Asked & Answered | Club Monaco’s Aaron Levine

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?

Clarify please.

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.

Comments on “Asked & Answered | Club Monaco’s Aaron Levine

    LAS on April 3, 2012 4:12 PM:

    THE man.

    Andy on April 3, 2012 4:39 PM:

    These are good….but nothing out of the ordinary…. I wonder what he means when he says he doesn’t pay attention to what other designers do? How come the clothing (pictured above) has the strong flood-water length influence of Thom Browne, the checked shirting of J Crew? American menswear has become so cautious as if anything innovative could flip over the apple cart..

    Ag on April 3, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Proportions are so much better. I would step out and say this is best collection from Club Monaco I have ever seen.

    Michael Williams on April 3, 2012 4:41 PM:

    @andy you lost me at the checked shirting bit. That is just an absurd statement. Don’t ever repeat that.

    Philip on April 3, 2012 5:00 PM:

    I worked at a Club Monaco flagship in 2003, and their collections over the past year have been MILES better than the garbage they were churning out in the early 00s. It was the same thing every six weeks: ill-fitting-cheap-feeling shirts and pants in varying shades of grey (with some terrible neon pop colour), super complicated bags, terrible outerwear, etc. And it was all incredibly overpriced for the quality. I’m actually excited to go into CM now, their menswear team has done a great job of pointing the brand in a solid direction. Keep it up!

    Simon on April 3, 2012 5:01 PM:

    The whole collection seems quite wearable, but not very inspiring as I think he might have played it a bit too safe. Often this is what you end up buying and end up liking.

    But the thing that really kills it for me is the way, that the images have been photo-shopped. Too much action in the editing room. I mean, you can’t really sense anything from them.

    Rob on April 3, 2012 5:05 PM:

    I don’t know about “checked shirting,” but if someone told me this was a jcrew lookbook, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Still, a lot of it looks nice, but I do wish they would carve out a more distinct identity.

    Thom on April 3, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Now I see why Club Monaco continues to be the only mall, or high street, brand other than Uniqlo that I even bother looking at.

    “Often this is what you end up buying and end up liking.”

    Well, thank goodness for that.

    Dylan-Thomas on April 3, 2012 5:06 PM:

    The trousers aren’t nearly Thom Browne high; besides, they are rolled, not cuffed. Michael hit at on the head with the check comment…complete cockamamie.

    Dylan-Thomas on April 3, 2012 5:11 PM:

    Aaron’s influence shows nicely – the offbeat elegance, layering and shawl collars.

    David Coggins on April 3, 2012 5:14 PM:

    If only the blonde model took a clue from Levine and pushed his hair over his ear. Have some pride, son.

    Man at C&A on April 3, 2012 5:21 PM:

    Doesn’t look at what other designers are doing… the irony of the picture being at Pitti Uomo

    Michael Williams on April 3, 2012 5:33 PM:

    @man Don’t be confused, that was just his publicity tour. Never went in a building, just hung out with Pesko and Schlossman in the plaza the whole time.

    Vadim on April 3, 2012 5:50 PM:

    Good to see Club Monaco doing this.
    Lets not pretend like this is something new, it does look like what Boglioli or LBM 1911 have been doing for years, but this also shows how CB is stepping up their game. That non-Valstar/Ring jacket looks pretty good too.

    Man at C&A on April 3, 2012 5:59 PM:

    @Michael – i hope he was in the Communist bar and not Gilli’s …
    anyway, good luck to him.

    best wishes – Nic ex- S2A

    Michael Williams on April 3, 2012 6:35 PM:

    @honestly I moderated your comment because of where you work. If you want your opinions heard you are going have to be honest with us as to who you are (sorry).

    modern on April 3, 2012 7:43 PM:

    even if he stayed outside in the plaza, he could see all the people wearing the latest trendy things and know what’s going on. if he really wanted to be a rebel, he would make the models wear some socks for god’s sake.

    Andy on April 3, 2012 7:51 PM:

    Checked shirt is what I see all the time, especially at J Crew. I like them but I think they are overused.

