To dress for success is a little different than dressing for the skate park or a movie date. It involves clever scheming to execute on cutting edge style that conversely, looks effortless and unplanned. For inspiration on this level, we turn to menswear designer J.D Elquist, who recently acted on a impulsive whim to move to New York, to ask him about what great things he has in store for the fashion world.
Israelite of fashion, meet your Moses.
Mr. Elquist takes time out of his busy schedule to speak with me.
SoJones: What are you up to right now?
Elquist: Just working on the website, working on the blog. We did another photo shoot for our bow ties and ties, so we’re editing that and getting ready to put that stuff up, so yeah! …I don’t know if you saw, I just got a feature in the New York magazine fashion blog, “The Cut”.
SoJones: I did see that; I was just about to ask about that. You were in the lookbook section…
Elquist: I was in the lookbook section, yes. What happened also is they took the lookbook post and did a brief synopsis of it, then they put it on “the cut” blog which is a bigger deal than the lookbook so it was just awesome for exposure. I got a couple emails from different blogs and people who were just like, “Oh I saw you on the lookbook, love your style, what are you about?” so its all very exciting.
It’s kinda crazy since I been in New York, this kinda thing has gained so much steam you know? it’s just really taken off in the right direction, which I’m super thankful for; moving out here was kind of a risk to be honest with you. I moved to New York kinda on a whim. I had this cool job lined up but, it’s New York City! Either I take off and do my thing or I could absolutely just blow it and… so far so good, so I’m super thankful for that.
SoJones: Where did you move specifically and why the move?
Elquist: I moved to New York because I was in San Francisco working for Brooks Brothers at the time. I was supposed to open the Black Fleece store which is an invention by Thom Browne, and it got pushed back so I just decided I can hang out and wait for the store to open and work for Brooks Brothers, or I can go and take it to the next level and try to make myself in New York. So I just literally up and moved on a whim, just because I felt like it was a right move. I had really nothing to lose in San Francisco at the time. I was just like “now or never”. I could do it now, when I have a lot less to lose, then later on down the road when I’m a little more established, where I’d have a lot more to lose if I just up and left so…I just went for it, and here I am doing it.
SoJones: How do you find time and creativity in your workday?
Elquist: It’s all day long. I feel like I’m constantly creative, I always look at things a little bit differently. When I walk down the street, I’m paying attention to the color palette. It sounds super cheesy but I’m looking at the way everything is working together in front of me. As I walk down the street I’m taking mental notes, or on my cellphone or on some paper. The things that I see are things that inspire me and then I literally do not stop thinking about what it is that I’m trying to do and how everything around me can tie into it. So it’s a nonstop wave of creativity.
Obviously, there are times where it works together to create something beautiful, and there’s times where I get nothing all day long but… I’m always hunting for something to inspire me, to drive me, to try something new and step out of the box.
SoJones: Looking ahead over the next year or two, what themes/looks/styles do you see your brand gravitating to?
Elquist: I think at this point, whats going on with my blog is that I have a distinct image. The brand has a very distinct image at this point, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily capturing the full image that my brand is gonna be about. I think people see this brand as edgy, Americana…which is true, but there’s also this sense of timelessness that I want to capture, you know what I mean?
We just had a great meeting with a clothing manufacturer, to talk about the manufacturing of suits and shirts for the first collection. If that happens that takes us to the ballpark of really exquisite handmade beautiful clothes. At this point it’s just spontaneous bow ties, but I see us transitioning into a whole set; a men’s clothing brand where our heart and soul is put into suits, shirts, and ties. I don’t think people get that right now, but as you’ll see the blog will start to transition into a little bit more elegant, a little bit more tasteful, refined almost. And that’s kinda what will be for the next year or so. Once that launches, you’ll start seeing lifestyle groups, so you’ll see more of the casual wear, and you’ll see more of the stuff we’re talking about right now on the blogs.
We really want to hone it and master the art of clothing and really bring back a sense of pride in handmade goods, cause in this day and age with men its all about top shop, it’s all about H&M, all about “I wanna buy something I can wear two or three times and then that’s it”. That doesn’t make sense to me as a designer; what makes sense is to create something that you can hand down over the generations. Something handmade that will only become better with time. Down the road I would love to have someone out shopping vintage and find one of my sports coats 50 years from now, and just be stoked on it. Stoked that they found this J. Elquist sports coat from back in the day.
Someone has to bring something new to the table, and I think we can do that.
SoJones: What themes/looks/styles do you see your brand moving away from?
Elquist: It’s interesting because if you see from that New York magazine post, people are saying “oh this will get played” which…honestly it kind of is. I look around and the look I’ve been doing for a couple years now is all of a sudden a trend. It’s trendy to be geek sheik, bowties… and it’s all super freakin’ trendy. I don’t want to be recognized as a fashion brand, I want to be recognized as someone who’s creates beautiful timeless things. I want to be in the breath of Levi Strauss, of Brooks Brothers…quintessential American brands.
I want to be forever, and so I’m trying to steer clear of being in the trend. I want to create something maybe people wont expect from me right now, so you’ll see me start to steer clear of stuff like the small bowties and everything that’s trendy. I’m trying to branch out from that so people can associate J. Elquist the brand as something that’s gonna be around for years. It’s gonna be forever. I have a lot of love for brands like Thom Browne but it’s too edgy, it’s too much and I’m trying to steer clear of that.
