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COTTWEILER

Cult groups such as skinheads and boy racers are not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s what inspires Ben Cottrell and Matthew Dainty, the designers behind the Cottweiler label.

Named after a cross between Cottrell’s surname and Dainty’s mother’s maiden name, the London-based duo has incorporated transparent fabrics into their designs to create what has become a Cottweiler trademark.

Before starting their label, Cottrell honed his skills on Savile Row for six years, working with Ozwald Boateng, and went on to design tennis and skiwear for Head. Dainty interned for Kim Jones and later designed and consulted for several small, independent labels and some larger sports lifestyle brands.

Since the label’s launch in 2013, business has progressed steadily.

The brand started by showing small-scale presentations off schedule and staged its first runway show during London Collections: Men in June as part of Topshop’s NewGen Men showcase. They created a dystopian world packed with technical sportswear. They incorporated industrial fabrics in earthy tones and soft blue hues as seen on jogging pants and a jacket, which were constructed in a light white knit. Blue tracksuits and sweatshirts were treated with lace embellishments and transparent Italian linen was employed for tracksuits as well as a blazer and shorts.

“We started with two stores and we are now at around 40 stores worldwide for spring 2017, so the growth has been very fast,” Dainty said. “We have worked with the same team since the very beginning, and it’s been great to all grow together.” America, Canada and Asia are their biggest markets.

“We started selling in Tokyo first, but the American market has taken us happily by surprise,” Cottrell added. “Our bestsellers have always been our classic pieces. We always keep some core looks that vary slightly each season. We feel like the customer is becoming more familiar with the fit and fabrication of our garments, and they’re returning to buy something trusted.”

The designers said plans include a retail store, collaborative projects and a design installation.

“We’re really aware of not overexposing ourselves as a brand,” Cottrell said. “We feel there needs to be some mystery, and we don’t feel consumers appreciate being bombarded with constant sales pushes over a long-term period. We want to continue to be selective about what we do and to make sure it still feels special. We’re really happy with the stores we are in, and we want to grow with them over the coming years. We have plans to open a unique private retail space in the near future and to expand our in-house team of makers.”

Dainty said plans also call for “a very special collaboration with another clothing brand” next year as well as “an immersive installation at an international contemporary art museum.”

Last month, the designers won the Woolmark Prize’s British Isles regional competition, receiving $38,000, mentoring support, a Woolmark license and the right to represent the region in the International Woolmark Prize finals. They were also short-listed for the LVMH prize last March. — LORELEI MARFIL

 

HAVERSACK

For a decade and a half, 51-year-old Koji Norihide has been diligently turning out timeless yet modern men’s wear with an air of casual elegance. His brand Haversack is favored by some of Tokyo’s most dapper males who effortlessly mix genres to create unique looks that are at once laid-back and put together.

After graduating from fashion school in Japan, Norihide spent five years working with a company that creates licensed tailored clothing brands, an experience that clearly influenced his design aesthetic. He also takes inspiration from military styles, workwear and athletic apparel, deftly blending these various elements into an amalgamation that has become something of a signature of a certain Tokyo man’s look.

“Without a doubt the quality of Japanese fashion is very high,” Norihide said. “But there is also a way of mixing things together that is very unique to Tokyo.”

The designer is also inspired by vintage components, particularly when it comes to textiles. He scours flea markets around the world to find the best fabrics from bygone days, and then works with mills and textile factories in Japan to re-create them with a modern twist. A heavy wool flannel with a checked pattern might be reincarnated as a lightweight blend, and a traditional hand-production method might be modernized and applied to a sports-inspired material.

While Haversack styles are mostly made from natural materials, the designer said he has begun experimenting with high-tech functional fabrics as well.

For his recent spring collection, Norihide incorporated plenty of natural indigo dye, but rather than limiting himself to predictable denims, he used it on fabrics not normally associated with indigo, such as nylon and linen. A cotton and nylon blend seersucker in solid blue or white and indigo stripes was used in a relaxed anorak jacket (54,000 yen) and a softly tailored blazer (33,000 yen). But what’s special about the brand’s creations are the tiny details that most customers probably wouldn’t even notice.

“I like to focus on handwork; things that aren’t made anymore. This means I use a more personal style of production,” Norihide said, clarifying that while his styles are not necessarily handmade, that is the thought process that goes into each one. Rather than choosing the fastest, easiest, cheapest or most common methods of production, he aims for high quality and a long lifespan.

Through exhibitions in Tokyo and, for the past 10 years, at Pitti Uomo, Haversack has built up a loyal following. In addition to two stores in Tokyo’s hip Daikanyama area and another due to open in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka in September, it is carried at such trend-setting retailers as Beams, United Arrows and Isetan, as well as almost 40 stores overseas. Norihide said he thinks the brand’s international popularity peaked about five to six years ago, but if that’s the case it looks like it may be in for another spike soon. — KELLY WETHERILLE

 

LINDER

Linder’s designers Sam Linder and Kirk Millar are aware that their collection may confuse a few people, but they’re fine with that. In fact, the designers themselves are still trying to find the best way to describe their brand and its influences.