    Which is what I commented on in this collection.

    TIm on April 3, 2012 8:58 PM:

    I hate the rolled up pants! It bothers me so! I just want to straighten them and pull them down with a quick iron. Great looks though.. esp. 6th one down. And..his bread is very well kept.

    Jay on April 3, 2012 10:25 PM:

    Collection looks awesome, there is a lot of pieces I want.

    @Andy … JCrew isn’t the only place to get gingham shirts bruh

    Daniel on April 3, 2012 10:35 PM:

    “(who, as it happens, just launched its online store)” — the “as it happens” is tongue in cheek, right?

    Also, I 100% see where other people are coming from re Levine’s “not paying attention to other designers” quote. Yes, J Crew did not invent the checked shirt, but I’ve certainly seen everything here in other collections — you can’t tell me that slim cargos or a DB blazer with rolled chinos and beefroll loafers isn’t “on-trend” (a term very few #menswear people are willing to use but is still appropriate). Granted, I personally do like the look of a lot of this and I’m about the collection since CM will likely be able to offer everything at super nice (relatively) price points.

    Honestly, I’m not trying to be totally negative and this is a great blog…just my feelings on the post.

    David Himel on April 4, 2012 2:41 AM:

    I hate to agree with Daniel et al…but please dont pay attention….I call bullshit…1930s shawl collared sweater knockoff…a-1 button up jacket knockoff…Cabournesque m-42 knockoff….rain slicker….coloured pants….its all good that is how people make money in fashion…Personally I remember Club Monaco when it first opened in the eighties…they made the badest ass jodphurs…and I owned all the shades of khaki and brown…but ultimately they resized for tiny mostly asian physiques and i had to stop buying there being over six feet and 180 lbs…my good friend helped relaunch the brand 10 years ago….and I would say maybe Im a snob but there is nothing really inspiring here…good solid wearable stuff though and I guess that is what people want in schmoeville….

    CK on April 4, 2012 9:43 AM:

    “good solid wearable stuff…is what people want in schmoeville…”
    people are jerks.

    sean on April 4, 2012 9:51 AM:

    Being a CM customer for many years, I see their current aesthetic and think ‘J. Crew’ and nothing else. I understand the point of growth, but not when it’s copying the style (yes, it is, no matter what anyone says) of another mass retailer.

    mbchilton on April 4, 2012 10:07 AM:

    Nice, wearable clothing. There are pieces for clothing nerds and pieces for straight up nerds who need to step up their game. Guys who have a dress casual office dress code should be wearing this. It would be a better looking world.

    David Himel on April 4, 2012 10:32 AM:

    @ck….hmmm…..Im not sure …are you suggesting people in general are jerks off in schmoeville or me personally? regardless…my personal style is 90 percent vintage due to my love of odd rare clothing…CM still caters to the skinny hipster california aesthetic which is likely not my cup of tea or cut…but the collection is highly trend based is my only point and therefore very much paying attention to other designers…whilst just returning from Project I can assure you I saw much of the same….

    ak on April 4, 2012 11:33 AM:

    So much better, it’s probably the best the brand has ever been. However they still have a problem with the sizing of their pants…I’m in no way a 30…

    tyrus on April 4, 2012 12:20 PM:

    @ak and @David Himel – I hear you. Having any kind of “athletic” physique knocks this particular brand off the list. Per their website, the largest blazer size they carry is a 44. This is not a “fat man” comment, just someone with broader shoulders than their models and someone who doesn’t fit into these clothes. I need a Man’s guide to labels that carry sizes for men in the 6′ / 185-210 range.

    K. A. Adams on April 4, 2012 1:21 PM:

    It is hard to differentiate one’s brand when there is so much overlap in the marketplace ..

    Michael what would you say or what would Aaron or CM say is their reason to exist ?

    jiheison on April 4, 2012 1:29 PM:

    There is something to be said for originality, but these are clearly for the meant to have broad appeal. If they bother to make them with fabrics that don’t generally wear like paper, as with the several brands offering similar styles, they might be on to something.

