As Ariel Ovadia greets me outside the Mercer Hotel a few days before Thanksgiving he’s dressed in a brass button pea coat and Nike Flyknits. His brother Shimon arrives a few minutes later, wearing a black hoodie, a herringbone walking coat, and a pair of Vans Eras. As our conversation progresses, I realize that these two outfits perfectly capture the collective mindset of the twin tag team behind Ovadia & Sons Since emerging on the scene in the late aughts with a heavily vintage inspired style that instantly made them the neo-icons of the budding #menswear set, the Ovadia’s have evolved into a formidable force of the fashion world. As men’s style, by and large, has headed toward a more open acceptance of that capital F word, the brothers Ovadia have lead the charge, experimenting with more forward thinking designs, without alienating their rabid fan base. I sat down with Ariel and Shimon to discuss their progression as designers, the role of vintage objects in their collections, and what to expect from their next collection. Words by Jake Gallagher.
ACL: I’ve always found it interesting how on your own e-commerce site you sell vintage items alongside your own line, and everyone always tends to write about how you both personally collect vintage items, particularly vintage Polo. So how did you come to the decision to sell vintage in addition to your main line?
Ariel Ovadia: I think what a lot of people don’t know is, a lot of the products that we offer for sale on the website, and some things that, let’s say for example, if we have the sample sale, things that are gonna be for sale there, the majority of those products were owned by us. We bought them, for our apartments or just as a collectors item, or as inspiration. Many times before we even had Ovadia & Sons, so we imagined those pieces being either in display in our apartments or in the showroom. We didn’t look at them as old objects, we looked as them as new. It’s something that we could relate to today, that’s really where the idea came from – okay we have all these cool little novelty items and we make clothing, and they go hand in hand and we wanted to portray that.
Shimon Ovadia: It’s a taste thing. You’re selling someone the idea of what you think they should be buying, and at the end of the day it’s a taste that you’re selling them. So when we have, a brass dog, or an old pearl handle magnifying glass, or just pocket squares, we’re saying these are things that I hand selected, and that I think are good enough for me to put on my website, to sell. It’s a very personal thing, because it doesn’t have our label on it, people are just trusting that this is a great piece to own, and they’re buying it. And you have things that start at like fifty dollars, and you have things that go for hundreds of dollars. And it’s been a really fast growing part of our website, things sell out like that. So, you get a satisfying feeling when you buy, something and again you’re putting your taste on a vintage product or something that’s a collector’s item, or it doesn’t even have to be a collector’s item and then people react to it, and they can appreciate that.
AO: I think Shimon and I also, to add on to what he said is, whenever we would go with our friends, let’s say on vacation, or even here in New York, and we would go to the antique markets and stuff, we would always help our friends, we would say “oh buy this, buy that,” so we look at it that way, where the product, the vintage items that we put up for sale, we’re telling people, “this is what you should buy, buy this, buy that.” And that’s how we look at it.
SO: The other end of it is that, even on vacations, the first thing we do is go “alright, is there a thrift store, is there the Portabello Market in London, is there a flea market in Paris.”
AO: And also a lot of the items that we get come from estate sales, so when we’re out in the Hampton’s, Shimon buys the paper every week, he maps it out, and sometimes we’ll go to homes that are for sale, for like ten million dollars, and the guy’s whole house is Hermes furniture and stuff like that, and we’ll find all these incredible objects.
SO: A lot of the times, going back to what he said, before we even had the brand, we just bought them to have because, you know, you want to surround yourself with things that appeal to you and make you feel good. And then it’s like a lot of the times you buy stuff or you see things and think “oh that could be great, even to have in our showroom,” and then it just ends up in my apartment because it’s so good. Or I’ll have it for a little while then it’ll come into the showroom. It’s an interesting thing. So keeping that whole aspect of it where it’s constantly, you could say it’s hoarding of some sort, of all of these things because you just want to surround yourself with things that are attractive to you, but you have to have an outlet also to share it with people, and we have the ability to do that.
ACL: I’ve always thought about it in a similar way as to how Ralph Lauren stages his stores. Like you go to The Mansion, everything feels so…
AO: He sells you a fantasy.
JG: Yeah, exactly, but I like how with you guys, you can actually buy it. I look at it, in a way, as that these items can last forever, and that’s something that you guys try to achieve with your designs. Do you think that you’re “old souls” in the way that you design, or how do you think about yourselves with your approach right now?
