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This story first appeared in the October 18, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
When Lenny Kravitz draped himself in a slinky jersey pullover—matched with leather leggings and leather wedge boots—and stepped out in New York’s SoHo in late September, the androgynous look made headlines.
The inevitable “American Woman” jokes aside, the outfi t was a prominent example of a men’s wear trend that’s taken root among the young and hip, combining elements of Goth, grunge and glam rock—or “glunge,” as some industry prognosticators call it.
“It’s dark, broody and powerful,” says Justin Violini, a former men’s buyer at Gilt.com. “It’s glamorous but not glitzy.”
Advocates of the style include designers Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester, Raf Simons and Mihara Yasuhiro. Americans who have evolved it in their own manner include Richard Chai, Robert Geller, Yigal Azrouël, Andrew Buckler, Nicholas K., Mik Cire and even Tim Hamilton with his Redux label. Among the common elements in the glunge aesthetic are a dark fabric palette, experimental silhouettes and proportions, an emphasis on drape, dropped crotches, hooded shirts, exaggerated necklines and innovative seaming details. “With my own collection, there is always that feeling of it being a bit undone and raw,” notes Chai.
Glunge can be an esoteric approach to dressing. “It’s feminine in that it’s redefi ning traditional masculine tailoring, which has been all about an emphasis on fi t and shape,” explains Andy Salzer, founder of the Yoko Devereaux label. “This newer look is shapeless.”
Eddy Chai, co-founder of the influential Odin stores in New York, sees the Gothic mood pervading men’s fashion as a pendulum shift away from the preppy and heritage sportswear that’s been so prevalent. “This is darker and edgier,” he notes. —David Lipke
The talk of the men’s wear industry lately hasn’t just been fashion trends. Among the most pressing topics is the increased cost of producing in China—by far the largest source of imported clothes and footwear in the U.S.—which is likely to lead to higher prices at retail.
As China modernizes, labor costs have been rapidly rising in factories there as a growing middle class emerges. Wage levels in the crucial Pearl River Delta manufacturing area, for example, increased by an average of 17 percent in the first half of 2010, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
“Labor and transportation cost pressures are a major concern for executives that may be underappreciated by investors,” concluded an August report from Credit Suisse.
China accounted for 37.9 percent of all imported garments to the U.S. in 2009. In footwear, China’s heft is even greater, controlling 76.1 percent of imported shoes to the U.S.
One country that could benefit from China’s rising costs is Mexico. According to HSBC’s September Trade Confidence Index report, “U.S. companies are gaining enthusiasm for trade with Latin America.”
Mexico provides high-quality facilities with proximity to the U.S.—a key factor considering the capacity issues and rising costs related to transporting goods across the Pacific. According to Credit Suisse, speeds of container ships have slowed from an average of 10 days to cross the Pacific to 15 days, as shipping companies aim to lower capacity.
Ropa Siete Leguas, which operates a 2.2-million-square-foot denim production facility in Torreon, Mexico, is picking up new business from brands seeking alternatives to China, says Michael Press, who heads up its U.S. office. The company produces jeans for brands including Ralph Lauren, Gap, Levi’s and its own label, Vintage Revolution. “Companies that we’ve been in discussions with have point-blank said that China is too volatile right now in terms of where costs are going and freight issues,” says Press, “and they don’t want to work with so many unknowns.” —D.L.
The Wet Look
While the Milan runways showed daring Dolce & Gabbana and Dsquared2 swim briefs for spring, a more modest crowd is circling back to the Seventies—and earlier—for its swimwear inspiration.
Sundek, the Italian-owned Seventies California surf brand, has struck up a collaboration with designer Neil Barrett. The swimsuits—to make their debut in 12 stores including Jeffrey, Scoop and Fred Segal in December—will be priced around $165.
In Paris, industry veteran Christophe Verot’s Robinson les Bains label based one of its collections on American collegiate styles from the Fifties and Sixties.