    Randy Stebbins on April 4, 2012 2:25 PM:

    Well. The stuff is imported, meaning China, Malaysia, or thereabouts That does it for me. This sort of stuff doesn’t last, and reflects its price point, no matter who is designing. Make less, and make it here.

    Daniel on April 4, 2012 3:05 PM:

    I agree with the people who are seeing a strong J Crew overlap but even if Club Monaco has become a more exciting version of J Crew recently I’m okay with that. A friend of mine and I were saying recently that the rule of thumb with anything you buy at J Crew is to tack on $30-$50 in tailoring because their clothing is such baggy, shapeless sacks. Whereas stuff I buy at CM is usually good to go. And that just speaks to my body type; but there are other details in the clothes at CM lately that just give them a bit more energy. Levine’s goal of “wearability” is really achieved here because there are some subtle risks in the pieces above that are great for people like me who want to avoid both blandness AND peacockery. Maybe the most forward-thinking aspect of this collection is how it seems to have taken place after the full street style backlash has been absorbed.

    Ray Hull on April 4, 2012 3:51 PM:

    And here I thought I read that we were past the grubby slacker look. Groom up guys.

    David on April 4, 2012 5:24 PM:

    Haven’t bought anything from CM in 6-7 years, since those dark days alluded to in the post. I have noticed their style moved away from “If you like Banana Republic…” to “If you like J. Crew…” I did find that I liked the look of a lot more stuff the last time I walked through their store. But yeah, nothing too original from the pics. The looks come off like “Sexy J. Crew!” or “Sexy L.L.Bean!” Maybe it will be different in person, as most brands’ clothing usually are.

    David on April 4, 2012 5:30 PM:

    Follow up thought to my 5:24pm comment: While I don’t see anything highly original in the pics, I don’t think that’s all Levine’s fault. Sometimes when brands bring in new designers, the people up at the top freak out if there is a radical change in the look of the clothing that the new designer presents and tell them to reign it in. Once that first collection is done and the executive office relaxes, the designer can get down to business. I think 2013 will be when we really can expect to see Levine make his mark on Club Monaco.

    CK on April 4, 2012 7:23 PM:

    @davidhimmel i don’t doubt or even necessarily disagree with most of your original comment. and there’s nothing wrong with not liking something. it’s just that your comment about “schmoes” being into it because of it’s wearability reeks of dickheadedness. and it seems sort of nonsensical…i mean, would you consider your 90% vintage wardrobe to be made up of good, solid or wearable items? if so, are you now a schmo? or is your wardrobe made up of poorly made unwearable items?

    Jacob on April 4, 2012 7:35 PM:

    What was the cause of the demise of Hickey? Marketing failure? As nice as the CM pics look, I’m more interested in that than anything else. Given that made in USA products and heritage brands are having such a boom right now, and Hickey was a bit of both, why did the product flounder so quickly?

    Michael, please opine if you can.

    Michael Williams on April 4, 2012 8:14 PM:

    Hickey was killed because the parent company went into Chapter 11 restructuring. It was always a struggle for that brand though. It all started, I remember, in 2007 with Bergdorf, Tommy Fazio and a camo sport coat. When Levine was the designer, Ian Velardi did sales at Hickey. It was just a good mix of prep and American trad, with an eye for the classics. Only thing I really didn’t like was that pot leaf logo — it was just stupid to me.

    M Arthur on April 4, 2012 8:35 PM:

    CM has the best stretch T’s. Bought my first two in Vancouver. Now there’s a solid product to exploit Mr. Levin!

    DPB on April 4, 2012 10:13 PM:

    I think everyone here is forgetting that fashion is a business and the bottom line is selling clothes and not being overly inventive and trying to re-invent the wheel. There is a reason why classics and basics stand the test of time and why overly trendy does not. I like seeing inventive ideas for men’s clothes but at the end of the day I’m not going to be walking down the street in Thom Browne’s football inspired suits that had shoulder pads underneath the jackets. CM’s reputation is for making classic and basic clothes. If you have any style it’s in the way you style the clothes you wear that makes it interesting. I’m into being stylish not fashionable. There is a difference. (Oh and jcrew didn’t invent the check shirt and definitely was not the first to sell it but their marketing sure had an impact on you all to make you think of them when you see a check shirt.)

    jiheison on April 5, 2012 2:22 PM:


    I’d wager that nobody thinks that J. Crew invented the check shirt. The point is that they have been pushing it hard for a long time. Walk into any of their stores and you will likely find an entire wall dedicated to button-downs in various gingham patterns. Its a nice color pattern for a shirt.

