Six up-and-coming designers give classic men’s wear fabrics and tailoring a contemporary spin.
This story first appeared in the January 16, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
AMI by ALEXANDRE MATTIUSSI
Ami is the French word for friend. For Alexandre Mattiussi, it’s also a guiding principle — an expression of his desire to design clothes that his friends might actually wear. He defines the word broadly, however. The Ami collection “is meant to reflect people I love, but also people I see in the street,” the 31-year-old designer says, sitting in his headquarters in Paris’ Les Halles district. “I want it to appeal to straight men, gay men, young people and older gentlemen.”
With that in mind, Mattiussi aims for effortless sophistication, refining men’s wear classics rather than courting the press with fanciful design. Still, he has upped the fashion quotient for fall 2012. “I’m in the mood for rich colors, volume, warm materials,” says Mattiussi, throwing on an oversize waxed-woolen quilted parka with deep pockets that he describes as “perfect for a dog walk in the country.”
The designer’s circle includes Loïc Prigent, who has directed TV documentaries on Paris runway shows, and Claus Estermann, the former fashion p.r. executive who founded Claus, a hip Paris eatery specializing in German-style breakfast. But Mattiussi also finds inspiration by people-watching from the balcony of his office. The site’s high-ceilinged showroom was once part of an apartment belonging to Marie Antoinette.
Before getting started on a collection, Mattiussi throws open his wardrobe at home and ponders what he’d like to wear in the coming season. “I like the idea of building a wardrobe like that: I want a silk and wool tuxedo, I make it. I want a khaki jacket, I make it. I want a big bag that I can throw everything in,” says Mattiussi, nodding to a leather weekend bag he designed for fall. “The silhouette is based on a great pair of shoes, a great jacket and pair of pants,” he adds. “You don’t need much to be cool.”
Set to enter its third season, Ami is distributed in about 40 sales points, including Le Bon Marché in Paris, Corso Como in Seoul, The Webster in Miami and Barneys New York. The brand will open a corner in Printemps in early February. Prices range from $160 for a polo shirt to $985 for a coat.
Mattiussi hopes to open his first store in the City of Light next summer. Like his approach to design, his retail credo is straightforward and unpretentious, putting the emphasis on an easy, intimate and pleasurable customer experience. “I really believe in that, in commerce,” he says. “It should be a healthy transaction for the client, and a very organic exchange with the garment: I like it or I don’t like it; it suits me or it doesn’t suit me.”
Tailoring is in Antonio Azzuolo’s blood. The Montreal native’s mother was a seamstress and his father a tailor’s apprentice. He recalls “helping” his mother with her work when he was 6 years old “and screwing everything up.” But that didn’t deter the fledgling designer, who followed his calling and graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto with a degree in apparel design and a specialization in men’s tailoring.
After graduation, Azzuolo moved to Milan, where he gained attention by winning first place in the men’s wear category at the Festival des Jeunes Stylistes de Hyères. He later moved to Paris and spent more than 10 years at Hermès and Kenzo before making the jump to the U.S., where he worked as design director for Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Black Label. In 2007, he launched a bespoke collection under his own name and quickly built a reputation as an elegant tailor who turned out sophisticated designs with a touch of dandyism. “Initially, I just wanted a few suits for myself,” he says, “but I’m a concept person with a vision in men’s wear.”
The next year, he expanded the collection to include shirts, outerwear and sweaters. “But I’ve
never abandoned the DNA of hand- tailoring,” Azzuolo says. “I play within the elements of men’s clothing and interpret it in a new way….It’s more of a Continental look. For years, it was all about the Brooks Brothers shoulder, but I work a saddle shoulder and a rope sleeve.” Other signature pieces include cardigan jackets and twill cavalry jackets trimmed with recycled fur.
At first, his distribution was concentrated in Japan, but since the economic downturn, he has focused on North America and Europe. The collection is now sold at Jeffrey and TheCorner.com.
Azzuolo, who was a finalist in last year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund competition, says the designers he looks up to range from Yves Saint Laurent and Martin Margiela to Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren. “Saint Laurent and Margiela have revolutionized fashion,” he says, “and Ralph’s focus and determination are inspiring.”
