Michael Bastian: Designer?

Much ink has been spilled on Michael Bastian’s status in the fish-bowl that is the world of men’s fashion. Some have suggested that both his biography and work history betray the fact that he is a merchant. They have used the fact that he studied business at Babson College (in Wellesley, MA) and the time he spent at Bergdorf Goodman as Men’s Fashion Director (five years) to make the case that Bastian is only interested in making money. Critics have also described his short tenure as Men’s Creative Director for Bill Blass as failed and motivated solely by money.

My sense is that Bastian’s business choices, including his deal with the ill-fated house of Bill Blass, cannot and should not be used to discount his clear talent in design. Bastian is incredibly intuitive about design, and in many regards, his grasp of color, texture, fit, is truly unrivaled. If one understands how Bastian works and becomes familiar with the things that motivate his aesthetic, the notion that he is a mere merchant immediately goes out the window. Bastian does not pretend to be the next Pierre Cardin or Thierry Mugler; what he strives to do with his label and now his collaboration with GANT is to provide a new perspective in American men’s wear. And that perspective stems from the desire to create something familiar yet modern, luxurious, and broken down (see his cashmere sweaters).

I do not dispute the fact that Bastian cares about the economics of his business, but he does so just as any other savvy designer would. There is only so much one can do if one’s label is in the red season after season. Bastian has his eye on investors, expansion, and all of that, but his father’s aesthetic is so intrinsic to his work that it would be irresponsible to judge his designs as mere commodities on a shelf.

Other critics have taken a different tack and characterized (inaccurately, in my opinion) Bastian as a stylist. They label him in that manner with such derision it is almost disgusting. In response, I ask: how on earth can a designer not also be a stylist? The responsibilities of each go hand-in-hand, and Bastian certainly epitomizes the ideal designer: one who has a terrific sense of how clothes ought to be constructed AND an idea of how those clothes should feel on someone not trapped in the bubble of men’s fashion.

Unsurprisingly, I steadfastly stand by Bastian and his status as a designer (a very talented one, at that). In past articles, I have described him as the next Perry Ellis or Ralph Lauren, and I continue to believe that. I wish him nothing but the best as he expands his business and takes his designs to the next level.