Pressing Questions

The Gilt MAN Q&A: Shipley & Halmos

Last month, designers Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos set out on the “Fill in the Blank” tour, which afforded them a chance to introduce themselves directly to their customers at Barneys Co-op locations across the country. But rather than do meet-and-greets over drinks, the duo—in typically offbeat S&H fashion—set up a photo booth at each stop along the way, which they used to photograph said fans. Those photos, along with people’s responses to Shipley & Halmos-penned, Mad Lib-style questionnaires, will be collected in a book to be released this fall. We caught up with the duo a few days after their return to New York.
Photos: Courtesy Shipley & Halmos

Jeff Halmos and Sam Shipley, in their element

Welcome back to New York, fellas. Tell me a little about your trip.
Jeff Halmos: A while back Sam and I decided we wanted to get out of New York and go visit some of our customers, and in doing so, to get an interesting snapshot of who the Shipley & Halmos customer is.

And what did you see in that snapshot?
JH: It was a really eclectic mix. You’d think that Barneys has a real specific customer, but that’s not the case, especially with the Co-op stores. Guys from all around the world in all shapes and sizes are coming through that door. Some of them knew Shipley & Halmos, but there were a bunch who didn’t know us, so it was a great way to introduce ourselves.

How many photos did you end up taking?
Sam Shipley: We did 14 stops on the tour, and we probably took about 15,000 pictures. That only includes photos we took at the stores, not all the other stuff we shot along the way.

That’s a lot of photos. So who’s going to winnow those down?
SS: [laughs] We are, for the book. But we’re also going to be making a website that has everybody’s picture—all the people we photographed along the way. It’s really interesting to see this giant group of people all shot in a similar environment. It will be all about each person’s character.

I’m sure you came across some true characters.JH: When shot the same way, they actually all looked like characters!

It all seems like a good fit with the overall vibe of the label.
JH: We view ourselves and our collection as approachable, and we see our clothes as wearable. We’re easygoing as individuals and as a company. People we shot kept asking, “What do I need to wear?” or “Do I need to change into Shipley & Halmos?” Or they’d say, “Oh, my God, I didn’t do my makeup.” But it wasn’t meant to be this fashion shoot. It was about the spirit of those people, and that fits with what we do at Shipley & Halmos.

Do you think the experience will influence future collections?
SS: Definitely. It was a really eye-opening trip. What Barneys buys for people in New York is totally different than what they buy in Houston, or Costa Mesa, or Seattle, or Philadelphia… It was interesting to see what people were wearing in all those cities, what people do there, what people are like there.

Give me an example of some of the differences.
SS: Texas did not drop below 100 the entire time we were there. It was five days of 100 to 110 degree heat. In that case, people aren’t going to be buying heavy wool jackets.

Well, maybe you could start making cowboy hats.
JH: Or maybe we make leather Shipley & Halmos cowboy jackets, with tassels… We did go to a couple of pretty awesome cowboy stores in Texas. I’m especially impressed with the level of detail and embellishment on cowboy boots. You’d be hard-pressed to find a plain leather cowboy boot—everything was embroidered and had tassels and rhinestones. They’re very elaborate.

Did anyone you met stick in your mind where you said, ‘That’s the Shipley & Halmos guy’?
JH: No, but I think it definitely helped to see the guys that are out there and what they’re buying. Guys are so simple in what they buy for: “I need to go to a bachelor party and I’m going to buy this shirt.” We met a guy who got married in one of our suits. We were excited about that—he said it was the only suit that fit him. And there were many people who didn’t know much about us at all, and it was fun to interact with them.

Describe the scene for me.
SS: We made sure we had a consistent photo booth setup, and we lugged our photo equipment to each store. As we shot, the camera was tethered to a computer so people could see their photos right afterward, which they really liked. And we had each of the customers fill out a Mad Lib. In the book, their answers and pictures are going to tell the story of our road trip. The title of the book is We’re an American ___________, and the name of the tour was the “Fill in the Blank” tour. The questions were really weird; they ranged from name an item in the trunk of your car to name Gwyneth Paltrow’s next baby. And they varied from store to store; we would just pull out an envelope and see which store got what. Also, we made these cool T-shirts that had a Mad Lib on the front and each came with a Shipley & Halmos marker that Sharpie made for us. It was a good time to get out of the office and talk about stuff. Every day we were going to a new store, and everywhere we went we ate the most amazing food.

Now I’m getting jealous. What was your best meal?
JH: The best meal we had was actually in Seattle, where Sam’s parents live. We went out to Bainbridge Island and stayed with them for a few days. They live such a perfect life out there. Anyway, one day we went and dropped some crab traps and pulled up some Dungeness, and it was amazing. It was home cooked, and we’d caught the crabs—well, we kind of caught them, all we did was drop the traps and pull them up. But they were delicious! We had some incredible barbecue in Texas, obviously some great Philly cheese steaks, oysters and lobster rolls in Boston and, of course, excellent Mexican food in Texas and California.  

Sounds more like a culinary tour with a little fashion stuff on the side.
JH: Yeah, one legacy of the trip—everything’s a size up. We got to a point where we said, “Okay, we’ve got to calm down here with the eating.”

I’ll be on the lookout for roomier cuts in Shipley & Halmos Fall 2011. Shifting gears, our site is all about helping guys develop their own style: What advice would you give to readers seeking to look their best?
SS: Two things, actually. One point we strive to hammer home with Shipley & Halmos—it’s a shame that Nike coined the phrase—but one is “just do it.” That’s the idea of this book. We’re not photographers—people asked us, “Are you guys photographers?” “No, no, we actually design clothes that are sold here”—but we decided “let’s just try it.” That’s our mentality with everything. That’s what you’re going to see from us in the future; endeavors outside of our comfort zone. Working on it, figuring it out, and just making it happen. That’s the message that I’d give to anybody. As for what to wear, one piece of advice would be as little clothing as possible in Texas in the summer. It was just brutally hot. And I was actually pretty impressed with what the guys we met were wearing. I don’t think I saw anything where I would say, “Dude, you should not be wearing that.” Everyone’s got their own personal style, and as long as they’re true to it, we can embrace that.

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