In this interview, GQ hails our very own Michael Bastian as “one of the most influential designers in America.” More below.
It’s an understatement to say Michael Bastian is busy during New York Fashion Week. One of the most influential menswear designers in America, each season the man delivers two complete lineups of looks for both his Michael Bastian main collection and Gant by Michael Bastian. The two brands cater to Bastian’s fans, a loyal crew that turns to him for perfected American sportswear with tailored touches, but each has a distinct identity. Gant by Michael Bastian, for example, represents the sportier side of the Bastian man, stocked with seasonal essentials as well as a more spirited sensibility. We caught up with the designer just before his Spring 2013 Gant presentation to find out how he keeps the two lines separate, his essentials for getting through so busy a time and just how he came to learn much about iguanas.
The inspiration for this season is the Galapagos Islands, so my first question, naturally, is have you visited?
I haven’t been, but this whole idea came from an amazing documentary I found on Netflix. The BBC did a documentary on the Galapagos Islands narrated by Tilda Swinton and it was fascinating. I learned so much about the Galapagos that I had no idea about. This spot on the globe is so incredible because three or four ocean currents converge and what’s made them so special is there will be penguins from the South Pole that somehow ended up on the equator. There will be animals that somehow drifted off on a log off the side of Ecuador and suddenly had to make their home on this island. There are flamingos from the tropics that somehow ended up there. It’s just so fascinating that there’s this one spot on the globe where there little bits of everything converging and they’re having to figure it out. My favorite animal on the Galapagos is the Galapagos Marine Iguana. The first rule of iguana-dom is that iguanas hate the water yet somehow these poor iguanas landed there and had to figure it out. And they landed on the worst island. They landed on the one that’s still a volcano with no greenery, no food – nothing. They taught themselves to jump in the water, which they hate. And they jump off, and dive down really quickly nibble some algae off of a rock and then have to swim up and crawl back up the rock. Talk about adaption, it’s so incredible. So my new hero is the Marine Iguana.
Is that the one in the inspiration image we saw with the intense colors?
That crazy blue green thing sitting on a rock.
It was so bold it almost looks spray-painted or something
Yeah, they have their own special color. The overall thing that amazed me most was that there’s still a spot on this planet that hasn’t been exploited, hasn’t been over-developed. The world is such a small place now and we all eat the same stuff and see the same stuff and wear the same stuff, and here’s this tiny little ecosystem that makes me happy it exists in the world.
And how does this inspiration inform the clothes this season?
The way we translated that was to kind of develop this idea of a cool girl and guy who are exploring these islands. Have you ever met those cool people who backpack across Europe, or quit their jobs to explore something new? They pick up little bits and pieces from their travels and they work them into their wardrobe. So we liked this idea that this couple maybe spent some time hiking around South America, picked up little bits of indigenous clothing. They also have their technical gear, which you would need to survive in somewhere like the Galapagos, so there’s a lot of nylon and reflective materials and functional pieces. And this being Gant and me, there’s also that base of classic American sportswear. So really if you add those three elements up, it’s what you get in this collection.
Last time we spoke about the Gant by Michael Bastian line, you mentioned that it now serves almost as a sportswear-based extension of your main collection since they often share the same customer. When you are designing a new season now are you consciously designing both lines at once, trying to weave a theme througout, or are they very delineated in your mind?
They’re very delineated. I used to say Gant’s the little brother. The reality is Gant’s not the little brother. He may be the fraternal twin at this point. You know, the two lines play together very well. What we discovered was that we got a lot of Gant customers who were introduced to our main line, and a lot of our main line guys always say they work a lot of Gant into their wardrobe and I think that’s a cool thing. We keep them separate. They still have the same father, but we approach them with a different inspiration, a different point of view…but I’m one guy. I like what I like.
You recently launched your first pre-fall collection for Gant by Michael Bastian. How have these between season collections been received and what are your feelings on giving guys four collections versus two each year?
What we’ve learned is we’re getting some of our best sell-throughs with these in between collections because we’re keeping them really focused. They’re not enormous. They’re telling a little story instead of a big story. We’re really trying to focus on saying “we haven’t done a great gray flannel pant in a long time, let’s put it in this collection,” or “guys love a cargo, let’s give it to them in a color they haven’t gotten in the last couple of collections.” Plus, it hits the stores at exactly the time when guys are looking for something new. There’s a sea of markdown racks, the season’s changing, designer lines haven’t shipped yet. It hits that sweet spot for a couple reasons.
The Gant by Michael Bastian line seems to have a more playful spirit to it than your main Michael Bastian collection. Do you approach designing that way?
With the main line we take you on a little bit more of an emotional experience. It goes a little bit deeper. Gant is more about great clothes that you want to wear. We just don’t take you on as deep of a journey. It’s good for me, emotionally, because I can’t handle exploring the depths of my psyche with every damn collection. Sometimes you just want to wake up and feel good about yourself. I think it’s important for a designer line like the main line to be selling this dream, this experience, and this story. With a contemporary line like Gant it’s more about the clothes.
Do you have a favorite piece in the new collection?
Everyone always asks me this question and I always dodge it by saying, “they’re all my babies, I love them all.” You know what? I never know my favorite piece until six months later. This shirt I’m wearing? It’s from last fall. I have worn the hell out of this shirt since I got it. Every guy I see I say “go buy this shirt before it sells out.” I never push my friends into my stuff but I love this shirt. Somehow this one just nailed it. So you never know what your favorite piece is…
Until you road test it so to speak.
Yeah, road test it. Exactly.
New York Fashion Week is obviously a very busy time for you. What are your three NYFW essentials that get you through the long days?
Smart Water. American Spirit cigarettes.
That’s already good. Nice ying and yang there.
Exactly. And bad TV to turn your brain off.
Can I ask what shows fall under the bad TV umbrella?
I’m going back to like seasons four, five, and six of The Simpsons and American Dad. Really good mindless animation.
The Gant store in Boston recently opened and I know you are heading up there for the opening event. With last season’s The Lucky Ones being so inspired by your college experience there, is it exciting to think about how full circle of a moment it will be?
I can’t wait. I mean my parents are coming down for it. All my old college friends are coming for it. You know that’s going to be a lot fun. Okay, remember I haven’t lived in Boston since I graduated from college in the late ’80s. I remember being a college student and being really intimidated to walk into these stores on beautiful Newbury street which is like their Madison Avenue. How did we get to the point where I’m now hosting the opening of a store? I remember the same thing at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, thinking, “Oh, I’m not dressed up enough to walk into there” and then I ended up there for five years. It’s funny how the world puts you in these situations.