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A Conversation with Steven Alan: “I wanted a line that reflected my lifestyle”

Words by Ben P.
Pictures courtesy of Need Supply Co.

One of the best parts about living in Richmond, Virginia (other than the apples – we have really good apples) is StyleForum affiliate Need Supply Co. and their Meet the Maker series, which brings designers to the store to talk about their brands. I managed to sit down with Steven Alan a few weeks ago and chat about his background, his clothes and where he sees men’s fashion going.



What’s your background and how did you get started in the industry?

I started my first store in 1994. It was on Wooster Street in SoHo. It was a multibrand, primarily women’s, store. We had a few things for men, but my background was really accessories – my family is in the jewelry business, and I used to go to trade shows. My father is a jewelry designer and I grew up with retail, and going to different shows, where they would do buying. When I opened the store I didn’t know much about clothing and I wasn’t trained as a designer. I opened that in ’94, and I started a different business, which was the showroom business, in 1997. The reason I started that business was because what I found that I really wanted to do was to find these new and emerging designers that didn't really have a place where they could do their wholesale, because most showrooms, even today, if you're not doing over a million dollars it doesn't make sense. It's sort of like a fund that invests in start up restaurants – no one would ever do it, because most go out of business. But in any event, I always felt really strongly about having a place where stores, like my store, could go to find brands that aren't really at tradeshows. That was the second part of the business. The design part of the business came around 2000, and I started designing because I wanted to carry more menswear, and I wanted something with an American sensibility, but also something that felt a little more of our times. I lived downtime, and I wanted a line that reflected my lifestyle.

Since you've been in the industry a long time, what have you seen in change in men's fashion over the last several years? What do you think in general about the state of men's fashion today?

Well there's definitely a lot more interest in men's fashion right now. People also follow brands, which going way back just didn't really happen. With men, as opposed to with women, there's an even stronger focus on quality, and [men] will follow the design and manufacturing of a garment to a certain extent. There's a lot more care where it's made, how it's made, how responsibility it's made. It's not so disposable. When you buy something as a guy, you buy it and want to have it. I wear things I bought 5 years ago. When we started designing we started with men’s, and we wanted to make things that were never obsolete, that wern't fashion pieces, but at the same time [is] clothing that really has our signature to it, because there's no point in just duplicating vintage clothing. There's a place for that, and people do it well, but that wasn't really want we wanted to do.

What would you say your signature is, and how would you summarize your brand aesthetic?

For us design always starts with fabrics. I'm obsessed with fabrics. Not just the patterns, but also the construction. I think that when you buy something it has a certain feel to it, and it's because of not just the fabric, but the way that it's cut. Everyone has their own look - some men’s designers are really cropped, very abbreviated, some are just the opposite, oversized. Ours is just a certain fit that our customers feel comfortable with. There's other brands that we sell [in our store], so we're always cognizant of the fact that we want our brand to live in our stores, which are multi-brand. We don't want to feel derivative of anything else. We want it be this family of brands that are all like-minded, but not like brands.

Speaking of your store, is there any label you wish you could stock, but that maybe doesn't fit in with everything else? Any label you think is going to hit big?

There's a couple brands that I really like, Japanese brands, that come to mind and that I think are beautiful.

What brands?

Visvim is a fantastic brand. We've never tried to carry it because I think it would be difficult. There are certain guys who appreciate it, but there are other people who would come in and be like 'woah'. That would be one. We used to carry Junya Watanabe, and that's a line I really respect. I like that brand quite a lot. I like Dries a lot, but obviously you have to pick which ones [to carry].

Looking forward, how do you see men’s fashion evolving?

I think it'll continue on the same movement it's been going. More so, more cities are getting [access]. Here we are, in Richmond, Virginia, which is not New York or San Francisco, yet is completely relevant, and as with it as anyone I would talk to in LA or anyone else. More and more smaller cities are advancing.

Do you think that has to do with the internet?

Yes, absolutely. People are inspired by what other people are doing and that's leading [to change].

Is there anything we can look forward to from Steven Alan for S/S '14?

Men's evolves at a slower pace. There are no radical shifts in menswear. If I had to say what’s really new, the women's has never been this strong in the entire time we've been doing it. We did a lot more silks, coats, there's a lot of newness there. Other products we're doing - one of the fun projects we started this year was a home store, and you'll start to see some of that stuff. We're not making it, but we're curating it, and it'll start trickling out on the web.




Edited by Teger - 9/23/13 at 11:26am