Hint seeks out rising stars of design
August '06

Despite Loden Dager's porn-tastic name (move over, Ben Dover!), the New York design collective aims to bring a modicum of decency back to men's fashion with its debut fall collection. As they told LEE CARTER, the foursome behind the label—Oliver Helden, Paul Marlow, Matthew Sandager and Alex Galan (two of whom hail from Marc Jacobs)—don't bother themselves with lofty fashion-as-art notions or pushing menswear to precious places where it wouldn't otherwise exist, and perhaps shouldn't. They simply give guys what guys keep saying they want: a wardrobe of favorites. These are soft, vintage-inspired pieces you can pick up off the floor (okay, maybe not the cashmere sweaters) and wear for the 17th day in a row because, let's face it, you're doing that anyway.

PHOTOS BY MATTHEW SANDAGER AND BRICA WILCOX

LC: In your own words, what is Loden Dager all about?

OH: It's about the clothes you love, like the cords you wear all the time, except made by us. It's all men's, but we cut small. We even do extra small in case girls want to wear it. We had JD [Samson] from Le Tigre do some modeling for us. She got into it, so now lots of girls are getting into it.

MS: The photographer Collier Schorr is into it, too. She came to the show and took some photos. She said she hoped she wouldn't like the clothes, so she wouldn't want them all, but she did. She tried on some things backstage.

LC: Did she accidentally take off with anything?

PM: (Laughs.) No, we only have one sample of everything, so it's all easily monitored.

AG: You could say the line is very wearable and functional. It's for people who, when they wake up in the morning, go for the most familiar pair of pants, not the pair with weird straps or lace or whatever.

PM: We use almost all natural fibers, like cottons and wools for a very clean and tailored look.

LC: Was there a particular theme to for fall?

OH: The late '60s and early '70s, the period between Mod and hippie. Pre-hippie, I guess. A good analogy would be Belle & Sebastian, where you hear it and it sounds like it could be the '60s, but it's current. We also thought a lot about student and worker protests in Paris in '68. There's something noble and romantic about it, like worker-wear meets student-wear.

PM: It's nostalgic, whether personally experienced or proverbially experienced. It's hard to make something you don't believe in. Imagine the summer of '67, when life was still idyllic and innocent before the unrest of '68—a European vacation, but without Chevy Chase. It has a lot of '60's cinematic references, like Breathless and My Life to Live by Godard, and some not from the '60s like Purple Noon, which came a little before.

LC: Is it an anti-fashion fashion line?

OH: Kind of like an indie record label, but indie fashion. It has a touch of subversiveness. Leigh Bowery would always ask where the poison is. Oscar de la Renta can make beautifully made clothes, but there's absolutely no poison.

MS: It has a lot of references known only to us. Each piece has a name, like the Kesey shirt, for Ken Kesey from the Merry Pranksters. He was a compatriot of Timothy Leary and had a band, the Merry Pranksters. Or the Wolfe, named after Tom Wolfe, the Hoffman for Dustin Hoffman, the Barrett for Syd Barrett, one of the original founders of Pink Floyd who just died, the Taylor…

LC: For Elizabeth Taylor?

PM: James.

MS: So it has lots of hidden details for a smart and discerning audience. For example, on the inside of sweaters, you can see an image on the yoke that you can't see when it's worn. The inside of pant pockets have screenprints, too. We like that kind of inconspicuous decoration.

LC: Who had first idea for Loden Dager?

OH: Paul and I did. We were both working at Marc Jacobs, and still are. He and Matthew had K Adorable [T-shirts], and I had my own line [Oliver Helden]. We each have our talents. Paul knows every fabric, every trim, every button out there. My specialty is more in fit and construction. Matthew does the graphic design and photography, and Alex helps with press, events and source material.

LC: What does Marc Jacobs think of all this?

OH: The whole Marc brand has been so supportive of us. Anything Marc uses, we won't use. We don't want to be competitive.

LC: Tell me about your first show.

MS: The show was more of a presentation, like tableaux vivants. It was in the Frying Pan, an old Coast Guard ship that sank in the Hudson River and was brought up, so it's completely rusted. It's like a scary movie. You could peek in cabin doors to see models in clothes, or you could wander around and find other models down by the engine room. We also shot our look book there.

AG: That's the thread that connects it all. It's about co-opting histories, making something new from old things. We like to resurrect things with a rich vernacular. We work with the notion of how the garment will age depending on how the buyer wears it.

OH: We have a jean that's made from an amazing Japanese denim. When it wears, the blue of the selvedge gets brighter and brighter. And we have corduroy that, as it breaks down, you start to see the ridges of the pile turn white.

PM: We also want it to be something of a lifestyle brand. We want to do everything, from towels, bags and shoes to set design, film, art direction, photography, styling and furniture. It goes way beyond clothes.

LC: You're building an empire.

OH: It's not that we want to take over the world, but we have a vision. It's also about not being able to find stuff we like. Like we can never find the right shoes. Well, there are a couple, like Clarks and simple Adidas sneakers.

LC: What about celebrity collaborations?

MS: Tom Wolfe would be great!

LC: What are some things you won't do?

OH: I hate irony so I won't do anything ironic. Paul won't do black, so there's no black in the collection at all.

MS: Also no skull or turntable graphics. We want to do T-shirts that you won’t be embarrassed about in a few years.

AG: That's an important point. When I think of Fashion with a capital F, I think of Fendi baguettes and must-have things of the season. I think a lot of that is the need for magazines to make readers run out and buy stuff. I have a friend who said we had to make jumpsuits because everyone's going to be wearing them, but that's not what we do.

MS: Loden Dager goes back to when menswear didn't change very much. Recently I picked up this book from the '70s called Dressing Right. It has amazing early photographs by Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber. It shows how men's outfits have a slow evolutionary curve. They didn't change radically from season to season, but were subtly corrected to breathe new life into them.

LC: What do you make of all the buzz around you guys?

OH: It's been amazing. So many people think they're going to make a collection and every major buyer is going to be interested and every major magazine is going to be interested, but that happens like less than 1% of the time. Somehow we got lucky.

LC: What's been the hardest part?

OH: We're independent, so the money has to come from us. We also have other jobs, or at least one other job. We couldn't do it if there weren't multiple members. If it were one person it would never get off the ground.

LC: Is it difficult to work as four?

MS: Well, we won't live together.

Loden Dager is available at all three Barneys Co-Op locations in New York and at Odin, 328 East 11th Street, 212-475-0666; in Los Angeles at Ron Herman; and in Japan at United Arrows.