Interview by Emilie Hawtin
‘Ivy Style’ uncovers the evolution of some of the most influential styles in menswear history. Now on view at The Museum at FIT, the exhibit presents a historical documentation of styles from 1910 forward. Key players including J.Press, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and Gant are featured next to Thom Browne and Michael Bastian Fall 2012 collections, magnifying the subtle Ivy League nod from contemporary designers.
To sift through the oxfords and penny loafers I gained the insight of G.Bruce Boyer, the eloquent men’s writer and history buff, who was unsurprisingly one of the prominent minds behind the exhibit and Ivy stylist alongside Richard Press.
The exhibit focuses on three eras, what is significant about these?
From 1945-1965 you get what I think of as a ‘golden age’ of Ivy League clothing, the GI bill was passed which loaned money to those coming back from war to start business and attend college. What it meant sartorially was that all these young people, not from upper classes, found themselves in places where this kind of clothing was worn and started to wear it too.
My background always assumed it was ‘Ivy League’ or ‘lifestyle’ clothing. When you went to college, this is what men and women were wearing, there was nothing particularly self-conscious or design-oriented about it. In the 80s a bunch of designers became interested and you get this American genre of clothing consciously being studied, researched, imitated and reproduced. So it goes from being a lifestyle way of dressing to ‘preppy clothing’, which is a conscious reflection.
The ‘golden age’ introduced mixed interpretations of the genre, where do you see that today?
Ralph (Lauren) tried to be as authentic as he could to the ivy tradition; he copied and edited Ivy clothes very well and there’s still nobody better in my mind. The new guys coming along like Band of Outsiders, Thom Browne, Bastian and so forth have their own take on it: some take a high-fashion approach, some a hipster approach, some a more proletarian working-man’s view with lumber jackets and a workman boot. That’s the interesting thing today, a lot of people are using the language of Ivy League and the signature elements of this clothing but doing it in different ways—like taking the elements of a language and producing slang words.
Which contemporary brand do you see doing this well?
The label Gant—It was an old Ivy League label that fell apart and no one was interested, then a Swedish company bought it and all of the archives, lots of madras and seersucker. Christopher Bastin (head designer) got a team together and started to look at the archives, tweaking it to make it a little younger and more contemporary. Now I look at this stuff and think it’s fabulous, to my eyes it looks like it’s supposed to: very authentic but at the same time very contemporary. I think that’s hard to do. I think a company like Gant is doing it the right way, it doesn’t seem forced or overly gimmicky.
How has working on this exhibit been worthwhile for you?
I grew up in the golden age of Ivy. The clothing was wonderful and suited my interest in jazz music; colorful, laid back, comfortable. What I discovered when I started to look around at the variety of people taking this genre as a base for creativity is just how many people have thoroughly studied this clothing and tried to change it, refine it, bring something more interesting to it. The genre has really exploded, Japanese fashion magazines dedicate a whole issue to khaki trousers.
It’s important that we should promote our own styles. Just like jazz music, it’s a purely American thing: it has roots in other places but as a genre it’s purely American. The French, Italians, Japanese, they’re all crazy about Ivy League.