He would eventually like to venture into new categories by “reinterpreting iconic pieces” such as five-pocket jeans and T-shirts and “breaking the codes” of classic men’s wear. “But let’s walk before we run,” he says. “I want my growth to be organic.”
He decided he was too old to become a tennis ace or soccer star, so Umit Benan turned instead to fashion. Then, while still a student, he began seriously building his career. “I wanted to be someone,” says Benan, now 31. “My father was a successful entrepreneur, and I didn’t want to be known just as someone’s son.”
The Turkish designer has been running his namesake men’s wear brand since 2009. Along the way, he won the “Who Is On Next? Uomo” competition for emerging talent, presenting an eccentric collection inspired by photographer Slim Aarons, and in 2011 he became a consultant designer at Trussardi.
Born in Stuttgart, Germany, and raised in Istanbul, where he cut his teeth in the family’s textile company, Benan started traveling the world at the age of 14, living in cities ranging from Boston to Lugano, Switzerland. He studied fashion design at Marangoni Institute in Milan, Central Saint Martins in London, and Parsons The New School for Design in New York, where he joined Marc Jacobs’ women’s wear team in 2004.
“Usually when you are young, the most important thing is to learn how to do the technical work, but for me it was to be with someone like him, at his level, to gain experience and look up to him,” says Benan of Jacobs. “I really loved working with him, because he is what I wanted to be. He was the perfect reference for me.”
Although he still describes himself as a “citizen of the world,” Benan chose Milan, where he had previously worked as an assistant to Pollini creative director Rifat Ozbek, as a launching pad for his solo venture in the men’s wear business. His fall 2012 men’s wear collection debuts on a Milan runway this month. Rather than inventing new silhouettes, Benan says he has combined classic shapes with fresh fabrics and colors for a contemporary interpretation of traditional tailored clothing.
The collection is carried in 31 stores in Japan, which account for the lion’s share of sales. When it comes to presentation, Benan shuns professional models and favors movie-inspired sets. At Pitti Uomo in June 2010, he showed clothes inspired by the “retired rock star.” For spring 2012, he celebrated the classic Italian man, embodied by designer Nino Cerruti and his two sons.
Despite his ambitious temperament, the designer doesn’t take himself too seriously. “I’m not trying to accomplish anything in particular through a piece,” he says. “Nobody is going to die if I don’t present my jackets, to be honest.”
Tim Coppens never smiles for the camera, but that’s not an indicator of his mood. He’s delighted by the response to his first solo collection, which Barneys in New York and Japan, Dover Street and LN-CC in the U.K. and Aegis in Shanghai all picked up in its first season.
Before he ventured out on his own in fall 2011, the Belgium-born designer developed a serious résumé. He earned a degree from the acclaimed Fashion Academy in Antwerp in 1998, did a stint at Bogner in Munich and then moved on to Adidas, where he spearheaded the development of the company’s high-end men’s performance line. Several years later, in 2008, he was lured to New York to become design director for Ralph Lauren’s performance collection, RLX.
An avid snowboarder and cyclist, Coppens favors designs that infuse activewear influences and technical details with classic men’s wear tailoring. He notes that he learned to reinvent the classics with new construction techniques while he was at Adidas. Hybrids — such as suede bomber jackets with neoprene cuffs, and gray sweatshirts and jogging pants elevated so they can be worn with dress shirts or pants — are central to the collection. “I think it’s important to take on traditional tailoring,” he says, “In men’s wear, there are only so many things you can do and still keep it masculine.”
For spring, the collection is inspired by the French film Un Prophète, and includes a varsity jacket with leather sleeves and neoprene waistband and a 100-year-old Persian carpet print. Although this is a one-of-a-kind piece, it illustrates Coppens’ flair for craftsmanship.
“The details are extremely important,” he says. “I use a combination of materials and like to tell a graphic story. I want a collection that lasts.”
Coppens admits that when his first collection was picked up by Barneys, it came as a “total shock—but a good shock.” Now he plans to build on that momentum. “I want to keep it tight, focus on what I have now and not diversify too much. But I see the line growing and maybe adding bags and shoes in the future.” He says even this will happen gradually, however. “A lot of brands have fast growth but then dilute their message,” Coppens explains. “I admire brands that keep their integrity.”
Todd Snyder may be a new name on the men’s wear scene, but he arrives with a solid pedigree.
