Fashioning a Journey
Story by Craig David Long.
Few people ever witness firsthand the traditional Inuit, Sami, and Siberian territories that span our planet’s remote North—save for those aforementioned, who have made it their home, blending tradition and culture with the remote frozen landscape, for centuries. And though the Arctic Circle is among the most fascinating and breathtaking parts of the world, for the rest of us, it is mostly left to be imagined, or at least discovered in books, archival issues of Life and National Geographic or, these days, in scouring the Internet for images.
For David Neville and Marcus Wainwright, founders and creators of Rag & Bone, this was precisely the source of inspiration for their evocative fall/winter 2011 womenswear collection. “It started speciﬁcally with the Sami, and I don’t know why,” Wainwright reminisces. “I found a picture of these guys—I can’t really remember where—but it was incredible to see these people who lived in the wilderness and made all these incredible clothes. Then when you start exploring Siberia and the whole Arctic Circle, you start to see similarities between all the cultures. There were lots of elements in their clothing that were really interesting: the shapes, the fabrications, the skins, the use of shearling and cowhide and things like that.” The collection has an icy-white to vibrant-red and sky-blue palette, with geometric shapes and multilayered silhouettes, and it has been praised for taking fashion spectators on a formidable polar journey, juxtaposing elements of traditional costume with nostalgic seventies skiwear.
“The things that I think people feel, subconsciously, are luxury, are things created by really skilled craftsmen. It’s the same for anything—a pen, a lighter, a camera, a suit.”
Rag & Bone originated in 2002 after Neville and Wainwright discovered an old denim manufactory in Kentucky—and in many people’s eyes, their jeans are still what they are best known for. Although the denim workshop is no longer operating, from Neville and Wainwright’s perspective, it still represents the backbone of what they do. “The things that I think people feel, subconsciously, are luxury, are things created by really skilled craftsmen. It’s the same for anything—a pen, a lighter, a camera, a suit. If it’s beautifully made, it feels very luxurious, and I think it can’t really be beautifully made unless it’s made by a craftsman,” says Wainwright.
Since expanding their brand into men’s and women’s ready-to-wear categories in spring 2004 and fall 2005, respectively, Neville and Wainwright have dabbled time and again in themes of geographic, cultural, and temporal exploration. In previous seasons, the collection has expressed itself in the aesthetics of 1920s mountain climbers, Japanese futurism, and military cargo-wear. These sartorial escapades have taken them a long way from home, insofar as menswear is concerned, and in 2007, the duo won the Swarovski Award for emerging talent, and in 2010, the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year award. Not bad for two self-taught chaps who ﬁrst met in boarding school in Berkshire in the United Kingdom before aligning again in New York a few years later.
“It’s a New York way of dressing, with a very English point of view.”
Their British heritage and New York street sensibility have today conspired into a discrete design philosophy. “The fact that we’re English, and having gone to a very old English school, we grew up with a lot of tailoring and a real appreciation for that English way of dressing. It has a huge impact on what we do,” Wainwright explains. “But we’re based in America, so [Rag & Bone] also has a distinct American feeling. It’s a New York way of dressing, with a very English point of view.”
The yearning to work with master artisans has translated into several of Rag & Bone’s product categories, from suiting, to shoes, to accessories. “How we found [suit tailor] Martin Greenﬁeld is an amazing story,” Neville says. “The guy is a proper old-school tailor, and they really make just beautiful handmade suits. There are [roughly] 180 different processes that the suit goes through to actually make it. It’s another example of this idea about authenticity.” The suits are sold exclusively at Rag & Bone’s SoHo and West Village boutiques, where they can be made-to-measure or bought straight off the rack.
Neville and Wainwright also sought out the 140-year-old Bollman Hat Factory in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, to collaborate with them on products that are made in the traditional method, but are contemporary in their styling and speak to the luxury consumer zeitgeist.
“‘[Rag & Bone is] a mix of yesterday and tomorrow,’ somebody said recently, and I thought that was quite cool,” Neville says. But, as Wainwright adds, “Yes, of course. But, I mean, you don’t choose a theme or project for its merits of being based in the past or in the future. You just pick something that you think is fun or cool or exciting to do. And then, inherently, just in the nature of what the process is, you come up with something modern. We’re not trying to be very avant-garde, doing fashion just for the sake of fashion, but we are constantly striving to make something new. I don’t think you can do that unless you understand what went before.”