After its heyday in the sixties, American menswear brand Gant was bought by a Swedish company from PVH in the late nineties — though the label took off in Europe, it lost momentum in the U.S. The company enlisted Michael Bastian to revamp the brand for fall 2010. As the former men's fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman and repeat Menswear Designer of the Year nominee for his own eponymous label, Bastian was game. "I took the first meeting because I wanted to figure out what the hell had happened to Gant," he says. "The brand did a really good job of disappearing. They approached me because now Gant is ready to come back home to America."
His lacrosse-inspired Gant by Michael Bastian fall collection, equal parts preppy and sporty, is being unveiled in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue today. Up next, Bastian is tackling womenswear for Gant's spring 2011 line, which will debut at Fashion Week on September 15 — just don't expect more cutoffs and polos. We caught up with the designer to chat about designing for women, big American style misses, and his unusual eBay collection.
What prompted the foray into womenswear?
Gant's spring concept started out being about the guys in Marilyn Monroe's life. We wanted a fifties vibe, inspired by guys like Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio. Then they wanted to include a girl in the ad campaign and asked if I'd like to design a few pieces for her.
Was it a natural progression?
I'm learning it's like two different languages — they have very little to do with one another. Women shop differently than men and are motivated by different things.
What's the biggest difference?
Men tend to pick a look and stick with it. They always want to feel like themselves, just a little bit better. Women are more open to trying out new personalities: the bombshell, the librarian, the goth girl ...
What can we expect from your first women's collection?
I wanted this girl to be the girlfriend of the Gant guy, not the little sister; I didn't see her in chopped-off chinos and a cashmere crewneck. I look around at my friends who are couples and it seems like this classic, sporty kind of guy always seems more attracted to the fashion girl. In New York, it's apparent that there's this magnetism between the two.
Who are your favorite designers?
The designer I always reference in my head is Perry Ellis, back when he was alive. People forget that at his peak, he was right up there with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. Calvin was always the sexy one, Ralph was classic, and Perry slid down the middle — a little bit cleaner, simpler, but still luxurious. No one has stepped into those shoes.
How would you describe your personal style?
It's become a bit of a uniform. In summer it's these chopped-off corduroy shorts, a polo or rugby shirt, and a pair of beat-up loafers. In winter, it's jeans, a navy cashmere crewneck, and a raincoat. I like the idea that we're all able to kind of settle into what looks best on us. Then it becomes a game of finding the perfect version of those things.
What trends are you appreciating right now?
I was on the beach last weekend, and I'm happy guys are finally letting go of the long, baggy bathing suit. It's a weird American thing; it doesn't exist in Europe. I’m not talking Speedo; I'm talking a normal, mid-thigh bathing suit.
Any trends you're ready to see retired?
Every time I say there's a color or style I don't like, it finds a way of creeping into the collection — it's like my subconscious is playing a joke on me. But on an open, smiling guy, anything looks good. It's about the personality. This is the American gift: It's less about the clothes and more about the guys.
What's one item you're saving to buy?
I've got this weird collection of Hermès animal towels that I've been finding on eBay. It sounds really strange, I know, but it makes me smile every morning. The only downside is that it only takes three of them to fill a washing machine.
What should every guy have in his closet?
Every guy needs a navy blazer. It should fit you perfectly and you should be able to wear it ten months out of the year.
What's something you never leave the house without?
I have a lucky penny. There was this day when I had three or four meetings, and on my way to the first meeting I picked up this penny; I didn't even think of it. Well, that one went well, and the next one went well, and the one after that, and I was like, Damn, I've really got to hang on to this penny.