But, as the New York Post writes:
With the sleeves of his wrinkled shirt rolled up and the top buttons undone, his pewter hair parted at the front, and his stubble beard, Michael Bastian gives off the air of a corporate executive who’s shunned the business world for the tanned island life. His comportment and designs are welcome departures from the tight-laced seriousness in men’s fashion. The designer is the king of next-generation prep.
“I picture him to be a guy like me,” Bastian says of his client. “He’s gotten to where he is a designer customer, but he’s not ready to get into this luxury world.” Bastian’s fall collection illustrates this perfectly, zigzagging seamlessly from a pinstriped double-breasted suit to a yellow Charlie Brown sweater.
Bastian is in his West Chelsea office. Oriental rugs cover the bare concrete floor, and a giant Chinese urn overflows with willow branches that thrust upwards toward the pipes and air-conditioning ducts overhead.
Bastian launched his namesake brand, now carried in more than 50 stores, in 2006. From the onset, the themes were easy-to-read and the clothes handsome. He heightened his runway shows with a sense of occasion, if not theatricality (fog machines, chandeliers, scuba gear), and featured models that erred on the side of macho, muscular and hirsute, rather than sandwich-deprived teens.
Started in 2009, the popular GANT by Michael Bastian line helped push the staid heritage brand from suburban malls to the Barneys fashion mainstream. Later in the year, GANT will open stores in Boston, Georgetown and Los Angeles.
Since 2007, Bastian was nominated for a CFDA menswear each year, finally winning in 2011. “Michael is part of a core group of American designers that have changed the way men dress,” says Steven Kolb, the CEO of the CFDA. “His experience in retail and his own personal style have shaped a collection that is both classic and unexpected. There is a real sense of contrast in his work.”
This dichotomy parallels the trajectory of the 46-year-old designer. Bastian comes from the upstate village of Lyons and, after attending Babson College, he moved to New York in the late 1980s. “I came from a tiny town and went to school in Boston,” he says. “You’d look at these magazines and think, nobody looks like that. So when I first moved to New York, one of the things that astounded me was this group of guys that always dressed up!” Bastian ended up as an assistant buyer at Abraham & Strauss in Brooklyn Heights. “I didn’t even know where Brooklyn was,” Bastian says.
By the next decade, he was men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. Bastian noticed that there were certain things missing, basic items that, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t find. “We were always looking for a solid chino, a five-pocket cord and a raincoat,” says Bastian. “And we were dying for the perfect cashmere crew-neck that was lightweight but still fluffy and had a good, sexy fit.”
The market had a need, and Bastian would fill it. “It was that easy and that reckless,” Bastian recalls. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try this.’”
Joining him was Eugenia Gonzalez Ruiz-Olloqui, a vivacious brunette who met Bastian when she was the p.r. director at Bergdorf Goodman. They had worked closely together, and she sensed something momentous in Bastian’s decision to strike out on his own. “I have no idea why I did it,” Eugenia laughs. “I wasn’t expecting him to ask me to come with him, but when he did, I was flattered.” She’s now in charge of everything from business development to producing the runway shows and is a perfect chic foil to Bastian. Flanked side-by side, the pair cut an almost Steed and Mrs. Peel “Avengers”-like silhouette.
Bastian walks over to a suit jacket of powdery, almost shimmering, grayish khaki hanging from the rack. It’s tailored and angular but not severe. “I love this idea,” he says as he brushes a hand across the fabric. “Playing around with washed velvet, so it’s not some fancy evening thing.”