LOS ANGELES — Pop star Justin Timberlake is taking a now familiar route for celebrities — he’s branching into fashion.
In an interview with WWD, Timberlake and his business partners, Trace Ayala and Danny Guez, discussed their new collection of women’s and men’s denim jeans, T-shirts, blazers, polos and outerwear, which they expect will sell $15 million in its first year.
Starting Nov. 3, the collection, called William Rast (“William” is the first name of Timberlake’s grandfather, and “Rast” is the last name of Ayala’s) will be available exclusively at 10 Bloomingdale’s in the department store channel, as well as at a select group of high-end boutiques, including Kitson in Beverly Hills, Atrium in New York City and Fred Segal Santa Monica.
“We could take it as high as $25 million for the first year, but we really want to control the distribution and keep it very exclusive,” Guez said. Guez, son of Los Angeles denim heavyweight Paul Guez, is familiar with this particular intersection of fame and fashion; he has been involved with Eve’s Fetish line and Bow Wow’s Shago apparel. He got the ball rolling when he approached Timberlake — through intermediaries — about starting a line.
“Somebody came to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s this guy that wants to do a clothing line with you,'” recalled the pop star and actor. “I said, ‘Absolutely no way. I don’t want to do that.'” Timberlake credits Ayala, a childhood friend from Millington, Tenn., who had worked as his assistant for several years, as the deciding factor.
“I started talking with Trace, and I knew he’s wanted to do something like this for a long time — he would take jeans and redo them, put stitches in them for me for events. We started talking about it and then went back to Danny. We said that if we could do it our way — in a way that’s authentic and genuine to us — we’d do it.”
While his main contribution to the fashion world up to now may have been the phrase “wardrobe malfunction,” Timberlake says he’s long paid attention to the world of style. “I wore some stuff growing up — and when I was in the group [‘NSync] — that I look back on now and shake my head. It’s hard when all your mistakes are preserved like that.”
When it comes to designers, Timberlake said he has a few favorites of his own. “We love Marc Jacobs,” he said of himself and Ayala. “And Alexander McQueen has cool ideas, but to me, Tom Ford is sort of a god in that world.
“I went into a Gucci store in London, and they were selling this leather motorcycle jacket that had this piece on the sleeve and it zipped up the side,” recalled Timberlake. “It was in brown and black, and I told the saleslady that I thought it would look incredible if they made it in white leather. I got a call three weeks later and she told me she had passed my ideas along to Tom and he liked it, and that they were sending me a one-of-a-kind leather jacket. That stuck with me, because that’s someone who really understands authenticity, who understands it’s just as special to have them make that jacket as it is for me to have it. That frame of mind is something we wanted to put into the line.”
That authentic feeling carries throughout a collection that is equally split between women’s and men’s wear. The line of upscale, classic Americana-inspired casualwear is designed by Juan Cervantes and combines the influences of Timberlake and Ayala’s Tennessee roots with stylish chic touches such as pink piping and yarn-embroidered logos that Timberlake calls Southern country-club rock. “A little bit of Tennessee with a little bit of Hollywood,” he said.
While Timberlake’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the collection, that may be the only aspect of William Rast that doesn’t bear his imprint. “I’m not just going to look at something and put my name on it,” he said. “We’ve been developing these things from the get-go — every step of the way.”
Guez concurred. “Justin and Trace were involved, from buttons to rivets to labels, more than any celebrity I’ve ever worked with — it got to the point where it was almost annoying.”
The involvement started with their own style. “We went and looked at both of our closets,” said Ayala. “What do we wear? Where do we shop? We put the boards together and went from there.”
They also shook the family tree. In addition to the line’s name, which pays homage to their grandfathers, each of the three women’s denim styles is named after a member of Ayala’s or Timberlake’s family (Stella is a basic five-pocket, Daisy is a five-pocket with a cargo back pocket and Sadie is a five-pocket with no back yoke). Even the parent company, Bella Rose, formed by the three men, is named after Guez’s daughter.
While the men’s side of the line is clearly based in what he and Ayala wear (Timberlake is, in fact, the fit model for the men’s), the approach to the women’s, while grounded in the same look, was a bit different.
“I’ve found out that you know a lot of women with a lot of opinions when you have a clothing line coming out,” said Timberlake. “Mothers, girlfriends, friends and cousins all said, ‘Things need to be lowered here or moved there.’ Pocket placement is a big deal, and so is fit. One thing I’ve learned from all the opinions is that if the jeans fit their ass, well, they’re going to wear them, and then they feel sexy, and then the jeans are part of their lifestyle.”
The line is full of fun insider details, including metal-trimmed wooden buttons on the women’s jeans (inspired by a blazer button in Timberlake’s closet); a logo that looks like four Greek columns (or possibly Roman numerals) that are actually the inverted letters “illi” from the name “William,” and a screened dog inspired by the hunting dog owned by Timberlake’s grandfather.
Items include four fits of men’s jeans, plus the three women’s styles in two fabrications and three washes of denim with drop pockets and wide contrast stitching (at a retail price point of $120 to $225); supima cotton T-shirts with screens and embroideries ($23 to $59); polos ($69), and windbreakers ($225), as well as cashmere sweaters, zip-front double-collar jackets and corduroy blazers. The line is shot through with bright touches of pink, teal, orange and even copper-colored foils, all of which contrast with the vintage-looking designs in a way that looks updated but not schizophrenic.
The William Rast signature, “WR” logo and crest appear on various pieces, but not in an in-your-face way. Denim back pockets bear a stylized “W” design and the T-shirts bear Tennessee-centric slogans such as “School of Hard Knox, Knoxville, TN,” or a cartoon cowboy with a head shaped like an outline of the state. Others bear images that look borrowed from county courthouse murals (“Charge of the Light Brigade March” or an eagle with the American flag in his beak).
The line, which will roll out to buyers at Project Las Vegas next week, will remain exclusive to Bloomingdale’s in the department store channel through the first season. That’s due in part to the positioning of the collection, and in part to the backing of the retailer. That includes separate William Rast shop-in-shops for men and women in each of the 10 Bloomingdale’s doors, which include two in New York and one in L.A.
“They’re doing the launch, they’re giving us the windows, they’re very, very supportive,” said Guez.
Down the road, the troika behind William Rast hopes to expand the collection’s offerings into headwear, intimate apparel and men’s suits.
“We want to make it a full lifestyle brand,” said Timberlake.
Within three years, they also hope to open their own stand-alone William Rast retail doors. “We hope to open the flagship in Memphis in two or three years,” said Timberlake. “And one in our hometown,” added Ayala.
To the childhood friends, whose grandfathers still live near each other, that seems like the ultimate mark of success for the line — going home again.