Bande à Part, je t’aime pour toujours

New York Fashion Week. I went, as an emissary of the scene, to New York to bear witness to this aggregation of the world’s greatest designers. Tightly clutching my borrowed camera, voice recorder and press pass, I strode confidently up to the Yves Saint Laurent tent in Bryant Park. My contrived ideal situation was promptly destroyed as I was turned away by the guard. The Fashion Week sponsors cannot insure student-affiliated groups or some such BS. There was no possibility of getting into any events.

I had just gotten my first taste of the exclusivity of the fashion world. You are either one of the select few insiders or you aren’t. I was on the wrong side of that divide.

But there was still hope. I had contacted the label Band of Outsiders and set up an interview with the designer for the following day. So, undaunted by my experience at Bryant Park, I made my way downtown to MILK Studios on Saturday to spend the day with Band of Outsiders. The moment I stepped through the warehouse-style freight door, I was hit with the whirlwind of activity that was tearing through the studio. Clothes, shoes and accessories were scattered about; music was pumping; models, designers and hair/makeup artists were hurrying frantically — and the show wouldn’t start for another 5 hours.

Making my way to the center of the chaos, the focal point of the energy in the room became obvious: the founder, owner and designer of Band of Outsiders, Scott Sternberg, was orchestrating the entropy like a marionette artist pulling dozens of strings. He simultaneously compiled outfits, organized the details of the show, visualized the presentation and fine-tuned the models.

It was immediately clear that Sternberg does not operate like any of the designers at his level in the fashion world. “That’s why Scott and I got along, initially,” said Mathew Swenson, PR director of the label. “He doesn’t want to work with a huge PR company, just like he doesn’t do runway shows, and he does LEGO collaborations and things like that. He finds that the fashion establishment can be kind of silly at times, and it wasn’t right for his kind of idea.”

Tyler Thoreson, senior editor of Men.Style.com, observed that “[Sternberg] comes at clothes with not a fashion perspective, but a perspective of someone who likes to wear clothes, buy clothes, live in the real word — that informs what he makes, in a way. That’s something you don’t often see in the fashion world. You know, the I like clothes more than I like fashion idea; that’s Scott.”

What is his kind of idea? “I want to do things in a new way,” says Sternberg. “It’s hand-tailored suits, shirts made in America, you know, hand-dyed and all.”

The new line is “kind of preppy, but with little twists,” describes Swenson, “it’s a whimsical look that belongs in 1970s Nantucket.” Edward Lorenz, a New York designer who has a long relationship with B of O, describes the collection as “kind of apocalyptic, but … it’s happy! It’s not your typical torn, ripped clothing. It’s kind of superficial, in a sense, how he plays with the nuclear winter idea, with airbrushing, dip-dying. It’s a new way of looking at a dark idea. And it’s also a beach theme, with a feeling that there’s something buried in the sand. It’s clothes that have been washed way too many times, started to fall apart.”

Sternberg himself called it “a rugged version of a nautical cliché — preppy clothes that I think feel really fresh and playful and funny. It’s British prep that became American Prep. And that, to me, is what I want to wear … Inspiration — I get inspiration from everywhere. I love LEGOS. Big LEGOS, Lincoln Logs, Snuffleupagus, the Cookie Monster … the Cookie Monster’s amazing. I’m a huge cinephile, obviously, I named my brand after a Godard film … I listen to any type of music I can devour. The great thing about doing collections is that the music is SO tied to the collection that I will erase my iPod when I go home and just start over.”

Each outfit is carefully constructed as a representation of Sternberg’s vision. A perfectionist, he makes minute adjustments to each model as they move past him toward the showroom — tugging down a beanie, cuffing a pant leg, retying a shoe.

The best had yet to come: I walked into the showroom and simply gaped — the presentation of the collection was even more stunning. The beach motif was not taken lightly — a ceiling-high photographic mural of a beach spanned the walls of the room, in front of which real sand dunes were scattered with hammocks, beach scooters, toys, a dinghy, a little pond on which remote-controlled boats were spinning, and even a plane-crash scene, complete with an airline seat and luggage strewn about. The models were arranged around the scene, some playing Frisbee, others racing boats and another using a metal detector. It was a remarkable exhibition.

At 6 p.m. the doors were thrown open by an enthusiastic crowd, disbelief and excitement etched on their faces as they drank in the unique display. Among them was Jason Schwartzman, of “Funny People,” “Marie Antoinette,” and almost every Wes Anderson film and, most importantly, the poster boy of the B of O ad campaign. When asked if he had anything to say to you, the Yale student body, he smiled and shouted “Hello Yale! I love Yale! My mom is a graduate — she was a theatre student there. She did drama.”

