Founded in the late 1950s, Kennington is a California heritage brand that has made a strong comeback since its relaunch two years ago. Rather Don Draperesque, it is known for its retro-inspired 100% cotton print shirts, which sell for $75. Alan Walters, the brand’s head of production and design, recently gave us the lowdown…
What is the history of the collection?
Kennington is a California heritage brand. It was founded in 1957 by Stan Tendler and his intention was to take the East Coast button-down ethos and bring it to California and add prints and the California lifestyle. That was the beginning of Kennington. It started with woven shirts and is primarily woven shirts now.
What is its aesthetic?
California heritage is our aesthetic. California and Kennington is so many different things. We have the surf industry and the beach industry because we are Southern California but we also have Hollywood here and the whole hippie thing here and I think that some collage of those three things kind of tells Kennington’s story.
How many pieces do you offer?
The offering is large. This spring is 125 garments. The majority of those will be printed shirts but there will also be some solid shirts that are garment-dyed and there are some shorts and pants.
How do you offer retro looks but still make them contemporary?
We try to go back to our history for the things that we do. A good example of keeping it contemporary is that we brought back terry cloth for spring 2016. But we brought back silhouettes like on a tank top where the armhole would have dropped a lot more than it would have back in the day. And we did a sleeveless hoodie that we probably would not have done back in ’75. And we are doing a terry short that we have never done before which has been a huge hit. So we take the fabrics from the old like the terry and we try to update the silhouettes a bit. And with our shirts the fit is much slimmer than it was.
Who is your “typical” customer?
We certainly do surf shop business but we also have that hipster customer who takes our shirts and puts it with a tie. It’s really hard to define who our customer always is. It is a guy from 25 to 45 but certainly that demographic varies a bit.
What are some of your key pieces?
One of our favorite garments is this peace and dove shirt. It’s originally from our archives from the mid ’70s. That is something that we’ve had to keep in stock since we brought the brand back two years ago. And then there is another one called “The Naked Truth” that is an orgy scene. It’s bare chested women and naked men but not graphically. They’re all huddled up together. And it’s not even a microprint!
How extensive is your archive?
We have thousands of images in our archives. I would think between 2,000 and 3,000 if not more. Kennington was the first Disney licensee for apparel and some of them are not useable because Mickey Mouse is all over them but we have thousands aside from Mickey.
What are the most embarrassing pieces you have discovered in it?
We had a lot of awful stuff. There was a shirt from the ’70s that had a band on it so that it became kind of a blouson that went right around your midriff. And there are jumpsuits with a corduroy jacket that goes with a corduroy pant. And there are overalls that are just unbelievably ugly.
What sets Kennington apart from other brands?
There are not a lot of California heritage brands that are still around. I think our print history makes us different because we are such a print-oriented company and a lot of the old California heritage brands were not print-driven. Because we’ve done them for so long I think we do them a little better. We show a dedication to that whereas other people kind of put that in as a secondary thing. And we create all of our own prints even if it is not from our archives.