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Bonobos: Interview with VP of Design Dwight Fenton

One-on-one with the brand's chief designer on his process and background

by Largetail in Style on 17 December 2013

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Over the past month we've highlighted some of the holiday offerings from Bonobos —from their luxuriously soft and well-styled cashmere to their versatile and travel-ready patterned oxfords. We also teamed up with the premier menswear brand on our holiday gift guide, to make your shopping this season a breeze. To keep you looking fresh and festive without going overboard we shared some holiday style tips from Vice President of Design at Bonobos, Dwight Fenton. Now, in our one-on-one interview, we go into depth with Fenton about his influences and non-traditional path to the design table.

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You don't have the traditional design school route. Can you tell me about how you got your start?

A few years post-college I started working for outdoor clothing companies like Mountain Hardwear and Patagonia. I was into the sports they made gear for and was in need of something resembling a career. As I gained some experience, the opportunity to work at Old Navy as a merchant came up. Since the same business principles apply—despite product being completely different—I decided to explore. What I found was that, while important to know, the business side of retail was far less intriguing to me than the design side. Todd Snyder (then the Head of Men's Design at Old Navy) was willing to take the mutual risk of letting me try my hand at designing. Luckily for both of us, it worked out and I was hooked.

Does coming from a non-design background affect the way you work?

I learned from great designers and have been doing this for 14 years now so my process is not startlingly different, but I'm sure people that work for me would say there are differences. My sketches aren't going to win any awards and Illustrator is still a bit foreign to me, so there's that! [laughs]

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What sets Bonobos apart?

We truly, truly are devoted to innovations that lead to the best fits, quality and customer focus. The company was founded on recreating the fit of men's pants and fit is still a mantra, we just apply it to all categories now that we've grown. Quality-wise, we work with some of the best mills and factories in the world, always doing what's right for the product and the customer. And lastly, we are dedicated to our customers and delivering to them a hassle-free way of shopping. Free shipping, easy returns and college-educated customer service "ninjas" make online shopping easy. Offline, our e-commerce stores—which we call Guideshops—offer as personalized a shopping experience as there is in retail. It's a total customer focus space with one-on-one appointments and assistance. And we will never be done improving things; it's in our DNA.

The Bonobos collection incorporates contemporary color into classic pieces. What are some of your major sources of inspiration? Can you tell me a bit about your creative process?

The creative process is dictated by inspiration and inspiration is always evolving. This is a huge part of what I love about designing clothes. While at the Dia:Beacon museum last spring, I was taken by the artwork of Agnes Martin and her paintings of stripes in very washed out palettes. At roughly the same time period I had two songs on constant rotation: "He Gets Me High" by Dum Dum Girls and "Brat Mouth" by Hunters. When fed through my inspiration filter, the combination of the artwork, colors and music conjured up an entire setting and style from which our upcoming Spring and Summer 2014 collection sprang. That's not to say that every season it's a song and artist (although music does tend to be prominent), but every season there's something that sparks my imagination—hopefully.

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What is the one thing every man needs in his wardrobe?

A great fitting pair of dark denim jeans. They can get you through almost any event or situation these days when mixed correctly; be it with a blazer or dressed down with a colorful fleece. There are so many options of fit and price that there's no excuse for not having a pair.

What is the most common style pitfall? How can one avoid it?

Bad fit. Finding clothes with great fabric and/or color and style that you like is not the end of the process; getting it to fit is equally important. Are the shoulders in the right place? Is it cut the way you like? Is the length right? If not, determine if the problems can be altered and solved. If so, get to a tailor; if not, put it back on the rack.

What piece are you most proud of?

I don't think I could pick one, there are many every season. I can give you a style I really like this season: The Cordo Bello Blazer in green corduroy. I kind of have a blind spot for green, can't say no.

What do you mean by "blind spot"?

Blind spot in that I have lost the ability to judge it properly. I have an involuntary need to buy, wear and design it. I'm not even sure I do actually have a soft spot for it—the process is too unconscious to know.

Images courtesy of Bonobos

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