If you've ever wondered what fashion critics mean exactly when they say clothes have "energy," the new menswear label Highland from a trio of Utah-raised family friends might give you some idea. Drawing on their shared outdoorsy past, designer Lizzie Owens explains they not only turned to Arcteryx, seventies Patagonia and their dads' closets but that "it involved ransacking my garage. I looked at a lot of backpacks and sleeping bags and tents—actual equipment."
The resulting debut collection (just hitting stores like Assembly, Steven Alan and No. 44) shows hints of such a resourceful process—climbing rope will be a trademark stand-in for pull-cords and emergency blankets feature prominently—without getting too weighed down by all the clever details. (See detail shots here.) While the light touch may seem unexpected from a designer best known for her work in costumes (she's known for outfitting MGMT, The Killers, Chairlift and others), her skillful blending of influences suggests Owens intimately knows both sides of how clothes can obscure, protect and express the wearer's personality. Of course formal training at RISD and years at TSE designing knitwear might have something to do with it; Highland at its core is what happens when artistic interpretation meets technical capabilities.
This balance between construction and inspiration not only helps keep the clothes functional and minimal, but lends a playfulness rarely seen in menswear. Blue (inspired by '80s skiwear), red ("something I felt guys weren't afraid of") and mustard ("I'm obsessed with it. It's so beautiful.") punctuate an otherwise mostly black and grey palette and "pop on the inside is "for guys, like a little secret."
A boxier cut to shirting plays on an '80s silhouette that's recently been making a comeback. But simple plaids and checks in Japanese fabrics, cotton and wool neatly put a spin on cliched lumberjack references for a fresh look. Sweats in coveted loopwheeler fabric (made in Japan using an intensive process) are another example of Owens' knack for integrating technical details with modern silhouettes. And waxwear pants with reinforced legs reference Carhartt's classic carpenter pants, but with one key difference—the loop for a hammer is actually a non-functional piece of climbing rope.
Check the Highland site for a complete list of stores or just head to Bastille to find Highland online.
All images except for top photo by James Ryang