CA­SUAL AF­FAIR

Merg­ing clas­sic Bri­tish style with Amer­i­can sports­wear, Rag & Bone has writ­ten a rule book en­tirely of its own,

VOGUE Australia - - News - Writes Alice Bir­rell.

Rag & Bone has writ­ten a rule book en­tirely of its own.

Three lit­tle words. A lot of power can pre­side in just three lit­tle words. There’s the ob­vi­ous (“I love you”), the rous­ing (“I’m with her”) and the shrewd (“truth will out”, as Shake­speare fore­told.) If Rag & Bone’s Mar­cus Wain­wright were run­ning a cam­paign for some sort of fash­ion pres­i­dency he might choose these three: “in­tegrity”, “au­then­tic­ity” and “qual­ity”. It’s a tri­umvi­rate of words that comes up of­ten, and mantra-like, when speak­ing with the co-founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor of the New York-based la­bel.

Punchy? Not re­ally. But then Wain­wright is not so much here to play the fash­ion game, spout­ing sexed-up fash­ion plat­i­tudes to the masses. In­stead, as the la­bel cel­e­brates its 15th year, he’s drilling down to core val­ues. “Qual­ity is first and fore­most the most im­por­tant thing to me. You can have the most beau­ti­ful jacket, but if it’s not made well, I can’t re­ally wear it,” he says plainly, with dis­tinc­tive Bri­tish prac­ti­cal­ity. “I think the English in me has al­ways been very drawn sub­con­sciously to the English ap­proach to qual­ity, which is very un­der­stated, but with a very in­tense fo­cus.” It turns out his con­ver­sa­tion is as fuss-free as the cloth­ing he pro­duces as the now sole chief ex­ec­u­tive and cre­ative di­rec­tor of the la­bel – co-founder and former busi­ness part­ner David Neville de­parted the com­pany in June last year, but still sits on the board of di­rec­tors. “We’ve never re­ally been about es­o­teric fash­ion for the sake of art,” he says, seem­ingly still used to speak­ing as a duo. “We’ve al­ways had a very fo­cused aware­ness of the im­por­tance of art and com­merce and that it’s our own money – it’s my own money, my sav­ings that I’m spend­ing – so some­one needed to like it. Some­one needed to be able to wear it.”

Now em­bed­ded in the fash­ion psy­che, it would seem Wain­wright isn’t talk­ing pocket money. Mar­ket sources say the brand was pre­dicted to take in US$300 mil­lion last year. Rag & Bone has be­come a go-to, if not the go-to, for ex­tremely well-made real cloth­ing. This year the la­bel es­chewed the run­way show for an ex­hi­bi­tion in New York of pho­to­graphs of friends and muses wear­ing the la­bel. “The pres­sure to be some­thing that we’re not has never re­ally dom­i­nated the de­ci­sion mak­ing,” says Wain­wright.

It’s part of the way the brand is ad­just­ing to the seis­mic shifts brought about by the dig­i­tal age and the prob­lem­atic high cost of pro­duc­ing in Amer­ica. Denim is made in LA, part of ready-towear in New York, with some of the rest pro­duced over­seas.

“Some things you have to com­pro­mise on oth­er­wise you’ll go out of busi­ness, and some things you just don’t com­pro­mise on be­cause you’ll go out of busi­ness,” says Wain­wright.

For pre-fall ’17, Wain­wright showed jack­ets in washed-out shades with palm tree mo­tifs, draw­string shorts and san­dals when every­one else was do­ing weighty out­wear and trousers. “The sys­tem here is so fucked,” he says, not one to hold back. “Peo­ple want you to de­liver shear­ling in July and Au­gust when it’s 95 de­grees [Fahren­heit]; they want spring stuff in Jan­uary and it’s snow­ing.” The la­bel’s re­sponse is mak­ing the switch to monthly drops rather than sea­sonal col­lec­tions.

Tak­ing the fash­ion tem­per­a­ture seems to be an in­tu­itive skill for Wain­wright, who knows there’s a need to dip into the Zeit­geist. “You can’t be com­pletely off-trend if every­one wants to wear skinny jeans and you’re mak­ing bell bot­toms. That doesn’t work.” That’s not to sug­gest the col­lec­tions that veer to­ward an edi­to­rial look feel forced. For spring/sum­mer ’17 cricket knits were ex­ag­ger­ated to be­come non­cha­lantly slouchy, cot­ton twill chi­nos were smartened up to be­come an easy al­ter­na­tive to work­ing-girl trousers and the roomy shirt dresses were ver­sa­tile wear-with-alls.

Rag & Bone sig­na­tures, on the other hand,n go straight to the roots. Found­ing duo Neville and Wain­wright met as school­boys at Welling­ton Col­lege, a favourite of Bri­tish mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, where por­traits of gen­er­als graced the walls, hence the field jack­ets and anoraks. The tai­lor­ing draws on the tra­di­tions of Sav­ile Row, in­tro­duced to Wain­wright by his fa­ther. Nei­ther had for­mal fash­ion train­ing be­fore they set out to make the per­fect pair of jeans in a Ken­tucky fac­tory in 2002. “No-one ever told me what I should think fash­ion was,” says Wain­wright, adding he thinks the base now of New York has fur­thered their blend of Bri­tish clas­si­cism and Amer­i­can sports­wear. “Here you just walk around a block and you can come up with a few ideas. It’s not that com­pli­cated.”

The con­sis­tency in the cloth­ing, the shoes and the bags, the slight Margiela-es­que ap­proach to re­work­ing the sta­ples, has given the brand broad ap­peal. That the first Aus­tralian store is open­ing in Mel­bourne’s The Strand this month is not sur­pris­ing. As Wain­wright says, “a great pair of jeans is a great pair of jeans”.

Wain­wright now jug­gles be­ing a fa­ther with the de­mands of the Rag & Bone men’s and wom­enswear and the busi­ness mech­a­nisms. “My day is a lit­tle bit crazy, so home is like bath time and sto­ries fol­lowed by col­laps­ing in a heap most of the time.” The fu­ture is also on his mind. “A lot of the time I’m think­ing about how fast the world is chang­ing and how to pre­emp­tively make de­ci­sions. I think that’s what peo­ple are strug­gling with in fash­ion right now; ev­ery­thing feels very fuck­ing nervy,” he says with a half-laugh. “No-one re­ally knows what’s go­ing on, and I think you need to seize the day.” Three more words to see him on the long road.

Back­stage at Rag & Bone spring/ sum­mer ’17.

Rag & Bone’s cre­ative di­rec­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mar­cus Wain­wright. Right: looks from the la­bel’s spring/ sum­mer ’17 show. RAG & BONE PARKA, $1,450. RAG & BONE PANTS, $855.

RAG & BONE SHIRT, $425.

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