Ahead of this weekend’s collaborative release, designer Greg Lauren stopped by KITH’s Manhattan flagship for a live exhibition dubbed “Artist in Progress.” During the showcase Lauren shared an inside look with founder Ronnie Fieg at the process behind his creations for the upcoming Greg Lauren x KITH collaboration capsule.
For the release, Lauren transforms some of KITH’s signature pieces into military-inspired canvases. The creations are formed through seemingly random mashups of materials joined by fringed edges, covered in paint splatter and repaired with patches, all set against a preppy blueprint. The result for their co-efforts in storytelling and design is a mash up of collegiate fashion with military intent — fitting as the collection is called “Ivy League Draft” for its opposing ideals in legacy style.
HYPEBEAST was able to chat with the tag-team ahead of their limited drop regarding their new discoveries during the process, the spark behind its “Ivy League Draft” moniker, their movie-inspired mentalities and more.
How did you guys meet?
GL: We actually had never met before working together on this project. We had known each other from afar, and of course KITH was already carrying GL, and we had a mutual admiration for each other’s work, but technically we met for the first at my studio in LA to discuss GL x KITH.
Prior to connecting for this capsule, what was it that each of you had admired about the other’s work?
RF: I frequently refer to Greg as a “designer’s favorite designer.” I say this because designers are the ones who can truly understand how intricate every detail of his products are. Every little element of his product has so much thought put into it.
At my core I’m a product guy. I love good product. When I first saw Greg’s apparel I didn’t even see it as product, I saw it as art. As I learned more about him I came to find out that before launching his line he was an actual artist, which makes total sense to me. For the past few years, I’ve been collecting his pieces the way I do art.
GL: What impressed me most about Ronnie was, and is, his incredible clarity of vision. I’ve rarely met someone with such a keen understanding of his customer, while having an unwavering vision of the creative world he wants to create, and such an intuitive sense of what works and what doesn’t work for that world.
Why or how did you two decide to collaborate now?
RF: It’s a combination of things. We began carrying Greg Lauren in our stores about two years ago. Even though I’ve been such a fan of the product, I had to make sure that it could properly crossover to the KITH consumer. From the first collection we stocked our shopper gravitated towards it and have continued checking for it. That’s how I knew a partnership between our brands would resonate with both of our audiences.
KITH has also evolved a lot over the years and I think one of the most crucial factors of working on collaborative projects today is that the brand can really tell a story through the product. When speaking about concept, knowing how Greg digs deep into storytelling, that’s the moment that I knew it would be right for us to work together.
GL: It couldn’t be a more perfect time. I’ve been at the forefront of the remix, artisanal approach, and I think it’s now firmly in people’s consciousness. People are excited about individuality, the creative clash of ideas, and most importantly, being and celebrating unique voices. When I started my collection, people loved the creativity, but didn’t necessarily understand the idea, or the contradictions.
Using repurposed military fabrics back then was so popular that I could explore why we universally love military clothes, why we all want to look and feel like a soldier, without being one. Those are the kinds of questions I needed to ask, coming from a background where clothing told you who you should want to be, what heroes you should aspire to be like. Military, heritage, prep are all key themes I’ve deconstructed throughout my collection. Ronnie explores a lot of these as well, but from a completely different experience and point of view.
“As I learned more about [Greg] I came to find out that before launching his line he was an actual artist, which makes total sense to me. For the past few years I’ve been collecting his pieces the way I do art.”
Our doing something together, for me is exactly like the duality in my clothes, combining two things which at first don’t obviously make sense, but together makes something new.
I create, and work from the perspective of being an artist, which means taking risks, breaking rules or ideas of how something should be done. From the beginning, I wanted my collection to be about who we are, what we wear and why we wear it. It’s important to me to explore fashion as a form of self-expression, and what it says about us as a whole. From a different angle, I think that is exactly what Ronnie has done with KITH, especially in the retail experience he creates.
I think that KITH as a world, what Ronnie has built as a retail experience, is setting the standard for what is “now,” and what the future looks like. I create what I feel are relevant contradictions, mash ups of ideas which tell the story of who we are, in my clothes, and I think he does that in the KITH stores, in the content.
In addition to his creativity as a designer, I think he is an amazing curator of who we are right now. I had always loved the contradiction of the artisanal approach of my work living in KITH, and I had wanted to do some one-of-a-kind pieces for the LA store, Ronnie said, “No, I don’t want a few pieces, I want you to do a whole capsule, one that combines our DNA.” He had me at “No”, and I said, “I’m in.”
What was the collaboration process like for this capsule?
RF: When I was in Greg’s studio I saw his approach for SS19, and noticed that he was transitioning a bit into prep. When looking around his studio I saw all of these military pieces and I had the idea to bring both of those elements together to tell a story. When we looked at the different pieces we started referencing movies, and during those reference points we discussed merging the elements of military and prep into one. I knew whatever we worked on would have to be a moment during our fashion show, so that’s what really forced us to conceptualize a story. When we began thinking of what setting this product would live in during the show, that’s when we crafted the narrative of ivy league students being drafted into the military during Vietnam. It’s Dead Poets Society meets Platoon.