    As far as originality, people are clearly responding to the following:

    “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.”

    Which doesn’t jive with the accompanying images. However, Mr. Levine’s design inspirations may be distinct from designs that CM approves for production.

    David Himel on April 6, 2012 2:35 AM:

    @ck…no doubt I am a professional dickhead when it comes to clothes. Basically because I only like really really really good base fabrics…because my vintage collection is extensive (into the thousands of pieces) and because I make clothing and know most of the heritage clothing makers in Japan and North America I am spoiled. On top of that my brother lives in Cambodia where if I wanted any of these items they are available at the 1 to 5 dollar price point. So unfortunately I follow a different aesthetic. Also I am vehemently against the Joe Mimran made in china business model except for …the fact that it creates the very market that I make my living from which is custom made in North America garments….so yes dickhead is where I sit

    sonja on April 6, 2012 8:53 AM:

    that redhead male model is hot.

    JP on April 6, 2012 11:04 AM:

    At the end of the day, let’s remember that this is Club Monaco – not designer label. Yep, you will see imported fabrics/goods. It’s a reality. All American made fabrics/goods is not a practical model for everyone given price-points that need to be met, distribution, scalability, and the end-consumer.

    Many of the comments/comparisons here are so far out of context that I can’t even consider them. Tell me who the real “schmoe” is: the hard-working average guy that we’re putting down for shopping at the mall that maybe doesn’t measure-up in the eyes of us self-proclaimed clothing/style experts… or elitist insider snobs who would make such a f’d up comment? Let’s get over ourselves, we sound like a bunch of little bitches.

    From what I can see, from everyone I know, and from friends that shop there: Club Monaco has come a very long way, and Aaron Levine has succeeded in moving the needle by a lot. He’s proven himself to be the real deal at every post he’s held. Congrats.

    Michael Williams on April 6, 2012 12:04 PM:

    Well said JP, well fucking said.

    henrik on April 6, 2012 12:08 PM:

    @MW another superb documentation!

    Ahhhh, the flipfloping of comments between the clothes either being appropriated / knocked off in a sense, to no innovation whatsoever; to being rather cutting edge. This is why I come to this site. It is pure greatness!

    ck on April 6, 2012 12:42 PM:

    @davidhimmel Never said you were a dickhead and hope I didn’t imply it. But, your original criticism was NOT that these clothes were inferior in make (you said the opposite, solid wearable clothes) nor was it that they were made outside of the US in a 2nd or 3rd world country in questionable work environments (I’m 100% with you on that, and that alone is reason to take your money elsewhere). It’s just that you called people schmoes for being into wearable clothes. And that’s just sort doesn’t add anything useful to the discourse (especially when it’s posted on a site that almost NEVER strays from spotlighting clothes/styles that would be characterized as anything but wearable).

    JMSF on April 6, 2012 12:50 PM:

    Yeah, but would they wear it in Burkina Faso?

    David Himel on April 6, 2012 1:16 PM:

    lol I know you didnt call me one…I am saying when it comes to clothing I place myself there..:O)…side note on affordability vs imported fast fashion. It is not simply an ideological issue…which it is where “affordability” does not include sustainability and ethics and environmental concerns. Schmoeism..(speaking in the yiddish sense) to me is the fact that the American model of consumption requires by fast, by often and buy cheap..rarely does it reflect this mythical ‘poor” person who cannot afford more expensive fashions. Certainly not at CM. Unfortunately I have had the pleasure of working with Japanese culture..which more closely follows my neighbors philosophies growing up the WASPS…which was buy once and buy well and keep it for life…this was the ethos that built companies like Gloverall and many of the outerwear brands that I was forced to wear as a child. So if you want to live in a fantasy paradigm JP of poor vs rich feel free but I dont think that is at play here. I really am not trying to offend but the characterization that I am offbase is itself offbase. I get MW’s blog and I celebrate design and fashion…i never forget who is making it, where it comes from..and most of all I am more interested in exceptional things then the middle road…so again I say I am a dickhead, but that doesnt make me wrong headed, or out of whack with the commentary…I offer a perspective that both knows the back end of asian made fast fashion (hell I have known many of the principals of CM, some for most of my life) and I own my own made in Canada brand I hope that perspective helps understand where I come from.

