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I never bought a single thing from Band of Outsiders, a brand that launched in 2004 and rose to popularity right as I started tuning in to all things fashion. Its clothes were preppy and quirky; its advertisements were playful Polaroids of actresses like Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams.
These sun-bleached pictures don’t give you a good sense of the clothing — and to be honest, Band of Outsiders’ collections never stuck in my brain the way other designers’ work has — but they do transmit a powerful mood. What I loved best was a picture of Williams taken at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She’s hopping on a shovel with impish glee, her blonde pixie cut lit up in the sunshine, pretending to dig up the body of Alfred Hitchcock.
The power of good branding is that you can have an emotional connection to a product without having ever seen it or purchased it, and I was instinctively bummed when Band of Outsiders’ business shuddered to a halt in 2015. Scott Sternberg, the brand’s well-known founder and designer, was out, and a new set of creative directors took over under new ownership. The results were not successful.
Last week, followers of the fashion world (including me) sat up straight at the news that Sternberg was back with a fresh brand concept called Entireworld, which launched online Monday. The name is a mouthful, but it represents a trimmed-down approach to making and selling clothing. The business model is direct to consumer, and the wares — T-shirts, socks, fisherman sweaters — are decidedly basic. Unlike Band of Outsiders, the price point is approachable, with a simple striped shirt going for $35.
In a lo-fi video introducing the brand, Sternberg addresses the camera and explains why he’s reentering the fray: “I guess the question’s, like, why would I even want to start a clothing brand right now. I mean, aren’t there enough brands out there? Enough clothes? Didn’t I do this already, and didn’t that, like, not end so well? Well, yes.” But then, he says, he started thinking about what clothing means to him, and how it’s a language that connects the world. He started thinking about great brands like Patagonia, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Nike.
“I started thinking about this idea of utopia,” Sternberg says. “Building a perfect world from scratch. A blank slate with a sense of logic and integrity, optimism and purity.”
Symbolically, this feels appropriate for a designer whose business was eaten up and spit out by the notoriously challenging fashion world. But it’s no surprise that Sternberg’s blank slate is a collection of well-made, affordable basics. That’s precisely the Everlane model of fashion disruption, which in the past few years has spawned a herd of direct-to-consumer startups telling us that they’ve made the ultimate leather bag, or pajamas, or jeans — no need to shop any other brand ever again. These products are minimal in design because they need to go with everything and suit everyone.
Brands claim that salvation from the consumer frenzy looks like the perfect tee, and they’re all trying to sell us one. Their sales pitches rest on the idea that they’ve optimized shopping for our weary, information-flooded minds, which is an effective if clinical approach to style. But while a subdued silk work blouse might appeal to our overloaded senses, what makes people lose their minds in near-religious ecstasy is an unapologetically over-the-top outfit worn by Beyoncé. Drama and individuality still wins.
Entireworld does sell great T-shirts in some fun colors, which I’m probably going to go buy after I finish this post. Its sweaters look nice in a classic way. The socks could do without the big logo running down the foot, but it’ll be covered up by your shoes anyway. It’s entirely possible for a basics brand to build an ardent fan base (perhaps you have a Uniqlo sweater evangelist in your life). It’s just becoming increasingly hard to cut through the deafening simplicity.