Standing on the second story loft looking down at the gleeful guests below, I realized that this was what has made Engineered Garments such a crucial brand, not only for menswear in America at large, but for me as an individual. The event was organized to celebrate the debut of Engineered Garments Spring/Summer ’15 collection, and fifteen years after the brand’s founding, people of all backgrounds, of all styles, of all occupations, were still gleefully gravitating toward the brand.
The diverse crowd, from an American editor in a dashiki, down to a briefcase-totting businessman, was a testament to the open stance that EG takes. They are not some closed off fashion brand that fabricates this great wall of mystique to keep their customers on the outside looking in. They’re a brand that lets you into their store, that hosts parties rather than runway shows; that allows you, no wants you, to become a part of their world. Each person who wears EG slots it into their wardrobe in their own unique way, and so I consider EG to be an everyman brand. And yes, Engineered Garments’ clothes are far from cheap, but considering their steadfast dedication to U.S. manufacturing (and really New York City manufacturing, as epitomized by labels that boast of the brand’s Garment District origins) and their unwillingness to sacrifice on their details or textile choices, I would say that every cent that goes into an EG piece is worth it.
On any given day, you could have one man in a full Engineered Garments technicolor tuxedo pass another man wearing one of EG’s 19th century oxfords under his standard office suit. They’d both be doing the brand an equal level of justice, and I can bet, that they’d both offer the other a slight head check, as if to say, “I know.”
Other clubs have secret handshakes, EG has the smile and nod.
Anyone that sets out to “dress well,” in the modern era inevitably begins by learning the rules. “Do this but don’t do that.” “Wear this and it has to fit like that.” For some that is enough, for others, including myself, this takes the fun out of the whole operation. Many of those men then tread into the world of true runway fashion, where emotion, rather than structure, guides how they dress. Unfortunately high fashion tends to be unapproachable for a multitude of reasons, leaving many feeling even frostier than before. Engineered Garments is the happy medium between these two points. They are certainly not the only brand to occupy this space (as more Japanese brands have trickled down to the States, it is clear that many of them mirror this aesthetic) but they were one of the first to meld true cosmopolitan fashion with classic American sportswear.
Engineered Garments doesn’t think outside the box. They just make it bigger.
Nothing that Daiki Suzuki, Angelo Urrutia, and the rest of the Engineered Garments team produces is overly serious. Nothing is exclusive. Nothing is contrived. Year after year EG is a clean-cut demonstration of just how enjoyable clothing can be. For everyone.
In 2008, Engineered Garments beat out Rag & Bone, Steven Alan, and three other brands to earn the title of the CFDA/GQ’s Best New Menswear Designer in America. They weren’t exactly new, but the win marked a crucial moment of widespread acceptance for the brand. For Japanese-born Suzuki, winning this award was a culmination of almost a decade’s worth of work dating back to 1989. This was the year that Suzuki first came to America to work as a buyer for a Boston based menswear store. This period marked a low point for American clothing. We had cast aside the principles of quality and care that had steered the industry for decades in favor of synthetic materials and mass-production. Americans wanted clothing that was cheaper and flashier, not better. What values we had lost though still existed in Japan, where men like Suzuki had grown up learning about the quintessential American styles and all that went with them. This meant that Suzuki arrived in America with a deep appreciation for American made goods, iconic American designs, and the “classic American look,” even if that look was not something he would’ve actually seen on the city streets in ’89.
It was ten years later that Suzuki founded Engineered Garments. In the beginning his mission, like many designers, was to create products that he himself couldn’t find in stores. This was a time before the internet, before e-commerce, and certainly before blog culture, so for Suzuki, who had grown up studying the finer points of American style, this was his chance to bring all those things he had learned to life.
He called the brand Engineered Garments, and that name embodies what the brand is all about. I was once told that Suzuki’s favorite brand was Ralph Lauren, and like many of his colleagues he often cites classic American clothing, particularly Ivy style, as his largest inspiration, but his collections are more than mere reworkings of antiquated garments. Countless designers proclaim that they were inspired by vintage pieces for their collections, but to me that’s always created a dilemma – if a vintage design is strong enough to inspire you, then why do you feel the need to re-do it? The EG answer would be: that garment is not good enough. Vintage pieces clearly inspire the work that they do, but Suzuki and his team are willing to mess with these designs in all the right ways. They add, subtract, recut, rethink, repaint.
They approach their collections not unlike the way in which an automaker creates a car. There’s the basic template of an automobile – the seats face forward, the steering wheel goes on the left, the axles go on the bottom. But beyond that, the decisions are up to the engineer, and these decisions are often an interplay between aesthetics and function. A car has to be desirable, it has to compel the customer to purchase it, some would say it even has to make the driver feel a certain type of way. But above all else it has to perform, it has to accelerate, it has to stop, it has to survive years on the asphalt.