AO: I think right now, Shimon and I both agree that we’re kind of at a turning point, it’s funny to say, in our “careers” quote unquote, because we’re still new. But I think we, really figured out, okay this is what we liked, we did it, we made the timeless pieces, we made pieces bearing our label that people could confuse for something that your grandfather owned. But, at the same time, we said ok, we did this, and now the brand is going in a new direction.
One of the things that I think we’re gonna do consciously is keep offering the vintage product but you’ll see that the clothing is going to become much more modern, and more contemporary. And the vintage objects that we’re gonna offer are gonna match what we’re doing. So let’s say for example, it’s a crystal Tiffany tray, or a Lucite lamp, or anything sterling silver that’s really luxurious, that’s really the direction that we’re going.
SO: Sorry to cut you off, but it’s not that we’re going in that direction, we always appreciated all of the different facets, whether it’s the old tailored clothing, or futuristic clothing, or whatever. We always appreciated these different things and right now it’s just something that we’re leaning towards more.
ACL: You’re saying, as you move toward this more contemporary design approach, your vintage goods will mirror that as well?
AO: Yeah. But again, it’s not “this is what it is, and yesterday was yesterday,” we go with what we feel at the time, and that’s what speaks to us. It should be fun, I’m excited for the new collection.
JG: It’s interesting that you say that, because everyone remarked when your latest collection was shown this past fashion week that you guys were leaning more towards this forward thinking idea….
SO: Yeah, you have to understand, also it’s where we came from in our teenage years, and in our youth. We went to punk rock shows and we wore cut off and we were buying skinny jeans at the thrift stores because you couldn’t buy them in stores. And then we had the high school days, we used to wear North Face jackets and Nike sneakers. Everything that we grew up with is beginning to reflect in the things that we’re doing, and we just happened to start with more of a tailored sensibility than a sportswear one, and it’s just evolving towards that.
Do you guys discuss that? Is it the type of thing where you definitively say, “oh we’re gonna move towards this,” or is it just how once you start sketching and start thinking that it moves toward that organically?
AO: We know right away. We say ok this it, next season this is what it’s about. And the way that we know it’s real and that we’re being honest with ourselves, is even our furniture in our apartments and in the showroom, we’re literally getting rid of everything, and we’re buying all new furniture, and all new photographs, and all new frames. And we feel like this is what we really like right now, and that’s how we know.
ACL: One of my favorite stories is that the Coen Brothers, the directors, whenever they’re making a new movie they redo their entire office to be of that period, because I feel like your environment does dictate your creative output so significantly. So, are there certain things that you guys have to keep consistent with what you do day-to-day, or what you surround yourself with?
SO: I wish we had the luxury to change the entire showroom into a tropical rainforest for next spring, but it’s not realistic. Maybe one day. So we work with mood boards. When Ariel said we’re getting rid of anything, I think that we’re recognizing what’s gonna serve as a neutral palate for us to be able to enhance the collection rather than people walk in and get a sense of “ okay this is what it’s about, and next season it’s gonna be about this.”
So the brand message is gonna be very clear through the clothing, and then everything else is just going to be clean. So you have to have that blank canvas, as they say, to just highlight the collections, because we’re gonna always have those pieces that we’re known for, but then there’s the collection aspect of it, which is more the fashion aspect of it, which is always going to change season by season, as what we like evolves, or how we feel at the time, or what we’re inspired by changes. So I think it’s a mix of all of those things.
ACL: I think it’s funny talking to you on the day that that M Magazine article came out, talking about you guys as the “sweethearts of the internet” or whatever you want to call it, but I feel like things have flipped and you guys are almost guiding the hand now of people’s taste. Where as when you were coming up, in 2010, things were very fuzzy, and traddy, but now things are getting much cleaner. Do you sense that shift?
SO: For me, if so many people are in that same world, I want to move away from it. If everyone wears a certain shoe or a certain jacket, for me and Ariel, it’s the more reason to get away from that, get rid of that, because everyone else is moving towards that direction. But I think definitely it helped us come to the point that we’ve been at.
But again you have to stay true to yourself and how you envision your brand and how you’re gonna design your next collection. If you can walk away from that and say “this is the best job that I’ve done till today, and I feel really good about it,” that’s the most important thing for us.
ACL: You guys were recently in L.A. for the Vogue Fashion Fund, so what’re your thoughts on how that city is trying to emerge right now as a fashion contender against New York?
