Meet Up Monday: Elise Fife, Founder/Designer, Albion Thorne
Although it’s so new it is not even stocked by stores yet, the rock ’n’ roll and Western–inspired men’s fashion collection Albion Thorne is definitely one to keep an eye on. Designed by New York-based stylist and costume designer Elise Fife, who has worked with such well-known musicians as David Bowie, Fischerspooner and The Avett Brothers, the 24-piece fall 2015 collection blends masterful, luxurious European tailoring and fabrics with a Made in NYC music-driven edge plus a generous dose of Western influences. The items range from cotton tailored dress shirts (starting at $425) to a fringed leather cowboy shirt. There’s also a showpiece runway coat that is hand tailored with four different fabrics in the Savile Row tradition (priced at a whopping $12,000). The brand also makes hats in collaboration with renowned haberdasher Albertus Swanepoel.
Fife invited us to her studio in NYC’s Garment District this past Friday to share and discuss the new collection, which she named after her great grandfather.
What is your background?
I was born in the suburbs of Chicago and I grew up in the ’70s. I’m the youngest of six and my house was filled with music all the time. My brothers loved classic rock and I just grew up with a rock ’n’ roll background. Jumping on the bed to The Who–it’s just in my DNA. And then as I grew into the ’80s it was all about musicians having a fantastic look to take the stage. I was obsessed with The Cure and David Bowie and other bands that had a very strong image and fashion was a huge part of that of course. So I began working in vintage clothing because I was obsessed with vintage. I would take vintage things apart and put them back together again and I would marvel at the construction and the fact that a piece in my hands had been made 90 years ago and was still intact. That was very, very impressive to me and definitely formed who I am as a designer.
When did you officially launch the line?
I launched the line last Tuesday. Officially to the press and media. It was wonderful. The Avett Brothers from North Carolina flew up and played a very private show for us.
What are your favorite pieces in the current collection?
I love our cowboy shirts. The brand came about because I would seek out pieces in the marketplace that felt really masculine, felt rock ’n’ roll, felt true to my clients. I could not really find what I was looking for so that is how I decided that there was a niche in the marketplace. That’s how all of this really came to be. It has been an idea that has been germinating for about four years. The Western-style tuxedo and the cowboy shirts and the tux shirts are all things that I would be looking for when my clients would do red carpet. I felt like there has to be something that has just a little more edge–something that is a little different. Because when you see men on the red carpet they all look very, very similar or they look like they went cuckoo bananas. I felt that there had to be some kind of beautiful subtlety that we can give men when they get dressed up. For me it’s really about me liking the idea that men can put on my clothes and feel like they can take on the world
And you use mostly imported Italian fabrics?
That’s right. And then all of the detail work such as the whipstitching is all done in-house because nobody wants to do that anymore. I went to a leather manufacturer and they had this incredible jacket from the ’70s that they had made and I said, “This is exactly what I am making.” And he said, “We don’t want to do that anymore. It’s too arts and crafts.” I felt really sad that he was completely disinterested in doing that level of handwork anymore because he didn’t think it was profitable.
Do you have a typical customer?
I really thought I did. But we’ve been taking quite a few appointments and I also have good sum of male friends from every kind of age range and whatever other category and it has been fascinating because buyers keep seeing it as a niche line but it’s just so untrue. Our customer is not just a Western wear fan. It’s more that he is a fan of beautifully made clothes. Our customer obviously has to have some means because it is not fast fashion but I feel that we have something in there for every kind of body shape and every kind of taste.
Where does the name come from?
It was my great grandfather’s name. He was a very interesting character in his own right but I also didn’t want it to be any living person’s name because I want a man to be able to project his own persona onto our brand. I enjoy the fact that it can be his style and not the style of anyone living.
What made Albion Thorne so interesting?
He was an American pioneer. He was a toy buyer in the early 1900s for Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago and he imported the first teddy bears from Germany. And I have a cousin who has spent the last 20 years of her life and all of her retirement savings proving that Albion Thorne indeed named and imported the teddy bear. They were named after Teddy Roosevelt, who was his hero.
I know you are not selling via retail yet but if someone should happen to read this interview and wants the clothes now, how can he reach you?
He can contact me via the website. We’ve taken numerous private appointments for clients and I am very excited to meet anyone who wants to rock some Albion Thorne.