Band of Outsiders is a perfect match for this actor, it seems. He described the beginnings of his relationship with the label: “Basically, nothing ever fit me. I tried [B of O] on, and instantly I knew I was in the right kind of clothes … Most clothes, they look really nice on a rack, but when you put them on they fit really poorly. It’s very nice to finally have someone making something that I fit in. I just kept buying the clothes and working my way closer and closer to Scott.” And now he’s as close as you can get — the face of their advertising. Before being dragged off to be photographed with Sternberg, he called back, “Go Yale!”

Yes, we got a shout out from Max Fischer.

Also among the guests were Kirsten Dunst; Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue magazine; Mark Holgate, fashion writer for Vogue; Matthew Edelstein, fashion editor of GQ; and other GQ writers.

Thoreson weighed in with his conflicted opinion of B of O, saying, “Being a guy that’s 6 feet 5 inches, I have mixed emotions. I love his clothes: they just don’t fit me, you know? I think if I was 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 145 dripping wet, my wardrobe would be full of B of O. He just doesn’t make clothes for guys over a certain height. But he’s got a real thing, Scott does.”

Josh Peskowitz, fashion editor at Men.Style.com and Esquire magazine, interjected that Sternberg has “continued to expand and explore new territory — it’s refreshing and I love it. I think everything he does is really great.”

Band of Outsiders is known for a mildly preppy aesthetic, so I asked if he designs with our collegiate demographic in mind. “No, you know, I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and went to Washington University … Now I’ve grown up, I’m a much more sophisticated guy, I’m much more worldly, but back then my interests were really inside my head. I knew I wasn’t going to prep school, I didn’t care about going to Harvard or Yale, or anything like that, but I always had this great fantasy about what that was. Whether it came from reading Salinger or Fitzgerald … For a little Ohio boy this is really the fantasy, it’s really a fascinating thing. Really, it’s you guys, it’s that look, that’s how modern menswear started in the states. It’s the elements of the wardrobe — the blazer, the oxford, the collared shirt, etc. … But I think the brand, it’s not really designed to be anything — it’s an honest expression of me, and how I like to see the world and all that.”

The defining aspect of his career is how he operates on the fringe, a part of the “band of outsiders” rather than the established fashion world. “To me, fashion people, you think that they’re all sort of vapid and silly and superficial and all that, and there is that element, but there’s really a lot of dorks, there’s a lot of anti-social people, and they’re the people who are really doing great work. The great stylists, the great photographers — they’re not the people you see going to parties.” It’s the classic story of the underdog.

As a result, a common thread in the clothing as well as the brand is a playful break with fashion convention. The most deeply rooted stigma of fashion is, of course, the exorbitant pricing that makes it exclusive. Sternberg is beginning to change this as well. “Actually, I’m starting to make things … well, not cheap, but less expensive. I just designed a polo shirt called This is Not a Polo Shirt. You know, I’m all about polo shirts, every which way. Instead of being a $250 button down, it’s a $130 polo shirt, made in Japan, all the fabric developed especially, very exclusively for our collection … as it grows, the question is really ‘how can we extend this? How can we take this feeling that’s Band of Outsiders, this world that’s Band of Outsiders and have a product for a student to buy?”

But in the meantime, is there any hope for someone on a college budget owning Band of Outsiders clothing, or owning any haute fashion at all? The exclusivity that comes with price begs the question of why we should care about fashion. To a certain extent, the fashion industry is a cyclical phenomenon: it exists only for its own sake, in a closed loop. Clothing is created by a handful of rich, famous designers, only the rich and famous are invited to events and only the rich can afford to buy the clothing. The entire industry could exist, orbiting around itself like a dog chasing its own tail, without you ever caring or even noticing.

In Lorenz’s view, it still serves a purpose: “College students can look at the style, the aesthetic, how things are done, what fabrics are used … you kind of take that and use it for your own personal style. In the case of Band of Outsiders, you can take a really great coat, really great shirts — there are ways to emulate it at different price points. We are known mostly for our fit, fabrications, how things are treated, but for anyone who’s on more of a budget, it’s all about the style and taste of the clothes.”

So I still didn’t own a single thing from Band of Outsiders, and I left New York knowing that I was outside the fashion world — but that puts me right next to Sternberg, and you could do worse.

Comments