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Interview: Daniel Lewis of Brooklyn Tailors

On the current landscape of men's fashion with the founder and designer of Brooklyn Tailors, presented by Cole Haan

by Graham Hiemstra in Style on 31 July 2014

Clothing, Fashion, History, Menswear, NYC, Style, Suiting, Sponsored

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In the past decade or so, men's fashion has grown into its own. In generations past, one dressed according to their occupation, location or social economic sect, but nowadays a man's wardrobe reflects his lifestyle or, at the very least, the lifestyle he aspires to. The heritage movement taught fashion enthusiasts to invest in quality over quantity and value where each purchase comes from.

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With aspects from yesteryear mixed with modern innovations, men's fashion seems to be focused on freedom, experimentation and blending—high/low or perhaps more accurately: technical/basic. The combination of tech-led brogues (like the ZeroGrand), sweats and a tailored blazer might have been laughed at in the past, but now it just might get you street styled.

To get some insight from a card-carrying menswear insider, we recently caught up with Daniel Lewis, founder and designer of Brooklyn Tailors, fresh from being named one of GQ's 2014 Best New Menswear Designers in America.

Where do you see men's fashion going?

I see things moving towards a bit more of a clean, minimal aesthetic—less rugged or rustic and more sharp and refined. I see guys wanting to clean up their act a little bit, look a bit less disheveled and slouchy and a bit more "put together." That can mean lots of different things, but I think it's the general broad trend. I think we'll see guys mixing clothes from different worlds in interesting ways—it might be some running sneakers with a formal suit, and a workwear shirt. It's all about making interesting juxtapositions.

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There's been a complete breakdown of those rigid rules and expectations. It's a wide-open playing field now, compared to how it used to be.
As a celebrated designer of formal men's attire, how have you seen the culture of men's fashion change in recent years?

For most of history, there have been pretty established and strict rules or codes to how people have dressed in a given society. Depending on your walk in life, your job, your social status—you were expected to dress a certain way. And, there were clear lines between what you wore for certain occasions: you wore a certain thing to go out for the evening, a certain thing to the office and a certain thing on the weekends. The amazing thing about the past handful of decades is that there's been a complete breakdown of those sorts of rigid rules and expectations. It's a wide-open playing field now, compared to how it used to be.

But, now that the rules have broken down a bit, and you don't have to wear a suit necessarily, I'm finding that younger guys are now warming up to the idea of dressing up a bit more than they did in the past. What used to feel stiff and overly formal is now feeling exciting to a new generation of guys. But, it's being interpreted in new ways. A classic gray suit is being paired with a casual denim shirt and sneakers. Guys now have the freedom to break the rules and subvert expectations.

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What about men's fashion and its accompanying culture has you most excited these days?

I'm excited that guys have become much more engaged with the process of dressing themselves in recent years and, with that, men's fashion has become a lot more fun and interesting. I feel that men's fashion has come into its own because it has found its own distinct identity—which is quite different from that of the women's fashion world.

I find that guys are more concerned with the details of quality, construction and the story behind the product. They like to do their research and find a company that works for them to be loyal to. The internet has been a huge help in that respect because it has allowed men to have information about every clothing brand on the planet at their fingertips, which has been a really good thing for small niche brands such as Brooklyn Tailors. We've been able to reach out to our very specific customer base and connect with them, whether they're here in Brooklyn or on the other side of the planet.

There's a bit of a "return to function" as a concern in men's clothing. If you go way back, nearly every item in a man's wardrobe was designed with a very specific function in mind.
Do you think function is being considered more by designers than in previous years or decades?

I'd say there's a bit of a "return to function" as a concern in men's clothing. If you go way back, nearly every item in a man's wardrobe was designed with a very specific function in mind. The details on a garment were designed to serve a certain purpose. And, the garment itself was expected to perform—to be built to last. People didn't have as much stuff in their closets, because to get new clothes, you had to get them made by your tailor. But, with the rise of ready-to-wear fashion and mass production, clothing suddenly became much more readily accessible and much cheaper. But, I'm seeing a lot of people that are deciding to spend a bit more money, time and effort on finding something of great quality, that is just right for them and they're choosing to have fewer (but better) items in their wardrobe.

