Jack Carlson has some very eclectic — and unusual — interests: heraldry, archaeology and vintage rowing blazers.
Carlson, 29, is a coxswain on the U.S. national rowing team and has a Ph.D. in archaeology from Oxford University (a center of rowing worldwide). He’s also the author of “A Humorous Guide to Heraldry” and “Rowing Blazers,” a coffee-table tome about the “authentic striped, piped, trimmed and badged” jackets worn by oarsman around the world.
“Rowing Blazers,” which is 256 pages and features more than 250 color photos, developed a cult following after it was published in 2014 — there were book parties at Ralph Lauren flagships in New York and London — and next month, Carlson will draw on the extensive research he conducted for the book when he launches the Rowing Blazers line of men’s sport coats, shirts and ties.
The collection is more than a little intimidating and insider-y, as evidenced by the preface written by Carlson to describe the line: “This collection is inspired by the traditions, myths and rituals I discovered while writing the book ‘Rowing Blazers.’ It’s also inspired by my collection of vintage blazers; my research in archaeology, heraldry, and classics, and my time at Oxford.”
Carlson said rowing blazers are “tribal totems…ceremonial vestments, worn to emphasize both community and difference: to impress, intimidate and influence.”
He believes “men’s wear is supposed to be meaningful — every detail considered, nothing random. That’s how I have approached this collection: meaningful, thoughtful, irreverent, cryptic.”
In person, Carlson seems more passionate than pompous and talks about how the collection was designed using the first-hand knowledge he acquired over five years of researching the book.
He spent two years preparing for the launch of the line, which is all produced in the U.S. It will include a navy wool flannel blazer — with or without white piping — with a three-roll-two silhouette, three patch pockets, removable cloisonné buttonhole fob and vintage lapel pin. The buttonhole badge is made in England by the artisans who create the Henley Royal Regatta badges.
There are black-on-black, burgundy with burgundy trim, navy stripes, bright croquet stripes and other variations of the jackets in the heavy flannel, lighter-weight wool or cotton jersey.
Different Latin proverbs such as “Avt via inveniam avt faciam,” or “I will find a way or make one,” are embroidered under the lapels. “They’re meaningful but irreverent,” Carlson said. “And unexpected.”
The shirts are handmade from Japanese cotton oxford cloth and are intentionally distressed. They even come with a sandpaper card for further distressing and a quote from Edward Said about his Princeton classmates purposefully beating up their new shirts in hopes that it “might get them into a better club.”
The neckwear is inspired by the Bear Inn in Oxford, the city’s oldest pub, established in the 13th century. “The walls and ceilings are covered with clippings of club ties,” Carlson said. Patterns include a topless woman, a dripping faucet, palm trees and biker wings, all of which have a story that Carlson is all too happy to retell.
The line will launch online around May 16 and the blazers will retail from $950 to $1,200. Shirts will be $165 and ties $140.
Although Rowing Blazers is the quintessential niche business that speaks to a small, upscale audience with a propensity for the preppy lifestyle, Carlson has bigger plans.
“It’s not as straightforward preppy as you would think,” he said. In fact, he hinted at an upcoming collaboration with a streetwear brand that is expected to introduce Rowing Blazers to a whole new audience.