I highly recommend Googling “alterations near me” and stopping into your neighborhood tailor before you go shopping. Get measured, shake their hand, and promise to come back in with the jacket that “fits” once you get back from the mall. For a small price, they’ll give you the best-looking jacket on the block (and make it actually fit right, too).

My recommendations: H&M ($), Uniqlo ($) J. Crew ($$), Brooks Brothers ($$$) 

 

 

Denim Jacket

Since Levi Strauss invented the first “Triple Pleat Blouse” sometime in the 1880’s, the riveted indigo jacket has become the unofficial uniform of the frontier. Everyone from Nevada truckers to New York street gangs, Hell’s Angels to fashion designers have adopted the simple garment as a symbol of freedom, self-expression, and power. Punk rockers and auto mechanics don’t agree on much, but this piece of heritage outerwear is as close to universal as it gets. The Denim Jacket is as American as apple pie and counterculture. John Bender, eat your heart out.

Denim Jackets aren’t exactly technical. At its core, it’s simply cotton, metal, and then more cotton. In a world of GORE-TEX and coated nylon, it’s hard to argue that a denim jacket is anything but a fashion piece. That being said, what a piece.

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In my opinion, denim jackets diverge into two distinct genres: workwear and streetwear. The former are heavy, bulky, and generally unadorned. This is where you’ll find names like Levi’s, Naked & Famous, and Double RL (above left). The latter are typically distressed, customized, and designed as statement pieces. Famous examples include jackets by SupremeVisvim, and 424 on Fairfax (above right). Regardless of their expression, the two share a genealogy over 130 years old with one very common result: killer good looks for the Rebel in all of us.

My recommendations: Levi’s Trucker Jacket ($), Naked & Famous ($$), LVC ($$$), Visvim ($$$)

 

 

Leather Jacket

Continuing on our series of “manly coats” is the most testosterone-fueled piece of them all: the Leather Jacket. It would’ve been impossible to write this whole section without the word “badass”, so here goes. Every movie, book, and cultural badass owns a leather jacket. If you too would like to be badass, invest in a leather jacket. As a monument to our evolutionary prowess as a species, wearing the skin of our food is forever entwined with being a badass. James Dean. Easy Rider. Arnold in T2. Wolverine. Fighter pilots. The Road Warrior himself. All badass.

Badassery aside, for the better part of human existence, leather jackets made a lot of sense. Leather is natural, durable, wind-resistant, and readily waterproofed. It’s warm, breathable, and even receptive to stitching. Ethical concerns aside, animal leather makes sense as material for outerwear. There are too many styles of leather jacket to list here, so instead, I’ll use this space and my recommendations to hopefully point you in the right direction. Many of the brands listed make multiple styles of leather jacket, so shop based on budget/use and make your aesthetic choice at the checkout screen.

For style: Urban Outfitters ($), ASOS ($), Schott ($$), Saint Laurent Paris ($$$)

For function: Orvis ($$), LL Bean ($$), Eddie Bauer ($$), Schott ($$$)

For actual motorsports: Alpinestars ($$), Dainese ($$$)

 

Military Jacket

The more I read, the more fascinated I am with what we take for granted. For instance, the “simple” M65 Field Jacket: this olive green, four pocket utility coat was designed to provide US soldiers with a versatile, durable, and camouflaged garment that would keep them safe in the jungles of Vietnam. The original M65 featured a roll-up hood, detachable inner liner, Velcro cuffs, and a full-front brass zipper, many of which were novel features for 1965. Compared to the heavy M51 “Fishtail” parka, the M65 was a paradigm shift. Today, it’s just a “Military Jacket.”

Well, it’s not just a military jacket. Thanks to years of milsurp purchases and fashion design interpretations, the M65 has joined the ranks of the Denim Jacket and Leather Jacket to become an archetypal “masculine” fashion piece. It’s easy to see why: a utility background, attractive features, and good looks in neutral colors make the Military Jacket a menswear go-to. Like the Mac Coat, nearly every label under the sun makes a military jacket, so buy based on budget and shop with confidence. While Alpha Industries makes the original (and still best on the market) M65 Jacket, I own an American Military Jacket (above) that is easily the highest dollar-per-wear jacket I’ve ever bought.

