By Robert James’ clothes are ‘simple, honest & handsome’

by robert james 4
Although he has had his own label and store for nearly nine years, menswear designer Robert James and his eponymous Made in the USA clothing brand By Robert James is still somewhat under the fashion radar. But that’s soon set to change. With a plan to expand his distribution from his own two New York City stores – one is on the Lower East Side and the other is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – and their accompanying online shop, this Ohio native wants to go from so-called niche and noteworthy to well-known by revving up his wholesale business to other retailers starting next year.

And he clearly has the fashion strength, talent and ammo to make that happen: His super-sharp, high-quality selection of apparel is paradoxically classic and slightly cutting-edge and includes everything from graphic T-shirts ($48) to cool custom suiting (starting at $1700).

Robert-james-5

The designer-retailer, who will present next month at New York Men’s Fashion Week for the second time, recently filled me in on his plans for the future while showing me his yet again fantastic current assortment that exemplifies the company motto of being “simple, honest, handsome.”

His is indeed a brand to shop and rock before the rest of the world gets wind of it.

 Tell me about your new collection.

I call this collection “Clean and Mean.” It’s got a lot of really simple clean details and a lot of the fabrics are wrinkle-free or Ventile and we did an amazing 50-50 blend on a very sweet rain dress jacket. And we added a lot of Nehru collars this time and a lot of square bottoms on shirts so you can wear it in a more comfortable way and don’t have to tuck it in.

A new item for us is a polo that is technical so it’s a wicking fabric. It has an underbelly of athletic but I finished it with a snap and it gives it a really tough look that is very manly.

Robert-james-2

Then we have a lot of things with a really light texture like 100 percent Pima cotton square-bottomed micro-collared shirts that have a look and texture of linen but without the pain in the ass that linen gives you.

We also have a lot of great rayon blends that make amazing stretch pants. I call them the Holy Grail. You’ll want to wear them instead of jeans in all four seasons because they are so much softer and cooler. They have this really nice light and airy stretch that makes for a very nice modern pant.

What are your must-have picks from the current assortment?

I would get one piece of sportswear that is funky and casual dress. And the modern suits to the modern two-button Nehru jackets. You can wear them with jeans and they are just simple, fun pieces to the wardrobe that I think every guy should have. Jeans are great but we offer that slack option that feels like a jean but isn’t. Beyond that, I would say that if you don’t have a short-sleeved woven shirt in your wardrobe, get it done. A few years ago it had to be rolled up but now, no. Get a Nehru. Get a band collar. Get something that steps out just a little bit and have some fun with it. It doesn’t have to be so serious.

Robert-james-3

How big is the collection?

For a small menswear company I give you a lot. It’s a lifestyle brand. I give you dress pieces and modern dress pieces to shirting and a little bit of a denim feel to rocko-moto friendly ones. And the there’s the fully custom suiting. There are a lot of people who can’t fit right off the rack so to be able to offer that keeps my abilities sharp. I love doing that portion and working with people one on one.

Have you offered custom pieces from the beginning?

Absolutely. We had to. We didn’t have anything when we opened. We had six shirts, two jackets and three pairs of pants. My tailor and I would make a pattern, make a jacket and literally put it in the window. When the person came in I would measure them up, make the pattern, cut it up, leave it on the sewing machine and she would make it the next day. But as we’ve grown we have been able to add more categories like knits and be able to master making modern clothing and offer amazing fit, simplicity and that ability to take it on the road.

The collection, especially the suiting, has a very classic look but with a subtle edge. How do you balance those two things?

I’m a huge fan of Paul Smith. We don’t do the same thing but I took to a comment he made: “We give the classics a twist.” I try to give them a cleanup. It’s the number one thing on my tag: “Simple, Honest, Handsome.” I’m not trying to trick it or overtrick it. I want to get the right fit, the right fabric and the right history. I still innovate though.

