This interview confirms what ‘My Affair’ has always known about Michael Bastian — he has his finger right on the pulse of what men want.
STUDIO VISIT: MICHAEL BASTIAN
THE CFDA AWARD-WINNING MENSWEAR DESIGNER GIVES US A GLIMPSE INTO HIS PROCESS AND SHARES WHY CONSISTENCY IS KEY, WHAT THE SELF-PROFESSED “KING OF COLLABORATIONS” HAS UP HIS SLEEVE, AND WHY BABY ANIMALS ARE NOT JUST TOTALLY CUTE, BUT HIS GATEWAY TO MENTAL CLARITY.
How did you get your start in menswear?
Through a series of random jobs, I wound up at Ralph Lauren in creative services. And then a couple guys from Ralph (including Peter Rizzo, who became president) jumped over to Bergdorf Goodman. After about half a year, they gave me a call and asked me to be the men’s fashion director. Bergdorf, at the time, wasn’t where young, cool men shopped. So we’d have this shopping list of what we needed—simple, classic American staples done at a more luxury level, without logos everywhere. If we couldn’t find it, then we’d make it in our private label.
I met the manufacturers from doing the private label, so it was easier to jump into doing my own thing. As reckless and crazy as it sounds, I quit my job and was on a plane to Italy a couple days later. That was in October 2005.
Where do you find inspiration?
When I quit Bergdorf, I went from a 9-to-5 job to “Wow, I’m in control of my own time.” I’d wake up at my normal time, sit at my desk, and dedicate the morning to designing. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t come up with anything good. So then I would get up, walk to Washington Square Park, go to the gym, go about my day and see people, and that would get my brain working. Just being out in the world gives me ideas. I also keep notebooks. I’ll think of something that could be a germ of a collection, so I always keep a running list of possible inspirations, like The Red Balloon (an inspiration for S/S14).
But inspiration can come from anywhere. We went through a real painterly moment (Andrew Wyeth and Helen Frankenthaler have informed past collections), and now we seem to be getting into a geographic thing, a country thing. The last collection was the first time I did something that wasn’t purely American. It was about French guys and how they dress, which speaks to the idea of the world becoming a much smaller place.
Describe the Bastian guy.
He’s more introspective. What you see isn’t the whole story—there’s a lot going on inside. That’s reflected in the clothes in that we hide certain messages and details. We’ve hidden messages in internal pockets in jackets, so even the guy who owns it might not find it for years. We’ve put messages under collars, like: “This is my lucky shirt.” And “less words, more love” is one that I use a lot these days. My guy knows himself pretty well, and he’s gotten to a point in life where he can appreciate these details.
What about the men who find your price points high?
You can watch a Yankees game on TV. You can buy a ticket and have a crappy seat. Or you can buy the best ticket and be right there on the field. Everyone’s watching the same game, but having three very different experiences. It’s really about what’s important to you. A shirt’s not just a shirt. It’s the experience of what goes into that shirt.
How do you think men differ from women, in terms of shopping?
We all know girls who treat every day like Halloween—it’s beautiful and incredible—but that rarely happens in the men’s world. Men appreciate a certain consistency. The beauty of men’s shoppers is that they’re super loyal.
I think a lot of men can be intimidated by stores and the idea of clothes. I say this a lot: Men want to look like themselves, but a little bit better. If you can catch these guys, you can have them for the rest of their life. They’ll grow old with you.
How do you unwind?
Since I travel so much, I’m protective of my downtime in New York. The biggest luxury for me is lying in bed and watching really stupid animation and really bad movies. The show “Too Cute” (on Animal Planet) is incredible; it’s like Vicodin for the brain. There’s comfort in knowing what’s going to happen next, since you get that so rarely in your adult life.
Any collaborations in the works?
I love collaborations. I was never a shoe guy—I’ve always been a cordovan tassel moc (which I’m wearing now) guy—until I started working with Stubbs & Wootton. Then I suddenly understood women’s obsession with shoes, when they become more of an object. You may never even wear them, but you need to own them.
The other collaboration I’m really excited about is with Frank Clegg, for bags and leather goods. They’re a tiny artisan brand out of Fall River, Massachusetts. It was so great meeting the owner and his two sons, who run the company together, since they’re just as crazy and obsessive as I am about stitch width, leather quality, and zipper pulls. That collaboration comes out in fall 2014.
We also do hats with Eugenia Kim, and it’s one of our most successful collaborations. She’s super talented and makes the best hats.
It’s so much fun to work with these people. It’s like a tennis game. I’ll give them my inspiration, and then they come back with their ideas. You go back and forth, and get something better than when you’re working in your own bubble.