Former head of fashion labels such as Earnest Sewn, Morrison describes the challenge of overhauling a tired clothing brand
Recently, PSFK paid a visit to Evisu's studio in Soho to see how their new CEO and Creative Director Scott Morrison (formerly of Earnest Sewn and Paper, Denim, Cloth fame) was settling into the masthead. Residing in a cozy downtown loft populated by bustling designers and creatives Morrison seemed at home, and told us a little bit about the art and history of Evisu—as well as his vision for the brand.
First off, how have things been going?
It's been a bit chaotic, but also a lot of fun. Essentially we've completely overhauled the brand itself and the management team. There's a collaborative approach to design and management and a re-dedication to the things that made Evisu great when it first began. From the fashion standpoint, there are a few new elements: 1) the men's collection which is based on heritage, denim and workwear inspirations, while 2) the Evisu Genes collection is driven more by current fashion and the international market. The third element is the introduction of a new woman's collection, the first of its kind of Evisu, and a source of real excitement in the office and in the market right now. Its incredible to see so many people passionate about contributing to this brand's revival.
What made you decide to leave your own company to take the reins at Evisu?
It just felt that it was time to move on from Earnest Sewn, for a number of reasons. But mostly due to the fact that I just wasn't having fun. Evisu came along almost immediately after, and as Evisu was 'the' brand in Japanese denim (and one of my greatest inspirations), the opportunity was simply too amazing to overlook.
I guess there are times when you reach a point where you want a different set of challenges, and after having the same thoughts everyday you have to make a choice, even if it involves leaving something you created.
Do you think you could tell us a little about how the brand has evolved from its Japanese roots into what it is today?
The Evisu I discovered was in 1997 or 1998, and it was a brand obsessive about authenticity, quality and maintaining this unyielding commitment to reinventing the lost art of connoisseur quality, American denim. Evisu, along with a few other of the Osaka based brands (aka. the Osaka 5) were creating denim that stood apart from everything else in the world—including products coming from the USA and Italy. As with most things, Evisu began to commercialize its success and in the mid-2000's, Japanese street-wear labels like A Bathing Ape and Hysteric Glamour, started to build a following in the International market. Brands like Evisu were pulled in with them. Eventually most of the Japanese street-wear/denim labels became iconic urban references and in the case of Evisu, much of what the brand stood for was completely lost on a customer that didn't care.
In the last decade the denim industry has changed a lot—with Scandinavian brands stealing much of the US and Japan's thunder. What do you think sets you apart from from some of the newer or more ubiquitous brands like Cheap Monday or Acne?
There's definitely been a shift towards skinny jeans and simpler washes, both of which hail from Scandinavian brands/trends. We've definitely been watching what's going on in Scandinavia, and most of Europe for that matter, and it's impossible not to incorporate some of those themes into our designs. Brands like Hope, Acne, Nudie and Cheap Monday all have their unique place as do we, but it is important to note how quickly denim trends have shifted from Italy to Japan to America to Scandinavia (all in the past 15 years). What's emerging now is a very heritage driven form of psuedo-Americana, where brands like Red Wing, Woolwrich Woolen Mills, and Filson are thriving, so it's going to be interesting to see how things develop from here.
Can you describe a little bit the process of designing a pair of jeans?
The process really depends on the designer, but for the most part, with us, we start by trying to focus on newness and need. What can we do that's new, or is there an opportunity to do something new, use a new technique, new fabrication, etc. We also try to find a need in the market, whether it's girls wanting jean leggings, or guys wanting to move on from skinny jeans. From there the process is usually straightforward. Select your denims, start working on fit and designing the jean itself (what is it going to look like) and then develop the wash. Sometimes this takes more time, and actually become the focus of the jean, and other times it's just something to complement the design.
Can you think of a celebrity or cultural figure which you could envision embodying the new Evisu?
I can't imagine any one person embodying the concept of Evisu, as I really think it's about lots of different people, and designed to be multicultural and diverse. If I had to pick an example of someone I personally admire or find inspiration in, someone I've always respected is Morrissey—whom I've outfitted for several of his US tours in the past few years. He always seems to be relevant, and conveys a sense of timelessness and style which works amazingly well for denim.
I know when you were at Earnest Sewn you came up with the concept store—any plans to come up with something similiar for Evisu? What new directions do you hope to take the company retail-wise?
Right now we have about 30 stores between Asia and Europe, and I'd love to see us get something opened up here in NYC as soon as July, time permitting. As far as a concept goes, I can't imagine that we'll do anything similar to what I've done in the past, but I do think that whatever we do it will be nothing short of inventive and relevant. In the meantime I know we're focused on updating our on-line retail experience and I would expect that exciting change in the coming season as well.
How is designing for women different than for men?
The denim design process is essentially the same as men's, although certain things like fit and finish (how the garment feels and looks) are a bit more important, and therefore emphasized. But with Evisu we took a slightly different approach. Rather than just design a denim line for women with a few tops and outerwear pieces thrown in for good measure, we decided to recruit a really talented young clothing designer, Catherine Holstein, to work on creating a women's collection free of denim essentially. At critical points in the process we would design and add denim into the collection to make it cohesive, but denim wouldn't be the overwhelming focus this season. The first season using this process has produced tremendous results and we're expecting big things for our women's collection in Autumn/Winter 2010.