Robert-james-1

Who is the guy who wears By Robert James?

First of all, they are really loyal. I’ve got an amazing list and they go from Hollywood celebrities to guys who save their pennies to guys that are on the road. I know when certain bands are in town or when the Piano Man is going to play I know his bass man is going to need a new shirt. It’s an interesting breed from creatives to A&Rs. Those are the people that understand quality and what we are doing.

And everything is made locally?

At the moment we are made in a couple factories in midtown. We’ve really partnered with these factories. They need us and we need them so it’s really nice. It’s not vertical but it feels that way.

You are looking to expand your wholesaling to other retailers next year. What’s that plan?

We’re going to amplify our signal and let people know about us. That’s what getting the brand outside [my own] stores is going to do for us. I want to stand next to Rag & Bone and have them eat their heart out. I want to compete. Why not? That’s what I do.

What else should potential customers know about By Robert James?

I think that customers should know that supporting brands like ours and keeping creativity in New York City is super important. And this is what you do when you support local because otherwise it’s all commodity product and that’s all you are going to have. By investing in brands like mine and taking that time to have a little fun and go to a place that’s a little more exciting, a little different and a little off the beat is what makes us human at the end of the day.

Fashion & Style

Father’s Day Gifts for the Somewhat Fashionable Dad

Wearable gifts that will be appreciated by both the fashionable Dad and the Dad that needs a little help in the wardrobe department.
Fashion & Style

Shark Tank Style: The Winning Clothes You’ll Actually Want to Wear

These are the few fashion brands that have swum with the sharks and lived to tell the tale.
Culture

19 Classic Books Every Man Should Read (or Re-Read) in 2019

Make 2019 one for the books. Here's your reading list for the rest of the year.
Travel

North Carolina Road Trip Itinerary: What to Eat, Drink, and Do in the Tar Heel State

It all starts by landing in Asheville, the state’s most progressive and welcoming community, where you can pick up your car rental and head to town.
Fashion & Style

Our Top Gear and Apparel Picks from Public Rec’s Leisurewear Lineup

Public Rec combines the soft, comfortable, performance fabrics of athleisure wear with the classic shape and styling of regular clothing.
Fashion & Style

5 Great Dive Watches to Wear While You Snorkel in the Sun

You probably won't need these for any actual diving, but that's not really the point.
Fashion & Style

TACS Watches: Lifestyle-Inspired Design Where Form Meets Function

TACS watches are an easy way to upgrade your watch rotation.
Fashion & Style

Support Our National Parks By Stunting a Parks Project X Jungmaven Hemp Tee

The tees in the collaboration are the perfect purchase for someone who wants to support the National Parks while also wearing something that would work perfectly on a hike in them.
Fashion & Style

The Best Jeans for Men to Wear in Spring and Summer 2019

When things get a bit warmer, pair these with classic white T-shirts and tank tops, linen button-up, or no shirt at all once that summer tan has finally kicked in. 
Fashion & Style

The Classic Clarks Wallabee Boot Just Got a Serious Upgrade

Fun fact: The Clarks Wallabee Boot was developed as the world’s first comfort shoe.
Fashion & Style

The Best Men’s Shorts to Wear this Summer, According to Inseam Length

Feeling adventurous? Go the full monty with a four-inch inseam. A bit on the conservative side? At least keep the shorts above the knee. 
Fashion & Style

What to Wear for Memorial Day and the Official Start of Summer

Make this Memorial Day outfit memorable. Follow our basic guide and you won't fail to be fashionable.
Fashion & Style

The Best Light Jackets and Windbreakers to Wear When Summer Temps Drop

You’ll be glad you invested in something that looks as great on you as it does draped around someone special’s shoulders.
Fashion & Style

Tecovas’ Alligator Boots Are Surprisingly Stylish and (Relatively) Affordable

Tecovas alligator boots are a stylish, wallet-friendly addition to both your casual and formal wardrobes.