AO: I think that L.A. is very spread out, so you have to really dig deep to see what the fashion is there. You have to visit all the different neighborhoods, but in New York you can sense the way people dress and what people like by visiting just a couple neighborhoods that are just a couple blocks away from each other, so it was a little bit difficult for us to get a read on it. But what I can tell you is that from the neighborhoods that we did visit, we saw some really cool shops and I think it’s just much more laid back in a sense.
SO: That’s one part of it, then you show up to Fashion Fund Awards, and ninety percent of the people are being dressed by a stylist, or they’re borrowing their clothing, that’s the fashion end of it, which is great, and you have to have a feel of what’s going on in that world. But I think that that whole vibe over there, again you go to Malibu, you have the surfers they’re wearing t-shirts and board shorts, that have a laid back, ease to them, that we appreciate also, which is like our equivalent to Montauk, you know?
SO: Again like Ariel said, it’s hard to put your finger on it because it’s all over the map.
ACL: That notion of design versus classics is something that I feel like this scene has discovered lately. And so whereas when I was getting into this fashion was a dirty word, it seems to be embraced now.
SO & AO: For men.
ACL: Yea for men. And you guys got that great Anna Wintour cosign. Do you think that this push of fashion is going to continue or do you think this is just a blip and we’ll soon revert to purely classics?
AO: I think after being in the Vogue Fashion Fund, we learned a lot things. Some things that we liked and some things that we didn’t like to be honest with you. Just the way that the fashion industry works, we really had an insiders look, especially talking to some of the judges and then knowing them on a personal level. But I think that it just goes to show you, and we’re talking mens now, that the world is focusing on menswear in the spotlight if four menswear designers were in the Vogue Fashion Fund.
To answer your question, I feel like the direction that everything is gonna go, and again when we were at the award’s dinner, Tom Ford said, if you’re a fashion designer you almost have to be like a prophet to know what’s gonna be good next year, so if I had to answer today, I’d say that things are getting more fashion forward, but at the same time they’re getting simpler. Less fussy.
SO: It’s all about where we want the brand to be. You make a decision, do you want to be a clothing brand, or do you want to be a fashion brand. Or you wanna be both. Look at J. Press, it’s a clothing brand, it’s always going to be a clothing brand and people are going to go there for clothing, it’s not necessarily associated with fashion. But you have the new frontier end of it where they’re reaching out to designers like us to try to bring that fashion element, or more of a cool element, or whatever you want to call it, just to catch up a little bit and have that balance.
So for us, we never came into this business saying, “oh we want to have a fashion forward brand, or we want to have a clothing brand.” It was more about an approach where we didn’t think too much about it, and we just wanted to make clothing that we liked. Observing it from an outside perspective, it’s like are we a fashion brand? Are we a clothing brand? We’re in the fashion business at the end of the day right, so we’re in the business, so I think that answers the question.
ACL: Is the J. Press York Street line going to continue?
AO: We’ll see where it goes, we have a couple of months before we have to come to that conclusion. It needs to work for both sides, and we believe in it, and we feel like it has great potential. We’ll see what happens.
SO: It’s like anything else, that to us is like starting a new, from scratch. The main focus now is the collection, and finishing the collection that we’ll be showing next month, and that’s really the main focus. I don’t even think we gave it too much thought yet, because we’ve been so busy designing the collection. We’ll see what happens.
ACL: As you said, in a month we’ll be seeing what’s next. What can we expect from your line?
AO: Ummm, I don’t know how to describe it.
SO: It’s, for me, it’s more of tapping, or looking back into our youth and our teenage years. We had this carefree spirit, we did anything we wanted, we caused trouble, we ran around here, we ran around there, and we just loved clothing. It was just an obsession of ours. And keep in mind, no one was telling us that we should be buying this, or obsessing over clothing, or going to all the stores. And so for me, it just goes back to that time as a reflection of that, but also something that feels more right for today’s world.
AO: Exactly, I was just about to add to what Shimon said, he really nailed it for me, because when we were kids, everyone ran around, you went here, you went to the city, that party, and we’re kinda living that today. We’re going to this meeting, that meeting. I’m up early, I’m going to work out after work, I’m doing all of these things, and I want to be stylish and comfortable. You can expect a stronger vision of what we introduced for Spring. It’s a lot of sportswear. We’re very excited about it, and we can’t wait to show it off.