Items from Michael Ward's and Michael Smaldone's The Salting.

After years of being knee-deep in design at various major brands, Michael Ward and Michael Smaldone have waded out on their own with the debut of The Salting.

Having both “been involved in so many conversations about what’s not working on the industry and how the business has changed and is changing so dramatically,” Ward said. “We didn’t want to be part of a negative narrative. We wanted to be part of a positive narrative.”

With careers that kind of mirrored each other — Ward worked in design at companies like Burberry and Diane von Furstenberg, and Smaldone did so at Adrianna Papell, Talbots, Ann Taylor, Anne Klein and others. Both men had known of each other for years, but it was a 2016 presidential election-related post by Smaldone that sparked their first connection. That led to a meet-up for coffee and business conversations followed about a year ago. Sharing a similar aesthetic and creative ethos, they agreed to introduce a Made in America unisex, item-driven collection that relies on coats, caftans and head gear, Smaldone said. It will be shown at this month’s edition of the Coterie.

The duo also took into consideration how people are thinking, where and how they’re spending their money. “We wanted to check all of the things off our list that felt right — humanitarian, social platforms and made in America,” Ward said. During a pop-up preview event earlier this month in a space that formerly housed The Tunnel, a few passersby walked into what they thought was a store and promptly placed orders.

“The reward for us as designers was that any person who walked in for an appointment could put on a piece of the collection regardless of their age, weight, height, sex, gender — there is something that we have found in certain pieces that was universal. It was really rewarding as a designer not to zero in on a demographic,” Ward said.

Not wanting to be a brand that designs 100 skus every month for nine months, the founders were determined not to put a lot of product out in the world. The edited collection includes a 16-gauge Italian cotton and jersey T-shirt, silk and cotton reversible sweatshirt and Italian shirting that can be worn as caftans. The “Serpico”-inspired collection includes caftans average around $600, coats are in the $1,700 range and hats, which start at $290 for straw ones. The $350 fedoras and other toppers were made by one of the oldest hat makers in America.

In a kismet twist, executives at the Pennsylvania company offered a salt oxidization process to Ward and Smaldone. The pair are exploring saline washes for their jerseys, and talks are underway with Brooklyn-based Jessie Lazar about how salt might be incorporated into the brand’s new line of ceramics. And actual salt including a black flake salt from Hawaii is being developed with a friend who owns Victoria Gourmet.

The Salting has also developed three T-shirts that will benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is marking the 20th year since Shepard died.

One of the upsides of developing a collection together was that both Ward and Smaldone own homes on the East End. “Your noise changes, your energy changes,” Smaldone said of escapes from Manhattan. Smaldone, who started living full-time in Sag Harbor last year after 30 years in the city, said of The Salting, “I don’t think either one of us could have gotten to this spot unless we took a breath, and to have not made ourselves do something next because that’s the kind of people we are. We stepped back, looked at our strengths, found each other and then went from there. That’s been a much more beautiful and fruitful path for us.”

In addition to wholesaling to specialty stores, the company will introduce e-commerce in the coming months. Arquiste’s Carlos Huber has agreed to help The Salting develop a fragrance. Photographer Marcus Morris, another photographer and videographer Olimpia Valli Fassi, makeup artist Colleen Runne and art director Liong The also helped out with the shoots for The Salting’s site and video. Elliott Sailors and Edwin Pierrot modeled the collection.

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