Michael Bastian: “You’re Only As Strong As The Tools In Your Toolbox”

In this post, newly-launched Park & Bond interviews our very own Michael Bastian!

In June, Michael Bastian won the CFDA for menswear designer of the year. In September, he’ll relaunch his eponymous line at New York Fashion Week. And in the meantime, Bastian continues to expand his wildly successful collaboration with Gant, which has brought the designer’s iconic-meets-ironic take on American style to a wider audience of guys. I stopped by his Chelsea studio just as he was about to hop a plane for Gant global HQ in Stockholm, where he was headed to put finishing touches on the Fall 2012 Gant by Michael Bastian offering. The collection includes both men’s and women’s, and the latter component was foremost on his mind…

“Girls are open to this idea that every day is Halloween,” he said. “Like, Today I’m going be Goth…”

Good point. I guess we tend to find our thing and stick to it.
Yeah, I feel like most guys figure this all out in college. I don’t know about you but I went through a bunch of gyrations in college and settled into a sense that, “all right, this is my look.” Remember having “going to school”-clothes and “going out”-clothes? And your “going out”-clothes were just ridiculous?

Oh yeah. They had nothing to do with real life.
They didn’t have anything to do with anything! Hopefully by the time you’re in your mid-to-late twenties you’ve settled on something. Then it’s just a matter of drilling into that even deeper and getting that perfected.

How do you describe your style?
I can’t run away from the fact that I am pretty classic American preppy. But I think spending the last six or seven years basically living in Italy, a lot of that has crept in.

Here’s the big difference between how Italian guys dress and American guys dress: Italian guys’ goal is perfection, and when you see it, it can be intimidating. I mean, you feel the work that went into that rig—the hair and the nails and the shoes. Americans can spend just as much time getting ready and thinking about it, but the effect when you hit the street should be that you spent no time. All of the intimidation needs to be scraped off to make the American look work.

But the best looks come on those days when your mind is disengaged and pulling what you love and you’re just doing your thing.

You’ve got to have those things you love on hand, and then play around with them.
That’s the real trick: You’re only as strong as the tools in your toolbox. So all the work is pre-work: you choose your clothes carefully, you make sure they fit properly, you have a good tailor. Then make sure they are clean and on their hanger ready for you. You don’t need a lot of clothes—I’ve been saying this for ages now—buy less but buy better…It’s not uncommon to see some of the [Italian] guys I’ve worked with come wearing the same thing every other day and rotate.

Funny, I did that last week.
I call it “cartoon dressing.” Remember when you watched cartoons and you were like “why don’t they ever change clothes?” It’s because they are perfect. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Speaking of perfection, who do you think of as style inspirations?
They all seem to be dead, unfortunately. But do you remember when Perry Ellis was alive? He was very spare, very clean, but there was a lot of humor, very luxurious fabric, and very simple cuts. It was just kind of perfect, right for the times, and very desirable. I’m always trying to think about what he would do and how he worked; he’s the designer I emulate the most.

The other [inspiration] is JFK Jr. He was so amazing in that he had perfected that idea of never looking like you tried too hard. Just riding a bike to work with a rubber band around your suit trouser, a Patagonia over that, some crazy knit hat over messy hair, and a great watch. He embodied that American way of doing it when nobody else was doing it. No one has come up to take his place. If you can say Lapo Elkann represents the apotheosis of Italian style, then JFK Jr. represented that for American style.

And maybe there are guys out there doing it now and I don’t know them. This is why blogs and street style have become so interesting, because it’s normal guys with jobs who are filling that void left by celebrities.

And when you see a great picture by Scott Schuman or Tommy Ton you can create your own narrative about the guy because you’ll likely never talk to him. I mean it’s not like you ever talked to JFK Jr. about his clothes.
Oh but I did!

You did?
I did.

Well, hell. That ruins that theory.
I totally knew him.

So did he talk about clothes?
I was friends with friends of his and we would find ourselves at parties together. One time I was sitting next to him at a dinner party and he was wearing this great jacket. I asked him about it and it was Ferré of all people. He was dating some girl who was PR for Ferré or something and that’s where he got it. He even would say funny things about how his mom would get on him about how he dressed in some picture that was published of him. But he had just that right amount of not giving a shit.

True that. So one last question. Let’s say you’re getting on a red-eye from New York to London, and you’ve got some meetings shortly after you land. What are you wearing?
Oh man, do I get to go to the hotel?

Sure, but you’ve only got 15 minutes to freshen up.
Five-pocket cords, a T-shirt, and a cashmere sweater. And nice socks. These days it’s all about the socks.

Especially on a plane.
Yes, and a nice watch. Do you ever get that feeling that when you’re on a plane—since everyone is in a T-shirt and jeans—that it’s kind of hard to tell who’s who? It’s like being at the gym. You can’t really tell who’s cool or who has an amazing job, but you can always tell by the watch. So mind the watch.