Images by Nicholena Moon and courtesy of Brooklyn Tailors

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Cool Hunting Video: The Heidelberg Project

On Detroit's East Side, one man continues turning a whole neighborhood into an artistic haven

by Cool Hunting Video in Culture on 31 July 2014

Art, Art Installations, CHV, Detroit, Michigan, Urban Landscape, Video

There's plenty to see in Detroit, MI right now. With a wide array of new businesses reinvigorating the economy and an influx of creatives, some may overlook aspects of the cultural and artistic history in the city. One of those is The Heidelberg Project, a large-scale art project started 28 years ago on Detroit's East Side by artist Tyree Guyton. Starting with a single abandoned home, Guyton decorated and beautified the neglected building, and has grown his ever-evolving project to now encompass a significant swathe of the neighborhood. Despite losing several works to arson, Guyton continues his daily routine; involving locals in the process while creating a truly special place for visitors to experience his visceral work.

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Studio Visit: Atelier de Geste

Dancer-turned-designer Beau Rhee creates limited edition products inspired by movement and performance

by Nara Shin in Style on 31 July 2014

Choreography, Concept Shops, Dance, Fragrances, NYC, Studio Visits

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Beau Rhee has worked as a professional dancer in NYC for years (apprenticing with Bill T Jones and Arnie Zane), but in a superhuman feat, also found time to work for art galleries and fashion showrooms. Forever attracted to the visual, Rhee—a double major in dance and art history—found herself wanting to do more than just integrate sets and costumes into her choreography. Developing her design skills while pursuing a MFA in Geneva, Switzerland, Rhee soon after launched Atelier de Geste, a "performance-inspired" studio and brand, following the historical example of women artists (like Sonia Delaunay) who owned businesses on the side. A prop or costume used in an AdG performance or installation, for example, could be further developed into a design object or ready-to-wear tunic that remains long after the show has ended.

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Heavily influenced by Oskar Schlemmer and Ballet Russes, Rhee adds a tangible dimension to the ephemeral nature of dance and movement through limited edition goods that undergo a lengthy creative exploratory process. Her concept scents and leggings have been picked up by The Cools, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitter's Space Ninety 8 and more; you can also spot the latter in Pharell's dance-themed music video "Marilyn Monroe." We stopped by the Atelier de Geste studio in Manhattan to discuss her new tunics for fall, telling stories through objects and her current obsession with blue.

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What attracted you to this hybrid studio-brand idea?

One of the reasons why I want to focus on product—or things that people can use alongside the "pure artistic" choreographed fixed stuff—is because I learned about so many artists in Europe, especially women artists, who were involved with textile and product, etc., such as Sonia Delaunay, who's this famous abstract painter who [also] worked directly doing textile design. She was like a fashion girl: she made clothes, she made bathing suits. There's another designer, Eileen Gray, who's very famous—she was an architect and furniture designer. She had a storefront in Paris in the 1920s and she was doing her own carpets, etc. I found that in my research, I thought that was enriching in some ways: not only what artists made but how they practiced a lot of the time. I thought that it might have made their art more interesting—because they understand how to communicate with people in a way that's not like super esoteric.

And everything is still pretty new and sort of in a continual experimental state.

The commercial launch [for Atelier de Geste] only happened last year and my plan is to show new editions once a year, generally in fall—so I'm really not on the fashion calendar at all. [laughs] Last year started with the scents. The fragrances were the first thing that I showed.

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How did you come to develop these fragrances?

The premise of these was originally just, how to translate movement into fragrance: because both of these are ephemeral ideas. "Blood, Sweat and Tears" was about circles and blue—like repetition, water, etc. I would brainstorm addictive essences, something that goes over and over. Teas, tobacco, hints of coffee, woods that are very deep and kind of blues-y in some way. And then "The Good Earth" was all about upward, jumping and optimism. There's this speech in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," that's very famous, that goes, "The good earth is rich and can provide for [everyone].."