    Rob on April 6, 2012 2:21 PM:

    Back to the issue of originality – yes, it’s obviously not a designer, cutting edge collection, and nor should it be. I do think the brand is way, way ahead of where it was a few years ago. Still, I think KA Adams above raises a good point: with so much overlap in the market, what is the niche CM is trying to carve out? There is a lot of resemblance to jcrew, Rugby, ll bean signature, etc. I think the obvious distinction is that CM seems to be angling for the Italian/Pitti casual vibe you see in Boglioli, Cuccinelli, etc. and not so much the heritage vibe seen in the aforementioned brands. I kinda wish he’d pushed a little farther into that euro realm but maybe that isn’t feasible in the US market.

    Andy on April 6, 2012 2:22 PM:

    Every retailer is saddled with an image, fairly or unfairly, and for a long time Club Monaco was to me, for a 20-year-old twink who wore size 28 slim fit trousers and rode a Vespa.

    But this collection, despite its similarity in my mind to J Crew, is significantly better than the Club Monaco of five years ago.

    But I also give every retailer and designer a chance to reform and try and make me buy their clothes again. Just the other day, I went into a Fossil Store in Sherman Oaks, CA and was surprised and delighted that their cheap clothing was suddenly better made but still cheap. I never would have set foot in a Fossil Store before, but now I will make a stop here.

    And some of the venerated old names whose clothing once engendered admiration, such as Ralph Lauren, have now become frequently gaudy and atrocious looking, with enormous logos and a tired formula that never changes. I see a decline in quality with no corresponding change in price.

    It is a wide open field now in men’s design and I wish Aaron Levine well. He not only has a creative job but one that is political as well and I admire what I see even if it aims straight down the middle road.

    ck on April 6, 2012 9:52 PM:

    @davidhimel …aaaaaand now we’re on the same page. figured we’d get there eventually.

    Juan Mas on April 8, 2012 11:21 PM:

    Impressed…Best CM ever looked!

    The Trad on April 10, 2012 5:57 PM:

    JP- It’s schmo. And I have news for you. US goods can be made in the US for less than the off shore crap floating around. You know that and shame on you for implying other wise.

    I think Levine’s the real deal and this isn’t basic training for him but advanced. He loves the cloth, knows more about goods than most and needs a haircut. Two outta three ain’t bad.

    Tiberius on April 10, 2012 6:56 PM:

    Does anybody know what the white shoes are? Not the Adidas Stan Smith’s, but the other white shoes used?

    Perhaps Dunlop or Sperry but I’m unsure?

    Mike on April 11, 2012 3:36 PM:

    @Tiberius – you mean the Converse Jack Purcells?

    K. A. Adams on April 13, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Must say that I am surprised that, other than the obvious i.e.; trying to make a buck, neither Michael, Aaron nor anyone else from CM rose to the challenge to state the line’s raison d’etre.

    Corwin on April 16, 2012 1:24 PM:

    Accessible and predictable menswear. Great fun Club Monaco will clearly make money off of this collection. What’s infuriating is when designers love to claim they don’t look at other designers work. In no other field is there this blatant anxiety of influence. Can you imagine a painter, film maker, musician etc claiming they don’t look or listen or watch other artists work? Of course not, and they would be ridiculed for saying so. I suppose it is the direct relationship with commerce that fashion collections imply that force this fake and obviously insecure type of comment. And it is comments like this which prevent designers from being taken seriously as artists.

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