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Meet Up Mondays: Club Monaco’s Aaron Levine

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Club Monaco has found its groove. Neither too preppy or heritage-driven to compete with its American contemporaries, nor too overpriced or overdesigned to be considered luxury, the modern lifestyle brand had, it seemed at times, grappled with being as categorically American as it wasn’t. That was until Aaron Levine (above), the former head of design at Jack Spade, joined the company in 2011 as Vice President of Men’s Design and engineered one of the smartest, if not impressive, looking turnarounds in the traditionally challenging specialty men’s space. Today, there’s no doubting what Club Monaco is about—fashion with a global urban-casual point of view, modern silhouettes and precious fabrics—though what has us most stoked are its increasingly original designs and multi-label assortments, as seen in the upcoming holiday and spring seasons. Below, sneak peeks from the new season and our exclusive interview with the man of the hour on design, personal taste and family.

20141022_CM_14_026 B_lkbk copy_450Hey Aaron, Club Monaco men’s is looking really good these days and we hear it’s all thanks to you. Can you explain how it’s evolved and what’s different since you started?

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The most important thing is that we’ve got inspired, motivated, excited people working here all contributing to pushing the brand forward. The people here inspire each other daily. It’s not easy. We’re never like, “Ok, job’s finished. Clocking out now.” We’re constantly working through ideas and coming up with solutions to problems when they inevitably arise. It’s a constantly shifting three-dimensional puzzle that requires continual attention. Since I got here, I’ve learned so much. We’ve just pushed the brand forward and honed the point of view. We’ve increased quality, obsessed over fit and finish, and built a team of wonderful people.

Talk to us about the upcoming holiday collection. What were some of your inspirations? 

Designing for this time of year is the most fun. You have the most tools to work with—textural, emotional yarns; rich fabrics; and interesting silhouettes. So many times ideas for collections can come from the materials themselves. When you’re working with the raw material, you can envision what they want to be turned into. It’s wonderful finding these great fabrics and yarns, then being disciplined about the silhouette. Sometimes the material is so beautiful that the silhouette needs to be minimal and let the material speak for itself.

So just how much impact does high/runway fashion truly have on Club Monaco and lifestyle brands alike then? I feel like guys like myself are buying Club not because it aspires to high fashion but because of its good design.

I think you’ve already answered this question in a wonderful way. We focus on raw materials. We focus on fit and finish. We focus on simple, clean details. We want these products to be used and much as possible and enjoyed. We always push to offer newness and things our guy might not be able to find elsewhere, but never to the extent as to make the product frivolous.

20141022_CM_14_016 A copy_450So in this age when men are embracing fashion, are we actually dressing better or for worse? 

I think men in every age have dressed for better and for worse. No one generation can be singled out. All we’re seeing is small eye-droppers of a point in time—some images portraying good style, some portraying bad. The good style shines through when the individual is authentic and true to himself. There are those inspiring people in every age.

How about your own personal style? We hear you’re all over Club Monaco’s raw selvedge jeans.

My own personal style is simple and functional. I’m very hard on the things I wear. I don’t want to be concerned about my clothing. It has to be functional, not precious.

Is there anything else can’t you live without?

I try to stay true to who I am. What’s most important to me style-wise is a positive mental attitude. I enjoy a nice watch. I appreciate how they’re made. I like how they feel on your wrist. A simple wedding band. Denim. A nice pair of boots. Things that all look better with age.

So overall, who have been some of the most important influences on you?

A lot of my friends in this industry are unbelievably smart and hard working and have tremendous integrity. I feel like if I don’t put as much effort into what I’m working on as they are, I let them and myself down. That’s a big influence. They know who they are. What’s also a huge influence is looking at this thing, big picture. There are so many people that work for this company, whether at the office in New York or out in the field all over the world. We owe them the best of our ability. We owe them the best product we can be working on. We also owe the same to our customer. Also my folks. They’re both incredibly hard working and honest people.

20141022_CM_14_048 A copy_450What are some things you’d still like to build on at Club or even professionally?

We’re never satisfied.  When I walk into our stores, I see potential and opportunity to elevate and refine. We’re constantly evolving. The job’s never done. There are so many things I need to work on professionally. I’m not going to share them here. Not going to show you all my cards.

Amidst all this, you like to surround yourself with calm, relaxing artwork and things. Have you always liked the quiet?

I’ve definitely always like quiet. I remember when I was a kid, my mom threw me a birthday party when I was 7 or 8. A bunch of kids came. I melted down. Told everyone to get out. That was that. It wasn’t that I was unappreciative of them coming or their being my friends. I was very appreciative of that. I just like quiet and calm.

That, I suppose, is a kind of luxury. How else would you define luxury?

Being able to do what you want, when you want. That’s the ultimate luxury.

The holidays are coming up. What will the Levine family be up to this year?

We rented a house way out on Long Island at the beach. My folks are coming…quiet, calm beach in the winter. Awesome food and family. Can’t wait.

And finally, your outlook for 2015?

One day at a time. Keep positive. Excited to see what comes our way.

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