As Patrik Ervell sips his second latte in the garden room of the Mondrian SoHo, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that he’s one of the hottest young designers in New York.
Dressed in jeans, New Balance sneakers and a simple blue button-down shirt, Ervell, 32, is indistinguishable from the vaguely mussed creative types who pack downtown.
What makes Ervell -- and all those scenesters -- so effortlessly cool is his own, eponymous clothing line.
Tarmy: You’ve made your name as a menswear designer. Is the creative process very different for women’s wear?
Ervell: Men are really just cylinders, much simpler to work with than a woman’s shape. Also, there’s a different kind of mentality to the clothes.
Menswear is all about these little details and slight changes in proportion, but for women’s wear you have to turn up the volume. And that somehow makes it less interesting: a change of a centimeter in menswear can be very powerful; in women’s wear it’s usually meaningless.
Tarmy: So your menswear line’s aesthetic doesn’t change dramatically from season to season?
Ervell: No, there’s never a seasonal jump. Men don’t dress that way. No one actually says, “This season, India is my inspiration,” or whatever. That’s nonsense.
It’s much more interesting to develop a specific language for a brand.
Tarmy: Why bother with the cost and hassle of a fashion show, then?
Ervell: I’m not sure it makes sense to have a fashion show anymore. I know that 99% of the people who see the clothes from my show aren’t seeing them in person but on a computer. So is there a more clever format to present my clothing every season?
Of course there is. But it’s tricky, because I’m part of an industry with a specific way of doing things.
Tarmy: Aren’t you already circumventing the process online?
Ervell: I started my online store about three years ago, not especially early.
But, weirdly, within other brands my size, it was sort of early. Even a huge brand like Prada had the most basic, junior-league website up until 3 years ago.
The Internet was seen as a little bit gross, somehow, almost a little bit tacky -- if you were selling expensive clothes, you weren’t supposed to be selling them on a website.
Tarmy: Would you consider opening your own flagship store?
Ervell: It’s almost time, and New York would make the most sense as a location.
Right now we’re not looking for a lease, but I’d say that a store will happen relatively soon. But my first store really is my website -- I don’t want it to be considered an in-between step.
Tarmy: Is your line profitable at this point?
Ervell: It’s tricky because when you’re growing and you make money, the money you make is outstripped by your growth.
So I am growing, and in that sense I’m making money, but it’s not like I’m buying a new apartment anytime soon.
Tarmy: Producing most of your clothes in the U.S. probably takes a chunk out of your margins.
Ervell: For one season I did production in South Korea, and then we moved it back here. There was something missing. There was a flatness to the clothing.
When everything is made here in the garment district, we go to the factories every day and work with the people making the clothing.
Made in America
Tarmy: Do you think your customers notice the difference?
Ervell: For a long time, being made in America wasn’t seen as a nice thing, but that’s changed a lot, especially in menswear.
I’m manufacturing clothing here in New York, and I’m exporting it to China and South Korea and Japan. Suddenly “Made in America” has a value to the Chinese customer in almost the same way that “Made in France” or “Made in Italy” once had for Americans.
Tarmy: Do you wear your own clothes?
Ervell: Yes. I’m wearing a shirt I designed right now. It’s a little stained, but it’s my clothing.
Tarmy: Where else do you shop?
Ervell: I don’t shop for clothes. When we design our menswear, it’s fitted to me.
Tarmy: In effect, all of your men’s collections are designed for you, personally.
Ervell: I don’t enjoy shopping. I never did.
(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)