This was a rare process for me. With all of our collaborative partners in the past, we’re the ones designing the silhouettes, picking the fabrics, and executing the final product. However I knew that the reason I wanted to work with Greg is because his approach to product is so unique, so it wouldn’t be right to channel Greg through the KITH lens, it should be the other way around. So this is the first time where our collaborative partner really designed the collection.
With that said, both of our DNA is fused heavily into the product. We sent Greg fabrics from our Fall ’18 collection, including our 500 GSM brushback cotton fleece and our coveted custom-milled flannel, as well as some others. These were then combined with Greg’s fabrics to truly create 50/50 pieces.
“I knew that the reason I wanted to work with Greg is because his approach to product is so unique, so it wouldn’t be right to channel Greg through the KITH lens, it should be the other way around. So this is the first time where our collaborative partner really designed the collection.”
GL: It was great. Ronnie is like a conductor, he very clearly said, “Greg, do your thing, be you. But, let’s figure out how to combine the DNA, and tell the story.” The perfect storm was that I was already working on deconstructing prep for my SS19 collection, but it was very cool to hear about prep from Ronnie’s perspective. The idea in the end was clear to us: I used unique GL silhouettes and ideas and brought in fabrics Ronnie was using in KITH, and I would take iconic KITH pieces and “GL-ize” them. I’d show him a piece, and we’d have fun battling over a collar, pant length. He has an unbelievable knowledge of product, detail, and of what he feels works now. When he said he wanted the shoes in the collection to be Wallabees, I thought, “I can’t wait to get my hands on a pair.”
We both talk in movies, which was great. It came to us immediately, I think I said, “Imagine a bunch of IVY League or prep school kids in their uniforms on a road trip, and it goes wrong, and they are now battling something, they are at war, and they have to survive, fight for something” Ronnie paused and said “IVY League Draft.” I ramble, and keep going into the details, and he has the unique ability to see it and nail it in one line, which captures the essence of it.
Can you describe what the collection means to each of you?
RF: Working with Greg is something I’ve wanted the brand to do for a long time, so being able to accomplish this in another notch in the timeline for us. It shows our versatility and our passion for product on a heightened level.
GL: For me, I grew up in an appropriation of a world, and I witnessed it on a big scale. An artificial world of visual beauty and aspiration without the human authenticity. An Ivory cable knit tennis sweater to me is symbolic of a club that not everyone was allowed to be part of.
It might be beautifully crafted, and that is what I appreciated about it, the work, the wool, the colors, but I needed to explore the meaning behind it. In this collection I continued that by taking iconic images that meant something 20-30 years ago, and changing them, deconstructing a crested blazer, a classic tennis sweater, everyone’s all-time favorite – The Rugby Shirt – are examples of that. The DNA is there, but scrambled and put back together for new eyes.
In the creation process, how do you go for an archetypal item to a Greg Lauren piece?
GL: For me, it is always about how can I repurpose the image, the emotion in a piece in addition to the fabric itself. My process has always been to explore making archetypal silhouettes from unconventional fabrics, or things which you’d never expect to use.
I started with tailored English suit jackets made from repurposed WW2 duffle bags which were collecting dust somewhere, they had been discarded, tossed aside. I wanted to take something raw, something humble, and turn it into something beautiful. Using the most basic, unglamorous item a soldier might have, a duffle bag, and elevate it, celebrate its story, by turning it into an iconic aspirational piece, while tearing down the arrogance and idea of the suit jacket. It’s a good combination when that happens.
How does this collaboration add to and elevate your FW18 “KITH Park” Collection? If this was the missing piece to the puzzle that is your collection, what was it missing exactly?
RF: The KITH x Greg Lauren Collection had its own set in KITH Park and was one of the four major storytelling points for us. It fit the narrative perfectly. Following up our Tommy Hilfiger collection, it was a perfect way to highlight prep and then transition to our “Ivy League Draft” concept.
From a designer or rather artisan standpoint, what have you learned from Greg?
RF: I’m a perfectionist in my work. I think that has a lot to do with how KITH has grown and the level our product is at now. With Greg I think that he shows “flaws” and this can , in cases, add to the perfection of a piece. It’s a really artistic process.
What did you both discover about one another during the making of this capsule that you weren’t already privy to?
RF: I didn’t know that I would be gaining a friend for life. Greg is really one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and more importantly, he’s so passionate about his work. He and I are very similar in that way. So I got a friend during this process, which is what I put above all else.
GL: Ronnie will not drink a Matcha Latte.
The KITH x Greg Lauren “Ivy League Draft” collection arrives on November 9 at KITH’s Manhattan and Los Angeles stores. A Kith.com release fill follow suit on November 10 at 11 a.m. EST.
In addition, pieces created during the live “Artist in Progress” exhibition will also release via Grailed with 100% of its proceeds going to Operation Mend.