Meet Up Mondays: Hickey Freeman

Almost a year ago we predicted great things for the New York-based designer David Hart, and we were right. This past fall Hart was appointed creative director of sportswear by Hickey Freeman, one of America’s most enduring tailored menswear brands. Here, in advance of the official unveiling of the collection this Wednesday at New York Men’s Day at Fashion Week, is our exclusive interview with Hart on what to expect from one of the most significant American collections launching this fall to the challenges of designing two collections and nailing it on the red carpet.

Congrats on the appointment! Most of us know Hickey Freeman for its suits, but not its sportswear. Tell us more about it. We hear there are sweaters, knits, sport shirts, outerwear, soft coats, casual trousers, even denim.

dh_hickey_head_400Thanks! Hickey Freeman is a 115-year-old brand that has stood for luxury and craftsmanship. It’s definitely a huge honor to join this team and be a part of the brand’s history. The Hickey Freeman Sportswear is a new initiative. This is the same Hickey Freeman customer that has always existed. However, his tastes have evolved. The Hickey Freeman guy is more sartorial than he ever has been—he’s more interested in quality, construction techniques, luxe fabrics and fit.  He needs more than the classic Hickey Freeman tailored suit. The approach has been to think about what our guy needs for going out after work, to what he’s wearing to the gym, and what he’s packing for vacation.

The collection is big. How best to approach it? 

The collection is fairly large, but cohesive. For our first season, we wanted to offer classic pieces in fabrics that were luxe—for example, a great Irish fisherman’s sweater worn underneath a selvedge denim jacket that has been lined in a wool and silk Donegal windowpane. Every piece in the collection has a story.

Aviation’s a theme. How did you come to settle on it?

I’ve always been fascinated by the early days of aviation. There’s a feeling of freedom to be in flight. To take this even further, we pulled in great functional military details and incorporated them into the clothing in a way that made them practical for everyday use. I was also inspired by the photography of the modernist German photographer Willi Ruge and the iconic photos he took of himself during a parachute jump in the early 20th century. It was quite radical for the time.

So what are the must-have pieces here?

Our shearling B-3 flight jacket is a must, followed by our Irish fisherman sweaters, and also our waxed cotton English raincoat. We are offering these items in some great pop colors for fall.

And what would be some of your signature marks on this collection?

The approach was to create a collection that was iconic Hickey Freeman. I would say that the appropriation of historical references is somewhat of an idea that I enjoy working with, but it is done in a very different way for Hickey Freeman. The Hickey Freeman guy and his needs are at the forefront. Having said that, we had the most fun developing the sweaters this season.

We were surprised to hear the collection will be produced in Europe. Does that mean it’s more luxurious?

dh_hickey_collection_400Luxury is key with this brand. We like the term “intro-luxury” and we think that there is a big gap in the market for an American luxury sportswear brand. We have elevated everything from the construction techniques to the fabric. There is a lot of attention to detail in this collection and our customers will be pleased with the evolution.

Speaking of luxury, we like that there’s an occasion component to each of your collections. And we’re in awards season. How should one dress for such occasions? What’s in and what’s out for the “red carpet” for 2015?

I think the traditional black tie dressing is out. Guys want color and interesting tuxedo jackets. Hickey Freeman tailored clothing is offering some great options in midnight navy mohair along with some elegant white linen dinner jackets. Fit is key when dressing for the evening.

How is your own brand coming along? What’s new in the David Hart line?

I’d say there has been a nice evolution for David Hart. For fall 2015 I’m looking to the American southwest and spaghetti western films from the late 60s and early 70s for inspiration. There are definitely a lot of surprises in store.

How do you like designing for two collections?

It’s fantastic. There are opportunities to create two very different collections. It’s been easy to separate the two, as there is a very clear vision of each customer. The biggest challenge has been finding a balance and getting into a groove. I also have a personal life outside of both collections, so being able to separate all three requires some thought. Of course, I love what I do so I enjoy keeping myself busy and working with great people.

Does double-duty make you a better designer?

I think the process trains you to think about the design process in a different way. It’s easy to get into a comfort zone once you know one customer. Getting inside the head of a different customer and understanding their needs adds a different layer. I’m always learning and seeing what’s going on in the men’s market. There is continuous evolution and tastes change. I think a successful designer is able to navigate these changes quickly and adapt without losing sight of the fundamentals of a brand and at the same time tell a compelling story through clothing.

We’ve always wondered what a day in the life of a designer of two collections is like. Can you give an example?

Lots of coffee and meetings. Every day presents new challenges and new rewards. I could be selecting fabrics, sketching bodies, working directly with a tailor, fitting a garment, or in a sales meeting. I’ve been able to work on Hickey Freeman during the day and work on my collection in the evenings and on weekends.

And what do you do to escape it all, if only briefly?

Our presenting sponsor for New York Men’s Day is Cadillac and they have always been amazing about lending me a car anytime! I love driving upstate to Cold Spring and Hudson. It’s a relief to get out of the city for a weekend or even one day.

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