Menswear designer Michael Bastian isn’t showing his own line this season — he’s still in the midst of regaining control of it from Italian manufacturer Brunello Cucinelli — but fortunately for fans of his lightly twisted takes on the preppy-sporty genre, his designs for Gant (which earned him a GQ Menswear Designer of the Year nomination) will be on the runway Saturday. Bastian sat down for some questions in his new workspace, underneath a giant black-and-white Jean-Paul Goude portrait of Grace Jones.
So tell me about the Gant presentation Saturday.
All the collections start out with a sport. We’ve done lacrosse and baseball, and this was supposed to be about cross-country skiing. We were sitting in Stockholm, where Gant is based, looking around and thinking, Wow, we’re planted in the middle of this amazing country and these people with amazing style. The whole collection took on this Nordic flavor. But we were trying to make it not just another sweatery heritage winter season. The thing with heritage is unless you fuck with it, it becomes very costumey and expected. You’ve got to chew on it a little to make it relevant. I don’t want to see another hand-knit snowflake sweater.
I’m surprised you have that Jean-Paul Goode image of Grace Jones behind you.
This baby is from Eastern Bloc (the gay bar). Last summer they had a Grace Jones week and she was behind the D.J. booth and I fell in love with it. My boyfriend is good friends with the guys who own Eastern Bloc. Now Grace is welcoming you to Michael Bastian.
This is the first time since 2008 you haven’t shown your own collection.
We’re taking a one-season break because we went independent and split from our partner and bought our license back. We needed a season to find a space and our people and get our factories lined up. The funny thing is it doesn’t feel like I had a break. Where was that vacation-y feeling?
You also have a distinct aesthetic in the casting of Michael Bastian: You cast big strong guys, while other designers go much scrawnier.
We take heat from that sometimes. Last season someone said it looks like I’m casting from old Falcon movies. When we first started doing shows, it was hard to find guys we liked. We had entered into this weird waifish, girlie-dude moment. You see these models who are perfect and you realize there’s some that, all they have is a lack of imperfection. Everything is symmetrical. What about a broken nose? Beauty doesn’t equal perfect, it equals imperfect. You need something to latch onto, to fall in love with.
Was it nice not having to do a fall 2011 collection?
It is nice taking a break, but it puts a lot of pressure on a comeback. What’s he going to do now that he has new factories and the pricing is better? Can the mojo follow from Brunello? It’s all still going to be made in Italy, but a few things like swimwear might be made in Portugal. I don’t think you need a handmade nylon bathing suit for $400 if I can get it down to $195 made in Portugal.
So many designers do these temporary collaborations with big companies. When you initially got involved with Gant, did you think it was a one-off thing?
I can say this now, but it was a money job for me. We had just come out of a bad collaboration position that went nowhere [Bill Blass] and was personally frustrating. I was so burned on the idea of doing this again when Gant approached me. I wondered if this would diminish the glamour of my designer line and if it would scare customers away. Everything fell away really quickly. If we’ve had success, it’s because we’ve never been lazy with Gant. That line gets as much care as the main line. It is just a different guy and a different motivation when he wakes up. Now we are signing a contract to do at least six more seasons. And the Gant job gave us the income to buy our own license back and restart our own line. I am so happy I said yes.
So did you ever have a show with Bill Blass?
No. A few samples were made. I was brought on as men’s creative director to relaunch Bill Blass as a true designer label. Peter Som was on the women’s side and I was on the men’s. We had two collections designed, laid out, fabric picked, had a spot on the calendar, and at the last minute the plug was pulled. That happened two times. Slowly a lot of those ideas have found their way into one collection or another. The one thing that saw the light of day was a fragrance, Mr. Blass. They liquidated it on eBay and you can find it there for about $11.