This is how an Engineered Garments’ piece comes to be.
It’s this interplay between form and function (an old saw that unfortunately has lost it’s meaning over the years, but is never more evident than with EG) that guides each collection. This is why Engineered Garments’ offerings are as rife with pockets are they are with patterns, a sensibility that drew WP Lavori to hire Suzuki as creative director of Woolrich Woolen Mills, their revamped heritage label, from 2006 to 2010.
Take the iconic EG Bedford jacket for example. With it’s peak lapels, quad pocketed front, cropped fit, and throat latch, the Bedford is one part hunting coat, one part sportcoat, one part safari jacket, and one part Eisenhower jacket. It might sound like a Frankensteinian feat of design, but rarely has anyone so radically rethought the modern blazer, and rarely has it worked this well. The goal of “updating the sportcoat” is one that countless brands have undertaken. Yet, placing a single vent on the back or adding patch pockets does not revolutionize the garment. EG dares to actually take a step back, study their surroundings, and reconsider what the modern blazer should be. This is a testament to what I believe to be the greatest asset that Engineered Garments has – vision.
Suzuki, Urrutia, and the other members of the Engineered Garments design team are instilled with a three-sixty vision that I find to be incomparable in American clothing. When I say this, I mean both their ability to look forward, as well as their ability to look back. Take their Fall/Winter 2004 collection, (the earliest collection on their site) for example. It instantly strikes me that this collection could easily be hitting stores now for Fall 2014 and no one would accuse it of being staid. Quite the contrary in fact. For this offering in many ways would feel right on time today. This can be seen in each detail – from the two way Ri-Ri zippers, to the leather accented pockets, to the herringbone patterns – all of which echo in EG’s (and their competitors’) pieces today.
But I’d like to focus on one detail in particular that I was stunned to see, and really captures the foresight that Suzuki has. There’s a bomber jacket, which looks to be not unlike a bomber that they still produce today, capped off by a series of three buttons along the top. This detail was likely taken from a vintage piece, as a way to provide some extra wind protection around the throat of the jacket, but it also fulfills a clear stylistic function. Today, so many men fasten their jackets, particularly bombers, at the top and let the rest of the jacket flare out to create an exaggerated layering effect. This look, affectionately known as “The Cholo Stance,” really only came to rise over the past couple years. But here it is, in a lookbook from 2004.
That Suzuki had the foresight to recognize that men would be wearing jackets buttoned at the top, and he determined, ten years ago, that this is a better look, before many of us were even really paying attention to clothing at this level, is truly remarkable.
The evolution of Engineered Garments since this time, has been both extraordinary and completely predictable. Every year I can rely on EG to push the needle, for themselves, for menswear as a whole, and really for me personally, while never losing sight of their core aesthetic. Their Spring 2014 collection is a great example of this approach, because it is so pattern heavy. The shapes – the sportcoats, the jackets, the shirts – they’re all archetypical EG pieces that customers come back to year after year. Yet, they’ve been fabricated in these vibrant patterns that really make their audience reconsider the place that color has in their wardrobe. It is a boundary push, but it’s done in a manner that doesn’t jar their customer. Suddenly, it didn’t seem ridiculous to own a paisley blazer, because hey, it’s just another Bedford.
And then, with Fall/Winter 2014, EG redirected their course once again, adopting a more reserved palate, while exploring silhouettes in a deeper manner. This collection, which can be found in stores now, featured long scooped back shirts, dickie vests, aprons over suits, (which, yes, they did introduce in Spring as well), coveralls, and even britches. What’s also present though, is a few loud patterns, hold-overs you could say from the Spring Summer collection, and that typifies the evolution of EG. With each subsequent collection they progress, amalgamating their influences, trying out new ideas, taking away old ones, in a constant effort to reshape the overall Engineered Garments’ aesthetic.
And in this way, they guide their audience. With EG risks and experimentation become more palatable because they make you feel like an equal, as if you too are along for the ride in the brand’s ever-present progression. They just want to create quality American-made goods that make their customers think, really think about the importance of clothing. Daiki Suzuki is just a man for whom American style has resonated and that continues to be the dominate force for the brand today.
This brings me back to the party, and all the people who were just glad to be there that night. Glad to be celebrating yet another success for Engineered Garments. That night, everyone was grinning, but none more than Suzuki himself, who stood, talking with friends while wearing his patented smirk. It would seem that this is why he designs, not to create any specific garment, but to create joy for so many different people-just as American clothing made him feel back in seventies and eighties.
Because in the end Engineered Garments is not for him, it’s for us.