“We may have a tenuous handle on that right now,” said Linder of the brand’s DNA. “I think we’ve been trying to figure that out for a while, but the DNA is something that’s always there without us even trying.”

One concept that pervades each of their collections — they’ve produced two since introducing the line in 2013 — is making the familiar unfamiliar, which they achieve by updating basic sportswear pieces with off-kilter details.

For their spring collection, which they showed at Dixon Place during New York Fashion Week: Men’s, the designers continued to explore this idea by presenting unusual items: a track jacket with pumped-up piping, denim pieces covered in rivets, shirts with two different sleeve silhouettes and shorts that appeared almost flat.

They’ve hit on themes that are prevalent within men’s wear — proportion play, androgyny and elevated streetwear — but because Linder and Millar are based in New York, which is known for its commercial offerings, they say, buyers are left at times scratching their heads.

“We just keep hearing over and over, ‘You guys should really be selling in Europe because this is a harder market,'” Millar said.

Both Millar and Linder are American. Linder was born on a farm in Vermont and moved to New York in the early Nineties. Millar grew up in a small town in Arizona and studied fashion design at a community college before moving to the city. They met while Millar was working at Odin.

Their SoHo store, a multibrand boutique called Linder that carries their line along with lesser-known men’s wear designers is in transition. The designers said they will start to offer more of the Linder line and are moving away from filling it with commercial pieces.

Although the creative duo does plan on heading to Europe to boost sales, they’re hoping their presence on the official New York Men’s schedule will change perceptions of what it means to be a designer in New York.

“A lot of people look to New York and the people who live in New York as inspiration. So for the clothing design here to be universally seen as commercial, it seems like a shame,” Linder said. “We have to accept the landscape for what it is, but we have faith that over time things will change.” — ARIA HUGHES

 

ROCHAMBEAU

Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper were running late.

The duo behind the hot New York streetwear label, Rochambeau, had just come from a meeting at Vogue, where editors offered a few pieces of advice to them as one of the finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. Up for grabs in November is a $400,000 prize.

The nod from Vogue and CFDA came on the heels of the duo’s win of Woolmark’s U.S. regional men’s wear award, which came with a prize of 50,000 Australian dollars, or $37,394. They’ll compete against a group of international winners in January.

Not bad for two New York City guys who met at Pace College and started dabbling in fashion to distract themselves from their studies — and to meet models.

“We started with no real strategy,” Chandler said. “We said, let’s just make T-shirts for models to wear to their castings. We just wanted to hang out with models.”

But it quickly became much more than that as word spread that the graphic T-shirts and ‘zines they had created had real street cred. “We were very involved with the culture of the street at the time,” Chandler said.

So in 2007, a time when the economy was on fire, they created Rochambeau, French for the game rock-paper-scissors.

“We hadn’t looked at the numbers, we just said, ‘Let’s get into fashion,'” Cooper recalled.

Against the advice of their families and friends, they set out to study the highs and lows of the industry in search of where they might fit in while learning firsthand the manufacturing end of the business. “We taught ourselves silk-screening and how to cut and sew,” Cooper said. “We had to decide if we wanted this to be a hobby or a business.”

Things moved slowly until 2011 when they suddenly found themselves front and center at New York Fashion Week thanks to their selection for the Fashion Next program.

“There’s Michael Kors and then there’s us,” Chandler said with a laugh. “People trickled in who had never heard of us to see who we were,” Cooper added. Soon, orders also came in from influential specialty stores such as Alchemist in Miami and Harvey Nichols in London.

“We were a small business but were in big stores, so we seemed bigger than we were,” Chandler said.

Since then, they have increased their reach, with around 40 stockists that include influential retailers in Canada, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as top American stores.

They’ve shown at New York Fashion Week: Men’s for the past three seasons and have received funding from the New York City Fashion Production Fund, a program that supports designers based and manufacturing in New York.

Celebrities have also embraced the line, including Golden State Warriors player Andre Iguodala, who’s working with the duo on a capsule collection.

While the line continues to be rooted in streetwear, it is beginning to branch out. The spring collection was based on a Morocco summer escape and included voluminous caftans, high-waisted cropped summer pants and silk shirts.

Moroccan tile and blanket prints, and an uncharacteristically bright color palette in lavender and coral also served to elevate the offering.

With the Woolmark and Vogue finals looming for later this year, Chandler and Cooper are the busiest they’ve ever been, but they’re not moving too far away from what got them here.

“We have authenticity and great stories,” Cooper said. “It has to be believable and honest. I think people gravitate to the core authenticity of the brand.

“Winning awards is great, but to build a business, you have to stay grounded and this is our chance to really make something.”

“This is still ground zero for us,” Chandler said. — JEAN E. PALMIERI

 

KIKO KOSTADINOV

Kiko Kostadinov garnered buzz as a men’s wear designer even before launching his namesake label this year. While still a student at Central Saint Martins, the 26-year-old Bulgarian teamed with American label Stüssy, creating two capsule groups of deconstructed garments.

Their second collaboration last year was stocked at the London-based concept store Machine A and at Dover Street Market and led to the latter exclusively carrying the designer’s inaugural collection, which was presented during London Collections: Men in June.

