Traditional logic would tell you that starting a business in the midst of a worldwide recession isn't the best way to launch a new label, but the timing has been rather fortuitous for Company of We. Founded by designer and writer Jayzel Samonte along with Christopher Crawford, who cut his teeth in women's wear, the label is based on the idea of quality clothes at a price point that's more Banana Republic, while the design is more Bergdorf Goodman. And it's an ethos that's paying off. The line's debut sold out this summer in a matter of days and their follow up this fall has garnered attention from retail heavy-weights. We recently caught up with the Company men.
Christopher and Jayzel
Jay, how did you and Christopher come together?
Jayzel: I was trying to survive off the ruckus I had fashioned in my early twenties. I grew up in Los Angeles—which was proving to be catastrophic in my situation—and my gut instinctively packed its bags for New York. Christopher and I met shortly after I arrived here and instantly bonded over our growing ennui towards what we were doing creatively. I think our relationship sparked this kinetic energy we had lost artistically as adults.
And what was the goal for starting Company of We?
Jayzel: I think accessibility is the core value of our line. There was suddenly a conflicted feeling whenever we'd shop. There were $1,900 man skorts for miles and designer menswear was really starting to feel more and more irrelevant to us. Like a spectacle waiting for its next victim. And look, as fashion designers it's really fun to watch and admire the artistic value and craftsmanship behind said man skorts, but it wasn't something we were about to wear or drop some serious dough on.
Christopher, as a women's wear vet, was there any hesitation about going into men's?
Christopher: I was excited. I could finally wear my own stuff. And there's this loyalty that's exclusive to menswear. Men don't need thousands of dresses. They find that favorite piece and wear it every day until it's stained with its own charm.
Number of days it took for Company of We's first collection to sell out.
Tell me a little about the design process ...
Christopher: It's a lot of fun because we don't really force the process upon each other. I think if it's forced, things start feeling contrived, so we just go about our day and ideas and inspiration naturally arise.
What's inspired you lately?
Christopher: The other day the TiVo stopped working so we (gasp) had to watch live TV. And the channel we were on was showing a random Cole Porter special we would've never watched on our own accord. We fell in love with his era and were able to incorporate it into the collection we're currently working on. We really like to take a classic look and update the fit and mood of it.
We've noticed a lot of the pieces offer a modern take on those classic essentials.
Jayzel: We want to introduce our aesthetic on neutral territory. Great style should always feel familiar before looking refreshingly unexpected. An important element in design, especially in menswear, is finding that balance—a fresh design without looking contrived.
Who are some of your design influences?
Jayzel: We'll always have a soft spot for Dries Van Notten and Dior Homme. And we love Michael Bastian and Brunello Cucinelli, if we could only afford it.
Speaking of price, is it difficult to produce well-designed pieces while keeping them affordable?
Christopher: It's a constant stress. You pick a beautiful natural horn button for $5.00 a piece and when multiplied by 10 buttons on a blazer you've already spent $50—just on buttons! We do a lot of rummaging, and we don't settle for the first swatch of fabric we see, ever. We're constantly finding a way to make the impossible possible. It's always a rush being able to discover that lot of Loro Piana fabric at a price that allows us to use it for our production.
Well, the plan definitely seems to be working ... were you surprised as how quickly your first collection sold?
Jayzel: I think we're both still reeling from the shock. We knew we had created something exciting and we're completely prepared to run this business on the weekends and off time. We weren't prepared to sell out of our first collection in about a week. I think Company of We has become a testament to the revision of the American dream. Our success indicates that the consumer is still here—they just have different standards. It's easy designing an amazing coat that will retail for $2,000. But we've learned it's more gratifying designing a comparable coat that can retail for under $400.
What's in store for the label?
Christopher: We're retailing this spring with some great stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Holt Renfrew, United Arrows and Fred Segal to name a few. And we're starting to thread out concepts for our women's line too.
What are three items every guy should have in his closet?
Jayzel: A great blazer that can shift from formal to casual, a pair of really good shoes worth the investment, and as our friend always says, enough room for the universe to give you more.
Available at Company of We.
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