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A few weeks ago, Racked sat down with designer Michael Bastian to learn more about his work with Gant—one of the most exciting men's and women's wear collaborations to land on selling floors this year. Here, the former men's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman dishes on how the Gant collab happened, who the Gant by Michael Bastian customer is, and where this whole American heritage trend in menswear is headed.
Michael Bastian: Gant approached me maybe a year ago—Ari Hoffman gave me a call and said, 'Could we have some tea and just chat for a bit?'
I met him in a hotel and we just talked about it and he explained where Gant was. I always wondered what happened to Gant—we all wore Gant, I grew up wearing Gant, but it kind of disappeared over the past 10-12 years. Gant was founded in 1949, became this enormous American brand, and then, in the 1980s, it was bought by another brand and kind of went downhill. Then the company was purchased by these Swedes who moved the operations over to Sweden. They started clean in Europe, and were now ready to come back home and relaunch in America.
So there are a couple of initiatives, he said, we have Rugger, which is a little more designer than regular Gant, and we want to pay a little more attention to this market.
And I said: I honestly don't think I can do this. I've only been doing this for four or five years, I work out of my apartment in New York, I go back and forth to Italy where my stuff is made.
And he said: Just think about it and maybe we can talk a little down the road.
So we met again and they told me, 'We understand your time is kind of tight right now, and you work with a small team, but we will do everything we can to make it work if you're interested.'
It was that attitude that made me think: Let me give this a shot. We'll do 40 pieces, not so huge, and will grow season by season. I'll still do my own line. So I started flying back and forth to Stockholm, met with a team, and the first collection became 120 pieces.
It was going from working on a designer line—just me and my tiny team—to Gant, a big machine with lots of resources. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be to get the stuff done—we would sit down and have these ideas and who the Gant guy was and it was,"We can do that." My line, to give you an example, I don't even start my line until I get the fabric—but at Gant, you think of what fabric you want and they make it. Gant starts two months earlier than I even start doing my own line.
Their whole thing is American heritage sportswear and that's my thing, so that's kind of a natural fit—we're keeping it kind of lifestyle, mixing classifications, sporty and dressy with a little bit of an athletic edge. It was really a much better fit than I thought going in. It was very easy for me to conceive who it guy is.
Racked: Who is the Gant by Michael Bastian customer?
Bastian: I like to think of him as a guy right out of college.
Remember that moment when you get your first job and you move to the city? Everything you wore in college just looks stupid, just doesn't work. You kind of have to get the navy jacket, the grey flannel pants, a collection of shirts and ties for hanging out with friends and going on dates. You're still yourself, but your life's changed significantly. I wanted to aim it at that guy.
I remember going into Century 21 and Syms trying to find my first suit—no one had schooled me on how a suit should fit,. I needed a couple of suits, a couple of sports coats, but there was no one good place I could go find this stuff at a good price.
My own line is really kind of luxury and designer in a way. I think it's more for these guys who have been around the block a little—who are 30 or 40 and don't want logos, who appreciate good, sexy fits and special makes, the handwork in a garment and good fabric. But that's not a huge amount of guys. [Even though] many more guys are going for that look, they're not so obsessed with fabric and handwork.
I like to think the Gant guy grows up to be the Michael Bastian guy.
Racked: How does your experience in retail play into your design work?
Bastian: One rolled right into the other. I never thought I'd be a designer—I still don't consider myself a fashion guy. One opportunity rolled into another—these doors would swing open and I would say, 'I can do that, I might be good at this.'
When I was back at Bergdorf—Bergdorf Goodman is the "Last of the Mohicans" in retail in a way—there wer so many things we couldn't find. Like a really great pair of chinos with pearl buttons, luxury labels with no logos, cashmere crew necks in navy—perfect, specific fits. We weren't finding that stuff. So that kind of led me to think: If I can't find it, and I'm the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman...
Being in retail, I would be on the floor every day. I would watch these guys shop—they can buy anything in the world. In some ways, all guys are the same. Every one of them would put their hands in the pockets and scoot the pants down to their hips.. They all want a lower-rise pant. All of them complained about how baggy the shirts were—it just looked like you had a bag on top. I'm 6'2" and I could never find an off-the-rack shirt where the sleeves were long enough. All these practical things I absorbed on the floor.
Guys are a little more adventurous than anyone gives them credit for—they'll try something if you explain it to them.
Racked: Where do you think this Americana and heritage trend is heading?
Bastian: American classic style—it doesn't change that much. You tweak it, but it never goes away 100%. It was kind of really under-the-radar for maybe most of the '90s going into the new century—it was really a European moment with the little skinny model in a black skinny suit. American wasn't at the top of the pile that that moment. It's like any big trend—every guy now has a skinny black suit.
With the economy falling apart, people aren't as willing to spend money on things they only wear once. This Americana idea feels right again.
People think that truly WASP-y preppy people spend a lot of money—they do spend a tone of money, but they invest in a few amazing things, and they repair them when they break. It's definitely not about the flash and the logos. I think like any good trend, we've got a good 10 to 15 years. The men's wheel moves, but men's moves so slowly. The most fashionable guy overlaps with the least fashionable guy.
· Gant by Michael Bastian spring-summer 2011 [Racked]
· Film obsession of the day: Gant by Michael Bastian "A Love Story" [Racked]
· Gant by Michael Bastian [Official Site]
· All Michael Bastian coverage [Racked]