Kostadinov didn’t always plan to be a designer. He moved to the U.K. at 16, and took courses in information technology but soon decided to do something about his love of clothes.

“I thought about what I liked — it was really clothes from a young age. I loved going to shops, but initially I wasn’t interested in designing, I was looking into styling or marketing so I could actually make money to buy clothes,” said the black-clad designer, who sports long hair and a beard.

After a one-year internship with designer Aitor Throup, Kostadinov applied to CSM’s fashion program, and over five years, earned BA and Master’s degrees.

The identity he developed during his Master’s course continues to inform his design. Eschewing the deconstruction of his Stüssy lines, Kostadinov focuses on functionality.

“I’m interested in uniforms and achieving that balance between the upper and lower body. What we offer is a set… It’s utilitarian and it’s functional, not fictional,” said Kostadinov. “For example, we add a good-size pocket to fit a wallet or iPhone. It’s all about simple details, but you can push the pattern-cutting to make the piece your own.”

To achieve an interesting silhouette and wearable fit, Kostadinov does endless fittings on the members of his team in his North London studio. For spring, he took an “antidecorative” approach, with functional looks like a beige boiler suit with sharp lapels and oversize chest pockets, and a Boy Scout-style look, equipped with a wide, cotton tool belt. The main fabric was a sturdy British military cotton that can only be stitched once, requiring great precision. He takes inspiration from the streets, or favorite artists, like filmmaker/author David Cronenberg.

“When crossing the city, I take photos of people on the street. It’s more of a reality check compared to being somewhere like Shoreditch,” he said, referring to the trendy, pricey east London area.

His father, a painter and builder, is another source of inspiration, nudging his design sensibility toward uniforms and workwear. His mother is a childminder.

“We work seven days a week until 10 p.m. I’m happy doing what I like, but it’s not romantic, it’s a job — there’s no glamour here. If my parents can wake up at 6 a.m. and get home at 9 p.m., that gives me guidance. I’m 26 now, so I’m not going to be able to keep up with this level of work forever, so I really want to push for the next two, three years, and see what happens.”

He plans to expand the scope of his work via consultancy and outside projects while his label is small; e-commerce and new categories like footwear are in the works. He’ll collaborate, he said, “if it’s the right partner and if I can actually design stuff, not just change colors.” — NATALIE THEODOSI

 

KINGS OF INDIGO

“I want to convert people. Wait a minute, maybe that sounds a little religious; I want to make unconscious people unconsciously conscious,” said Tony Tonnaer, founder of Amsterdam-based sustainable denim label Kings of Indigo, or K.O.I.

Judging by the growth pattern of the five-year-old brand, he’s a convincing emissary — he said K.O.I. in 2015 posted sales of around $5.6 million; volume is slated to double in the next two years.

Tonnaer’s own initiation into sustainable fashion hearkens to the early Nineties. The seasoned denim executive was working for Ubi Jeans in Los Angeles when, in 2002, he was approached by Netherlands-based fair trade lifestyle brand Kuyichi. He researched the brand’s founders, NGO Solidaridad, and had an epiphany. “Sustainability wasn’t even a subject in fashion then. I loved this new approach, which was so difficult at the time because it was all granola and hairy armpits — so ugly and nonfashion,” he recalled.

So Tonnaer joined Kuyichi as managing director and during those seven years, cultivated contacts that would prove essential in establishing his own label in 2011, focused on design-led sustainable denim.

K.O.I. suppliers need to have social and/or environmental certification, with sustainable denim fabric sourced from mills like Orta Anadolu, TRC Candiani, Calik, Collect Japan, Bossa Denim and Tejidos Royo. The brand produces its denim in Italy and Tunisia and develops fabrics in sustainable fibers and laser and ozone washes. New tools include a high-pressure spray that, instead of sand, blasts jeans with ice crystals.

Through its ‘Triple R’ concept of Recycle, Repair and Re-use, K.O.I. offers branded repair kits and a free repair service, and recycles old jeans into twisted yarn knits. Deadstock fabrics and vintage badges are used for repairs.

Tonnaer looks to American and Japanese denim traditions “but with a modern fit and design.” His best-selling men’s style is the John, with a longer rise and tapered shape — “not too skinny or loose and little bit of a drop crotch so you can wear it up with a belt or drop it down if you want to wear it with Vans or sneakers.” Spring hits include a loose-fit cropped jean in a vintage wash with a white stripe on the hem.

K.O.I. signatures include a herringbone security stitch on the side seam, ticking-stripe lining in all the pockets and a wave stitch logo on the back pocket, a nod to water “which we try to save in denim washing” but also the Koi carp tattoo on Tonnaer’s shoulder, that inspired the brand’s name as both a symbol of rebellion and Japan.

For now focused on Northern Europe, Tonnaer said he’ll look to expand when the time is right. K.O.I. counts around 330 sales points, with the Netherlands and Germany its biggest markets. “It’s better to focus on a few markets and do it well and then grow,” he said. “When we are ready from a product, organizational and delivery point of view, the next step will be to cross the ocean.” — KATYA FOREMAN