SoJones: What has been a surprise fashion hit over the year that you’ve noticed?
Elquist: I was in a sneaker store over in Brooklyn with my friends, and we were talking to the shop owner. She mentioned how UGG boots are about to get bigger than ever, especially with men. I guess UGG boots are coming out with a boot for men. I think that’s ridiculous. UGG boots for men is nothing you should mess with. It’s the farthest thing from masculine there is, and I think even UGG’s for women is played, so for her to say it’s just getting started terrifies me (laughs), so I’m saying “uh oh!“
UGG Men’s Classic Short Bomber
SoJones: Are you wearing one of your bowties right now?
Elquist: Right now I’m not. I’m kinda casual, but every time I suit up or go out the door, I always have a tie on , either a bowtie or one of my neckties, and it’s just an amazing feeling. This is all brand new to me; to be able to wear my own goods with my name in it, it’s like…I just feel like I finally got there. But on the same aspect as much as I’m finally here, I have so much more work to do. With success only comes much more work in building this thing up to its full potential.
SoJones: Who is your fashion inspiration and why?
Elquist: I’ve been talking a lot about quintessential fashion heads: the Fred Astaire’s, the Carrie Grant’s, the Clark Gable’s…I like to quote Gianni Agnelli [the late Italian industrialist] a lot, just because I think he represented what I want to represent the best. He was a guy who would take the suits and make it his own. Everyone wears suits; you walk around Wall Street, everyone is in a suit. But its like, “who is doing it for themselves? Who was rocking that suit to the fullest extent?
And I think that Gianni Agnelli did that; you’d see photos of him back in the day wearing a perfectly tailored Italian suit and then he would have Timberland-esque boots on. You just don’t do that. But him, he just did that to say “this is who I am”. You would see him wear a tie over a sport coat, flopped out; that was just “him”. These are things that, the more you figure out who you are style-wise, these are things you can pull off and no one questions it.
…Fred Astaire; You look at Fred Astaire, he always inspires you. He’s a walking mannequin, that’s what they called him. But you don’t look at him and question it; you go “oh that’s Fred Astaire.” Those are inspire me are those that are 100% themselves, who are recognized for that.
SoJones: What celebs or well known figures do you envision J. Elquist exemplifying in the future?
Elquist: …if a celeb starts wearing my clothes in the future that’s awesome. [However] What I see is the men who write the paychecks for these celebrities…let’s say Brad Pitt does a film for one of the big film studios: the guy who runs the studio, that’s who I see wearing my suit, that’s who I want to wear my suit. the guy who has that taste level and all this money and has created this thing, and wants to wear the very best; I want him to wear my suit.
What I wanna do is capture these men who are up and coming, who are gonna be the CEO’S and CFO’s of these huge corporations and creative groups. That’s who I want wearing my stuff. I don’t care about the faces out there in the media. I care about the guys writing the checks.
SoJones: How was your brand started?
Elquist: It’s always been something I wanted to do. Fashion has always been a huge interest of mine, but it hasn’t always been clothing. It hasn’t always been this “suit, shirt and tie” thing, but I think what really honed it in was the first time I walked into a men’s clothing shop. I believe the first one I walked into was Mario’s in Seattle when I was younger. I walked in and I just saw these men… I saw these suits and these shirts and these ties and it just felt…it felt like home. It felt so rich and so powerful and so masculine but also so personal that I was just blown away.
So as I worked retail, what really launched it for me was the beginning of my days at Ralph Lauren, when I was able to really capture and understand what men want and why they go out and why they buy suits, why they buy certain designers and certain styles of a suit, like double breasted vs. two button vs. three button. To figure out why these guys were buying it and how it was working for them, that’s what got me interested in the clothing business and made me wanna do it right.
Clothing should be handmade; it is art. When you make a suit, it’s art. There’s a crazy amount of hours that go into it, a crazy amount of hand stitching that people don’t understand. That’s what I want to bring back. I want to bring back the art of clothing and make people understand that you don’t need to buy 10 suits, you need to buy one suit that will last you forever. That’s what I think buying the Ralph Lauren Purple Label exemplifies, you buy that suit cause you appreciate what went into it, and that’s what I’m trying to create.
David Beckham in a Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit
SoJones: Lastly, what inspires you to wake up in the morning?
Elquist: What inspires me to wake up is the fact I live in New York City, bottom line. I wake up every morning and I walk out the door, going North South East West…I’m in a whole new world. I love the different walks of life. Men and women everywhere doing exactly what I’m doing. They are out here just grinding, hustling. Some people are already there, some people aren’t even close, but the fact of the matter is, in New York everyone is doing it together, and I definitely feel that. That inspires me to keep going because when you are around people who don’t have the same drive and energy as you, it can definitely hurt you. So that drive is what keeps me waking up in the morning; I have to go out, I have to make a name for myself.
I want to be mentioned amongst the names of the finest designers, a quintessential American brand. Being in New York City is the only way that’s gonna happen.
J. Elquist clothing is available for purchase at jelquist.com