Last week, menswear boutique Cottage packed in a party of people so tight any fire marshal would be skeptical. It was a lively Spring/Summer trunk show hosted by trendsetting New York designer Michael Bastian.
Legions of fervent admirers appraised and gushed over pieces like the Ben Sweater - a boiled cashmere pullover with a classic fit. Name-dropping became an evening sport and the spot was full of local legends like Greg Lotus, photographer for Vanity Fair and GQ, as well as Jared Cook of the St. Louis Rams.
But the name dropped most stayed Michael Bastian's. The party popping was definitely something to humble-brag about, but Cultist's Q&A with the dapper American Designer, took the cake. We sunk snugly into Cottage's white, canvas couch to chat with the designer about his epic CFDA win, why fit is everything, and of course, his love for our Magic City.
Cultist: Michael, you're from New York, but let's chat about Miami. How do you feel when you come down here?
Michael Bastion: Miami's an American dream. I grew up way up north in Upstate, New York, and it's freezing there, right on Lake Ontario. Miami's great because it's a little more laid back, a little easier. It's the intersection of Latin America and North America, and you get to see the distillation of the best of both, which is really beautiful.
You're right. It's kind of a meeting point for a plethora of cultures.
Yeah, I thought they spoke a lot of Spanish in New York, but literally everyone speaks Spanish here.
Where do you think Miami stands on the fashion totem pole?
Miami's style is similar to Brazilian style; you're spending so much time outdoors and on the beach, and your body is just as important as what you put on it. It's the opposite of New York's style and not even similar to LA's -- really, its own thing. There's a certain glamour in Miami. People take a little extra time to get ready to go to the beach. I don't see sloppy down here. This is serious.
Why did you pick Cottage as your Miami representative?
I love the vibe of the store, and we love Ariel [Burman]; what Ariel has done is really incredible. This is a great space and a beautiful edit of menswear. You just feel comfortable here. I don't have my own store yet, but Cottage does something that I'm dying to do when I get my own store, and that's to give a lot of space for people to crash and hang out. That's how guys like to shop. Even if they don't buy anything, they get comfortable with the store and the people here. That's really cool.
We (Eugenia -- Michael Bastian's vice president, PR director, and assistant designer) both came from Bergdorf Goodman, and in the men's store, we realized, if you have a couch in a room, you'd sell more. Men will come with their wives and look at their phones while the women pull pieces for their husbands and have them try said pieces on. If you can give the guy a chance to ease up and relax, then he'll enjoy the process.
Speaking of Bergdorf. You were the menswear fashion director there, but you leaped over to design.
Yeah, it was a fast jump. I was at Bergdorf for five years doing menswear. It was one of those jobs where you always think it's going to be a tough job to beat. It feels as if you're on top of a particular mountain, and if you stay in that industry, any other jump would be a downward. If you're looking for another opportunity, you either go to another designer, get out of the business entirely, or start your own line. At Bergdorf, I was working on all the private labels, so it was really almost a design job already. When I decided to do my own line, it was really just a continuation of what I'd been doing at Bergdorf. There are not very many American menswear designers who are concerned at a luxury level. You know, American style with a European sensibility when it comes to fabric and fit.
So, you filled a huge void within the menswear realm.
Yes, we really did. Here I was at BG, going to every show, every showroom in every country and thought if we can't find it, then no one can.
There's also something really nice about being a man working in menswear, because I start with questions like, "What do I need? Do I want to try a pleated pant?" It's great, because you can use yourself as a barometer. It becomes a little more personal in a way. Another factor that we look at is how the menswear world works - there are contemporary brands, European designer brands, and luxury designers that can feel old-manish. Before, there wasn't good stuff for guys in their 30s, 40s, and 50s; that guy who was maybe a hard-core designer at one point, who's not ready to dress like his dad; the guy who goes to the gym, has a good job, a good income, and understands what's so special about "made-in-Italy" fabrics.
Someone who's comfortable in their own skin.
Yes, and there just wasn't a lot out there for that guy. It makes it hard in a department store sometimes because they'll have a designer floor and a luxury floor. Either we're the most advanced if you put us with the luxury guys, or we might be the most classic if we're placed with designers like Givenchy or Saint Laurent. But it becomes more of a matter of identifying the customer, getting the word out to that kind of guy, and then having a customer for life. Men tend to pick a designer (when they) know what the designer does, and if the fit is right, they'll stick with you.
And for men, fit is everything.
It is everything. American men are getting smarter about this. The old joke was American guys wear one size bigger than they should be wearing, and Italian men wear one size smaller. If you can get them to find their happy medium, that's half the battle.
Let's dive into your Spring/Summer 2014 collection. The boater hats, the pineapple prints, the neckerchiefs.
We literally called that show "The French Guy Show."
The first thing that came to mind was Biarritz (France).
That's as good as any guess I could have made. What happens is, you start with a collection, you have this concept and then it snowballs; it just keeps picking up more weird references as you go along. This one started with an idea of a French guy. They built a fake beach in Paris called Paris-Plage that not many people know about. It's only up for maybe four weeks. We loved this idea of city-beach. Then it just became about print, pattern, color, and trends.
We saw the pineapples.
Yes, and the pineapples. Those things sneak into a collection, and you bend them a little to fit your inspiration. The American designer Patrick Kelly, who lived and worked in Paris, snuck in there with those bright prints. Each detail has a story behind it.
On the streets, you've been compared to Ralph Lauren. Any plans to follow in his footsteps and build your own empire?
That would be great. Very few people have been able to do it like he did it. Right now it's a very specific luxury designer line, all made in Italy, and we're really anxious to expand it out. First to get our own store, our online business going, and also start a secondary line - to make what's great about the brand a little more accessible. There should always be something to aspire to. In the past, we've collaborated with Gant, and right now, we're doing a collaboration with Uniqlo; we've been taking little steps in that direction.
You've collaborated with quite a few names.
We've collaborated with Havaianas, Eugenia Kim (CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year winner). We just launched a line of bags with Frank Clegg that was featured in both SS14 and FW14 shows. And we just started a sock collaboration with Soxiety.
What kind of socks are they?
For now, we're just starting with the athletic stripes and cashmere blends for fall. Spring is coming out soon and that's going to be more prints related to this season's collection. But collaborations are really fun, because they're kind of taking the best of what you do with the best of what they do. When we sit with Eugenia Kim we tell her, "Alright, this season is about French guys," and she'll say, "Okay, well you need this kind of boater hat and this bucket hat." All of the bucket hats are reversible.
We have to talk about your Fall/Winter collection. Loving the whole Japanese influence.
I've been going back and forth to Tokyo more than ever for the Uniqlo collaboration. Tokyo is literally like the movie Blade Runner; you really feel you jumped a day ahead. It moves so fast. People always think of Tokyo fashion as very "Commes des Garçon," but they're very classic. They take the best of Italian, American, and English fashion and put it together in their own cool way.
Your CFDA win back in 2011. Huge accolade, and you've only been in the game for six years.
We've been nominated six times: first for Emerging Designer and then every other year for Designer of the Year. It's a huge honor.
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How do you feel you represent American menswear?
I like to represent it as something real -- to be known for my little subtleties and little secrets (such as the underneath of the collar on his pin-stripe button-up, which reads "This is my lucky shirt"). I want to make guys smile. My line is not so flashy, but I believe that you should see the man before you notice the clothes.
You can cop some of Bastian's Spring/Summer line through the rest of the season at Cottage, 1784 West Ave., Miami Beach.