Before stepping out on his own last year, he spent 18 years at Polo Ralph Lauren and J. Crew. At the latter, he’s credited with introducing tailored clothing; forming collaborations with heritage brands such as Timex, Red Wing, Thomas Mason and Alden, and opening the company’s first men’s-only store, the Liquor Store, in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood in 2008.
Snyder cites Hollywood icons such as Cary Grant and Steve McQueen as inspirations, but his own story is down-to-earth. “I come from very humble roots, and when I moved to New York 20 years ago it was always my goal to do my own line,” he says. “But my father told me to work for the best before you go out on your own.” Joining Ralph Lauren was like going to “finishing school” — and the fulfillment of a dream that started during his childhood in Iowa, where he taught himself to sew and worked as a tailor’s assistant during college.“Ralph is a design hero and the reason I got into this business,” he says.
That influence is evident in his own designs, which mix British tailoring with an American vintage sensibility. His debut collection for last fall included tailored vests worn with cargo pants, officer’s coats, selvage chinos and aviator-inspired leather jackets — nearly all of it produced in America. “I love the whole ‘Made in the USA’ thing,” Snyder says. “Our customer wants nice clothes that are updated and look a little different but aren’t revolutionary.”
The line was picked up by Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, as well as directional specialty stores such as Odin and Ron Herman. Snyder has a strong presence in Japan, where Adam et Rope Biotop, a Tokyo specialty store, opened a Todd Snyder General Store pop-up last fall. The line is also carried in Barneys Japan and Ships, and Snyder writes a monthly style column for the Tokyo Calendar.
Among the highlights for spring, he says, are shorts — paired with a dress shirt or jacket — and an unconstructed tuxedo. “Every guy should have a tux, and this one is formfitting but has no inner lining.” Shirts, in checks and plaids, are another passion. “When I moved to New York, I used to buy remnants and make my own shirts,” he recalls.
Looking ahead, Snyder hopes to stay on the same path and expand organically. “My dream is to be a little bigger, but I don’t want to be huge,” he says, adding, “We don’t have a lot of advertising money, so we’re leveraging our relationships with Bergdorf and Neiman’s to educate the customer. They can tell the story, and we really need those partnerships to grow.”
OVADIA & SONS
Shimon and Airel Ovadia litereally grew up in the apparel business. Their father owns Magic Kids, Inc., a $10 million children’s wear distribution company that specializes in closeouts. Shimon remembers their home as “a warehouse with clothing in the living room” that the boys would “ticket after school.” Before long, they began working sales and even produced designs for the company. “We put a bunny there, a bear there,” says Ariel. “What did we know about children’s wear? We were 15.” But even at that age, their true passion was for men’s wear.
In 2010, the 29-year-old twins set out to indulge that passion and founded Ovadia & Sons, a vintage-inspired men’s collection. The brand offers a modern take on classic English and American men’s wear, including everything from sportswear to formalwear to shoes and accessories—even made-to-measure clothing. “Originally, we were going to do shirts and a couple of suits, but at the end we had three racks full of samples in the first season,” says Ariel. “But everything fit together.”
By the second season, the brand caught the attention of Bloomingdale’s, which has installed an Ovadia & Sons shop at its 59th Street flagship, and Barneys New York.
“It’s very humbling when you grow up shopping in stores like these and then find your brand in Barneys,” Ariel says. “It’s very surreal.”
The spring collection includes a yellow nylon water-resistant motorcycle jacket for $1,095 and a black calfskin flight jacket for $985. Suits have a trim fit, though the fabrics, such as navy wool windowpane
or chalk stripe, are traditional. Shirts are styled with English cutaway or club collars, and cotton sweaters sport red or white nautical stripes.
“We’re not here to reinvent the wheel,” Shimon explains. “Other brands might offer drastic proportions or look like clowns on the runway, but not us.” Their aim is to create clothes that are “familiar but fresh,” says Ariel.
“The first people we make it for is us,” Shimon adds. “This is clothing we want to wear.”
Although the line may appeal to the twins’ contemporaries, older men are also responding to Ovadia & Sons’ classical approach. “We’re here to make clothing that doesn’t go out of style,” Ariel says. “You could put this in your closet and bring it out in 10 years, and it would be just as timeless.”