London-based Orlebar Brown favors a tailored approach.”The options men had were the Speedo, which is slightly indecent, or the long boardshort,” says founder Adam Brown. The most popular Orlebar Brown suit in the U.S. is the Setter, a Fifties-style tennis-short length in solid hues. To add in some fun, the brand will feature Eley Kishimoto’s flash prints on its shorts in November. A February collaboration is also in the works with illustrator Alan Aldridge, known as the man with kaleidoscope eyes, for embroidered swimsuits with a Sixties flair. The limited edition 150-pair run will retail for $630. —Suzanne Blecher
Out Of the Past
John Dunn, the costume designer behind Boardwalk Empire, describes 1920—the year in which the HBO series is set—as a postwar “percolating period.”
“There was a little bit of gloominess left over from WWI, but in a place like Atlantic City, people were going there to reinvent themselves,” he explains.
To re-create that spirit, Dunn took inspiration from vintage tailoring books and Sears catalogues. Still, many Boardwalk costumes came straight from the vintage racks. Here, Dunn reveals five of his favorite sources for vintage clothing (the first is in Boston, the rest in New York):
Bobby From Boston
“Bobby is great because Boston is a university-heavy town. His vintage has a tweedy and academic feeling to it,” says Dunn. In the store’s warehouse, not open to the public, he snatched up “some great old tuxedos” for Boardwalk Empire.
Rue St. Denis
“They have a wonderful selection of men’s dead stock [unworn] suits from the Sixties and Seventies. I bought some of the men’s outerwear and suiting at Rue St. Denis for Mad Men when we did the pilot.”
Dunn likes the current selection of shawl-collar work jackets, which he bought for the dock workers in Boardwalk Empire.
What Goes Around Comes Around
“When I did I’m Not There, I found some really great cords and jeans and extraordinary T-shirts, things I bought for Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan.”
David Owens Vintage Clothing
In upcoming episodes of Boardwalk Empire, mob boss Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) “is going to wear an amazing raccoon coat. David is really good at finding things like that. And he’s got an amazing selection of men’s ties from the Fifties and Sixties. He was an important source for Mad Men.” —S.B.
These five style blogs influence several hundred thousand readers a month. Meet the personalities behind the posts.
Founder: Fred Egan Castleberry, 29
Launched: September 2009
Audience: 45,000 unique visitors a month.
Backstory: Dallas-based Castleberry worked in finance and wedding photography before launching his blog on preppy style. “I didn’t grow up in the lifestyle per se of sailing in the Northeast,” he admits. “But I think an outsider has more of a fascination with it.”
The blogging life: Castleberry mixes fashion and lifestyle entries, turning them into short features. Recent items include stories on Assouline’s new tome on the Kennedys and a photo shoot in the vein of Take Ivy, using all African-American models. “I want every image to be beautiful,” he notes. “If you’re going to garner a big readership, you have to do so in a professional manner.”
Business plan: There are unpaid test ads up on the site, which Castleberry is aiming to convert to paid ads soon. “I’m still living off freelance work, doing whatever it takes to pay the bills,” he says.
Founder: Christian Chensvold, 40
Launched: October 2008
Audience: Just under 40,000 unique visitors a month.
Backstory: Chensvold was the founder of Dandyism.net in 2004 before turning his attention to starting up Ivy-Style two years ago.
The blogging life: New York-based Chensvold tends to write long-form posts that are full of research, history and cultural context. That means readers can find full chapters of G. Bruce Boyer’s classic 1985 book Elegance reproduced on the site (with the author’s permission) along with an in-depth interview with True Prep author Lisa Birnbach, published six months before the book came out. “I think blogs play to my strengths as a professional dilettante,” explains Chensvold.
Business plan: “I’m not a businessman. The site pays a few bills,” says Chensvold blithely, although there are ads from the likes of Paul Stuart, J. Press, Bill’s Khakis and Bass shoes on the blog.
Founder: Michael Williams, 32
Launched: December 2007
Audience: 350,000 to 400,000 unique visitors a month.
Backstory: New York-based Williams started the blog as a side project to his full-time job as a partner in the Paul + Williams p.r. agency.
The blogging life: “I always try to write about things that have a certain history or heritage,” says Williams. He recently went to Portugal to write about a new IWC watch and was among the very first to bring to light the recently republished cult book Take Ivy. “It’s sort of dumb luck to have this weird group of skills. You have to have a certain taste level, you have to be technologysavvy, know marketing and how to take pictures,” says Williams.