Chaplin speaks in a movie?

Yeah, he's so prescient! It's the first time Chaplin looks into the camera as, I think, himself. It's called "The Barber's Speech." It's not dance-dance, but I think of Chaplin as a dancer—so expressive. That performance was the inspiration for "The Good Earth;" it's about the power of imagining utopia or abundance, almost.

It does smell really optimistic.

It's like a pop of neon green; it has all kinds of really precious resins like opoponax and galbanum, resins which were perceived as holy or precious throughout time. They were used a lot in religious ceremonies but it's mostly sap from trees, which is the earth. This one is very joyful, isn't it?

And then "Wild is the Wind" is from a Nina Simone song and that one was kind of fiery, with tuberose and musk. I'm brainstorming [new scents] now and I'm inspired by two different things of 'stone' and 'metal' right now. I found myself getting into more and more elemental, earth things and so I think it would beautiful to have two contrapposto scents that are more sturdy. I think next year, 2015, hopefully there will be two more then.

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What was the concept behind the leggings?

There was a really specific reference—these really cool Renaissance tights. Look at this man! I became really interested in how tights had taken on this sexed [meaning]; now women wear tights. The tights thing was very personal because growing up dancing, I'd always worn tights.

So if you look at photographs of the [AdG] tights, the inside is more sheer. The interior and the exterior are like this old school, Simone de Beauvoir "the private is political" kind of thing. For the lookbook, we have guys wearing the tights; it's this whole circle of trying to break down the gender barrier of the idea of tights.

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And this fall, Atelier de Geste be producing ready-to-wear for the first time. Can you walk us through the creation process?

The silk movement wear / tunics came naturally as an extension of creating a visual language for performance. I looked at a lot of atelier and workshop outfits of dancers and artists, the kind of boxy and free design that allows uninhibited movement and comfort. Ballets Russes costumes, free and simple with a lot of color, were also an inspiration. On a stage, color use and color blocking is a really effective way to communicate themes and ideas.

The basic shapes of the T-shirt and Tunics are for active people and open to endless interpretation. The length of the T shirt could make it a dress for ladies or a slightly long T for men. The tricolor aspect makes it a statement, a flag-esque piece, something to layer with a blazer or moto jacket, something special.

The Tunics all have high side slits that are measured to provide total range of motion for the leg—arabesques, plies, half moon pose, you name it—and also make them quite sexy, with or without tights. A lot of old Nijinsky photos picture him with a lot of deep Vs, as well as many other dancers... I personally think the neck line and the upper back are some of the most beautiful parts of the body, so the deep V of the neck and back harken to that idea. I also always need pockets, so there are hidden pockets nestled in the inner layer of the tunics. The single-layer design is all lined raw tussah silk on the bottom half (kind of looks like tweed). The material reminds me of Bauhaus uniforms or canvas painter aprons.

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What are some of the creative projects you are working on for AdG that aren't tied to a product?

I'm doing a "blue" project. It's purely artistic, there's no product involved—I think. (I might make tunics in a blue shade.) I've been obsessed with blue for a year and a half. In language, blue blood, blue collar, blue ruin (like the drink). Kind of how mystic and spiritual and beautiful it is, and also, there's a profanity of it too: "I've got the blues," and blues music. I've been writing notes about blue and collaborating with a few other artists to do sets, etc.

I've just choreographed three minutes of water spirit movement. Thinking about how algae moves in the water, a lot of hands, you know how when you're moving in the water, there's this kind of floaty-ness to your body? It's so much fun, that's my release—it's just pure creativity, I don't have to be bound by minimums and quantities and selling stuff. It's a non-commercial Atelier de Geste project, in the works officially: rehearsal has started. I feel like I need to do stuff like that, and then it feeds back to the creative process.

Atelier de Geste movement tunics (produced in editions of 10 per style/size) will be available in their online store on 9 September 2014.

Images by Nara Shin

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