My recommendations: your local Army/Navy ($), American Eagle Military Jacket ($$), Alpha Industries M-65 Field Jacket ($$$)

 

Coaches Jacket

Coaches Jackets continue to perplex me. I just can’t find much real historical evidence to support their athletic pedigree. In futbol, the coaches wear suits; in football, sponsored sportswear; in baseball, team uniforms. Yet, the archetype of a “coaches jacket” now has an identity all its own. The typical coaches jacket consists of a 100% nylon or polyester shell, a cotton liner, drawstrings to fit, and a simple button-front closure. All in all, a deceivingly simple garment that technically offers wind and water resistance. On function alone, they’re nothing special.

Yet, it’s this simplicity that has turned the coaches jacket into a streetwear staple. That unadorned nylon exterior leaves plenty of room for graphics, applique, and all manner of logos – in essence, turning the coaches jacket into an artist’s canvas, the outerwear equivalent of a graphic tee. Nearly every streetwear label produces a coaches jacket with some combination of the following: their name, their logo, a simple center-back graphic, and a dark neutral color scheme. I personally like overstated printed jackets (ex. the SS14 Supreme x The North Face collaboration "Atlas" jackets), but think they take a specific wardrobe to execute well. If you own Vans Old-Skools and know Thrasher as a magazine (not a sweatshirt), a coaches jacket might just be your new favorite spring piece.  

My recommendations: H&M Coaches Jacket ($), Rothco Lined Coaches Jacket ($), HUF Satin Coaches Jacket ($$), Supreme ($$$)

 

 

MA-1 Bomber Jacket

Last but not least: the simple spring jacket that's taken the fashion world by storm. The original MA-1 Flight Jacket (or “Bomber” jacket, as it’s commonly known) entered Air Force service in the 1950’s. At the time, high-density nylon was as cutting-edge as the automatic transmission: light, waterproof, and snag-resistant, the innovative material was a perfect match for high-altitude conditions. The US military wasted no time in outfitting pilots with this novel take on WWII leather jackets. The most iconic colorways of the MA-1 are its original Air Force “Midnight Blue” and the later Army “Sage Green/Orange” popularized by twentieth century youth culture. The recent reemergence of 1960’s era “Souvenir” jackets display a whole other side of this quintessential milsurp-inspired jacket.

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60 years later, bombers have carved out a niche as the streetwear jacket of choice. Thanks to the influence of designers like Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, and Demna Gvesalia (of Vetements fame), the classic MA-1 bomber is the choice of fashion bloggers and creative types alike. Seriously – I challenge you to scroll through any “Fashion Week Street Style” album from the past 5 years without finding at least one MA-1. When a tour merch stand lists a jacket alongside hats and CD’s (ex. Kanye West’s “Yeezus”Travi$ Scott’s “Rodeo”), you know it’s achieved something great. In 2016, the MA-1 jacket is as ubiquitous as Starbucks and Stan Smiths. There’s no way around it: the MA-1 Bomber Jacket is a legend in the making.

My recommendations: H&M ($), Alpha Industries ($$), Stampd ($$), maharishi ($$$), Dries van Noten ($$$)

(A special note: there are tons of jackets that follow the “bomber” genealogy but couldn’t really be characterized as MA-1’s. Varsity jackets, baseball jackets, and souvenir jackets, for example, all retain the general silhouette and details of the MA-1, but riff on the military detailing to establish their own unique identity. In the interest of brevity, I’ve linked to brands/information for each of the above, but will not devote a whole section to what’s truly a minor variation on a theme.)

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There you have it: 12 popular spring jackets, with links and pictures to boot, all curated to help you find your next favorite jacket. Do you agree with the choices? Did I miss your all-time favorite? Comment below or on Facebook here to start the conversation.

AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.