Business plan: The site has run advertising for Bloomingdale’s, Levi’s, J. Crew, Gant, Billy Reid and Ramblers Way. Williams also created co-branded product with brands like Steven Alan, Cole Haan and Hamilton Shirt Co.
Founder: Chris Callis, 21, and Woody Hines, 20
Launched: May 2009
Audience: 30,000 unique visitors a month.
Backstory: Callis and Hines, currently juniors at Princeton, launched the site as freshmen roommates. Callis, an art history major, interned at Ralph Lauren over the past summer, while Hines, a philosophy major, interned at a Silicon Valley Internet start-up.
The blogging life: Classic preppy style is the foundation for the site’s focus, but that’s evolved into a more designer aesthetic. The duo scored a video interview with prominent Princeton professor Cornel West. “He was awesome to talk to. He was totally cool on the style side and fun to talk to on the intellectual side,” enthuses Callis.
Business plan: The site has paid advertisements from Paul Stuart, Stubbs & Wooten, Bonobos and Indochino. “It’s just a little extra cash for us. Our biggest expense is train tickets to New York,” says Hines.
Founder: Nick Maggio, 30
Launched: January 2009
Audience: 120,000 unique visitors a month.
Backstory: Based in L.A., Maggio was previously a trend forecaster for Abercrombie & Fitch. As for the name, he notes: “It’s meant to convey that it’s okay to be materialistic. Sometimes we just want to go shopping.”
The blogging life: Maggio covers a broad range of topics, from fashion, automobiles and BMX bikes to graphic design and photography. “Anything that was made with care,” he says. Maggio believes blogs are especially suited to the modern Web user’s short attention span. “Blogs are really linear. You start at the top and just scroll down. There’s no navigation,” he explains.
Business plan: Maggio has yet to sell any advertising on his blog and hasn’t made a single cent from the project. However, he’s working on a potential collaboration with an L.A. furniture maker.
Tweet Sheet: 10 Twitter Feeds to Follow
1. Karl_Lagerfeld (341,152 followers): Lagerfeld’s indisputable maxims. “My greatest problem in life is my indifference to the outside world.” “A respectable appearance is sufficient to make people more interested in your soul.”
2. fakekarl (5,343 followers): Lagerfeld’s tweets make for an irresistible send-up. “A home is just a house with pretensions.” “I’m too lazy to be Fran Lebowitz, so I make do with myself.”
3. stefanogabbana (46,534 followers): A glimpse into one-half of Dolce & Gabbana. “@victoriabeckham Have a good trip!!! Xxxxx sg” “@AngelAlessandra Wooow!!! You are soooooooooo beautiful :)”
4. PeterDavisnyc (3,327 followers): Acerbic musings from a Paper magazine editor and indefatigable party hopper. “#Lohan is out of jail… Hide the blow!” “Party Rules 101: You say hi, you lie and you move on.”
5. MarcJacobsInt (48,970 followers): All about the latest Marc Jacobs projects. “Can you think of a more beautiful place for a store than directly in the center of palais royal? Heres our view.” “We had a great time at the party. Thanks Stockholm! Now at the afterparty dinner. No more tweets tonight. No drinking and tweeting.”
6. MichaelKors (21,459 followers): Follow the peripatetic designer and get lots of tips on where to eat. “My favorite pizza in #Milan at Paper Moon!!! Looks like I have on pink ear muffs!” “Just arrived today in #London. Dinner at Rules, my fave restaurant, orig. in 1798!! Wow!”
7. lorenzomartone (5,745 followers): The p.r. man is BFF with a gaggle of supermodels and is always at the right events. “Gaga meets Courtney love at Givenchy live from Paris.” “At the opening night Gala of the Met. Its a dream night for anybody in love w NY, like me.”
8. kanyewest (1.3 million followers): The humble hip-hop star tweets as much about style as music. “In the studio with Jay and B. Beyonce just explained to me that lip dressers are better known as make up artist lol” “At the crib I use really nice napkins instead of paper towels… got the idea from the YSL bathroom … waaaaay nicer”
9. bandofoutsiders (3,289 followers): A peek at how to grow an emerging fashion brand. “Go see andrew garfield in the social network, but first – see him in @InterviewMag in Band of Outsiders.” “Just looking at fall samples in the studio is making me hot. It’s 115 degrees today.”
