If I were to name the people in my life that inspire me, Aaron Levine would be high on that list. We met a few years ago when he was working for Hickey, a line I desperately loved, and one I sadly said goodbye to a few years later. Hickey’s demise taught me a lesson: Love what you have, when you have it. When I met Levine for the first time (a well documented lunch I might add), I knew exactly why I liked Hickey so much. I was into it because of Levine, at his core, is a giant “Product Nerd,” a description that he both enjoys and embraces. I think that’s what we connected over first, the love of well made things and good design.
About a year ago Levine was tapped by Club Monaco (a brand I have been working with on various projects myself for the past two years) to head the men’s design. It was (and remains) a big job and one he took to naturally. It has been exciting to see him put his touch on the collection at Club Monaco (who, as it happens, just launched its online store) and bring elements of his own personal (sometimes quirky) style to the brand.
While I am very close to what is happening at Club Monaco right now, I thought it would be interesting to sit down with Aaron and talk to him about the new autumn 12 collection, his first complete collection for Club Monaco.
Q&A and looks from the AW12 collection below…
Q: What was the inspiration for the AW12 collection?
A: It’s not anything super structured, I find inspiring images all over the place that connect with me personally. I use those images to start to shape a direction or even one specific thing — a shirt or jacket or suit. The design team and I think about who the character is, the end consumer, and how they will feel wearing these clothes. We also think about how we would personally feel in the clothes. With AW12 we wanted to get back to the roots of traditional menswear. Wanted it to be wearable. If you sway too far, one way or the other…it becomes unwearable and that’s not what we want, fashion for the sake of fashion. Our idea was to make clothes that are interesting but also classic enough to be around for a long time. It’s about being thoughtful and looking cool without looking silly.
How do you start with a collection?
We know we will need something — say for example we’re thinking about outerwear — and we know we are going to need a few shapes and styles. From there an idea from a collection can literally be sparked from something that I pull out of my hoard of stuff in my office, or from me driving in the car pulling a color story from what I am wearing on a Sunday. That’s the best part about being a designer and making clothes, creativity and inspiration is all over the place.
How is your job at Club Monaco different than the other places you have worked?
To be honest, when I came here I thought I was out of my league. There are really talented people everywhere here. I found the process at Club Monaco to be extremely organic and our CEO John [Mehas] pushes us in such a good way. The way he works, he is really open to anything so long as you believe in it. If we feel like something is cool we go right to John and if I am excited and passionate, then he gets excited and we move forward. It’s amazingly simple and un-bureaucratic and empowering.
When I first got here I came in for a week wearing a tie, all dressed up and being serious. That didn’t work, because that’s not who I am. But once we had the designers talking and collaborating on a higher level everything really came together. I realized then that being at a place like Club Monaco is not really different than other places I have been.
Who are some of your favorite designers? Who do you follow?
I really don’t like to look at what other designers are doing because they distract from creating things that are original. I like finding inspiration in things that aren’t clothing and drawing inspiration from those random sources. Keeps it fresh you know.
I’ve spent a good amount of time in your office. Can I ask you a couple questions about it?
A: Sure, shoot.
What’s up with the gummy bears?
I just love gummy bears. It all started at Hickey and a co-worker brought a giant bag of Black Forest Gummy Bears and I co-opted them. My office has boasted a bag ever since.
And Black Forest are the best. They look cool and are soft and juicy, so I literally buy 6lb bags and everyone that comes into the office eats them and it establishes my office as a place that is safe for creative ideas. It says to people that the door is always open. I love when people to come in here to talk and spend time making clothes.
And don’t make it sound like I am trying to lure people into my office, I’m just a friendly guy who happens to like gummy bears. End of story.
What’s up with the organizational system?
Why is it such a fucking mess?
I have tried to clean it up, but it is just the way that I work. It will start with a book or fabric swatches — vignettes on my desk — and start to pile up, but then my brain will launch another story so I switch to another part of the desk but I can’t touch the original story (pile) because it is growing. It’s all over the place. Everyone that comes in can’t understand it, but for me I can see the matrix and it all makes sense. And things that pile up a certain way will sometimes spawn an un-thought-of story. So it works. I organize things differently, that’s all.
It is amazing that such good clothes can germinate in that environment. I mean that literally.
You love it.