Todd Snyder is a firm believer in the power of collaborations, partnering over the years with everyone from Champion and L.L. Bean to Timex and PF Flyers. Now he’s turned the creative reins over to Ouigi Theodore, founder of Brooklyn Circus, for a collection that is launching Friday.
The limited-edition collection — The Brooklyn Circus + Champion for Todd Snyder — features varsity jackets, cardigans, sweats and graphic Ts. Many of the design references for the line are similar to those that have led to Brooklyn Circus’ success over the past 15 years including vintage athletic graphics, boxing motifs and iconography based on Theodore’s roots in Haiti, his upbringing in New York City during the ‘90s and his take on race in America today.
“Ouigi was a big supporter when I started my brand,” Snyder said. “He was the first to buy my Champion collaboration and he connected me to PF Flyers. He’s been a fixture in men’s wear and I’ve always loved his style.”
Last year, following the murder of George Floyd, Snyder contacted Theodore and they started talking about how they could work together. The result is this collection, which will be sold at Brooklyn Circus’ Boerum Hill store in Brooklyn as well as on the brand’s e-commerce site and through Todd Snyder’s web site and in his stores.
“This is our first project together and I handed the keys over to him,” Snyder said.
The collaboration is part of Snyder’s goal to “amplify who he is and what he’s doing. The last year really motivated me to think about concrete ways that I could bring visibility to Black creatives. Collaborating with The Brooklyn Circus and working closely with Ouigi is a natural first step,” he said.
Theodore, a graphic designer by trade, founded his self-funded business in 2006 and it became quickly established as a community center. “The name ‘The Brooklyn Circus’ is a reflection of my love for the history, the acts, the characters and the community of the circus,” Theodore said. “It is also a place of relatable fantasy. The goal has always been to build a sense of pride and connectivity through The Brooklyn Circus.”
He described his aesthetic as “tailored casual,” a reference to his upbringing in Haiti, where he said he dressed very “tailored and proper.” When he came to America and settled in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, he was “thrown into reggae” and other more casual street-inspired fashion that soon found its way into his work.
At one point, he had two stores in Brooklyn and one in San Francisco, along with a wholesale business, but now the line is sold direct-to-consumer and at the store in Boerum Hill.
“I see the world through a graphic design and storytelling lens,” he said. “Even though I was born in Haiti, I tell the story of a Black man growing in America — stories Ralph Lauren and J. Crew can’t tell.”
Theodore said he’d followed Snyder’s career and always looked at him as an ally rather than a competitor. They reconnected last year and he was featured in two different marketing campaigns for the designer’s label before they decided to work together on a new Champion collaboration.
One of the starting points for the capsule was a picture of Muhammad Ali from the ’70s taken at “Fighter’s Heaven,” the boxer’s training camp in Deer Lake, Pa. “He was such an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement and he was surrounded by a diverse group of people,” Theodore said of Ali. “When I discovered this image of Ali wearing a sweatshirt, the collection fell into place.
“Boxing is at the center of the African American/Black experience,” he continued. “It’s a platform that has historically brought the best — and worst — of our culture together. That for me has always been the attraction to boxing and its role in Black Resistance,” he said.
Theodore said the reimagined sweatshirt is a favorite in the line along with a fleece varsity jacket since it is “at the heart of what we do at Brooklyn Circus.”
The graphic “1920” appears throughout the capsule, a reference to his Haitian-born grandmother who helped raise him. “Nineteen twenty is my grandmother’s date of birth. It’s the year women gained the right to vote in America.”
Elephants also appear in the line. “The elephants are part of the DNA of The Brooklyn Circus — our idea of mentorship — the big elephant leading the smaller elephant — navigating the concrete jungle.”
Snyder said there will be a charitable component to the collection as well and the parties are discussing establishing a scholarship at a historically black college or other initiatives that can “make a difference in Black lives,” Snyder said.
The marketing images for the collection were shot in a gym in Brooklyn where several well-known boxers trained, and is heavy on graphics, which is a hallmark of his collection. “We added a sprinkle of African American history and sports where Blacks excelled,” Theodore said.
He said that this collection is the first of many he hopes to collaborate on with Snyder. “I’m not a one-off guy,” he said. Brooklyn Circus is founded on Theodore’s 100-Year Plan, or his quest to create apparel that lasts through the decades.
“What gives this relationship its power is that it’s not only a creative partnership, but it’s a real business relationship,” Theodore said, since The Brooklyn Circus will receive a percentage of proceeds from sales of the collection.