10. derekblasberg (21,286 followers): The fashion editor and gallivanting industry insider is a droll source for news and gossip. “John Galliano’s bow at Galliano was more ridiculous than dior, which I didn’t think was possible. Think: confetti, smoke machine and POSING!” —D.L.
For a designer whose first love is rock ‘n’ roll, and whose brand enjoys a big following in the music world, an anniversary bash with live music is a must. If said bash occurs in the former CBGB, and the designer is John Varvatos, then we’re really talking about some world-class head-banging.
Varvatos, ecstatic and hoarse, periodically took the stage on the evening of September 11—in the middle of New York Fashion Week—to introduce the performers. Merely a few highlights: Cherie Currie of The Runaways belted out “Cherry Bomb”; Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top did a blues number, “King Bee,” and then bandmate Dusty Hill joined in for “Rock Me Baby”; Alice Cooper surprised with the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” before giving the crowd “School’s Out,” and Perry Farrell closed with the Jane’s Addiction classic “Mountain Song.”
Revelers, lubricated by Original Moonshine whiskey cocktails, thrust their horn fingers overhead.
“I’m the luckiest guy on earth to have friends with so much talent and passion,” says Varvatos. “These artists continue to inspire me, and are as much to thank for the success we celebrate tonight as those I work with every day.”
Celebrity guests spanned the worlds of music, sport, comedy and Hollywood, and included Serena Williams, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Jeremy Piven, Kelly Rowland, Paz de la Huerta, Julian Lennon, Mario Batali and Rachael Ray.
Earlier that day, during sound checks, Varvatos interviewed and recorded musicians for his Sirius satellite radio show, “Born In Detroit.”
“I love doing this show,” he said. “They give me 100 percent freedom….Part of me would love to do it all the time, but if I did it more than once a month, I don’t know how I would, because it takes me a lot of preparation. It’s a big passion of mine.”
The anniversary party was the culmination of 10 years of building the John Varvatos brand. “There wasn’t that much rock ‘n’ roll [in the collection] when we started, but there was something in every season that went back to my youth,” says Varvatos, who grew up in Detroit in the late Fifties and Sixties and says his taste in music is much broader than he lets on. After co-founding a store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called Fitzgerald’s, Varvatos rose through the ranks of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., doing sales. He went back to school to study design, which led to stints as design director at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Then, with support from Nautica, Varvatos launched his own line for fall 2000.
After proving himself so adaptable to the visions of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, he created his own concept—vintage craftsmanship and refined tailoring for a modern lifestyle.
“In 2005, after doing a lot of beautiful and romantic lifestyle advertising…my heart said to do something with musicians, although a lot of people had done that before,” Varvatos says.
“I didn’t think my clothes were that rock ‘n’ roll, which to a lot of people means black leather jackets,” he adds. “If we were all rock ‘n’ roll, we wouldn’t have the business that we have. Guys just wanted to dress up in a different way.”
He ended up putting Ryan Adams in the campaign, which set a tone. A bigger star, Joe Perry from Aerosmith, followed and raised the bar. Iggy Pop marked the real turning point, after which many musicians (or their managers) sought to connect with the brand. Campaigns eventually featured Alice Cooper, Slash, Franz Ferdinand and ZZ Top. For the anniversary campaign, the brand created a Sgt. Pepper–inspired collage of 39 musicians who have either appeared in past ads or are simply friends of the designer.
“John Varvatos gets it. He’s probably the only high-fashion designer I can handle,” said Slash, who couldn’t be at the party.
By 2008, when Varvatos secured the former site of CBGB, the seminal downtown rock club on the Bowery, and reopened the space as a concept store, he had big-name musical friends in his corner. And the store, a sometime concert venue that sells vinyl records and audio equipment as well as apparel, virtually changed the complexion of the brand because it enshrined the relationship to music.
“We keep the music alive, we support the artists and we use it for charitable things,” says Varvatos. The anniversary event benefitted the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.
In the words of Gibbons from ZZ Top: “John Varvatos has written a new chapter in the saga of the sharp-dressed man.”