Pressing Questions

The Gilt MAN Q&A: Duckie Brown

Steven Cox, left, and Daniel Silver take a bow after Duckie Brown's Fall 2009 show in New York.

Long celebrated by the fashion crowd for their irreverently playful yet superbly tailored menswear vision—and honored with consecutive CFDA award nominations (in ’06 and ’07) for their flagship label, Duckie Brown, as a result—Steven Cox and Daniel Silver extended their reach by teaming up with old-school shoe brand Florsheim in early ’09. The shoes—a wide range of which are available today on Gilt MAN—are elevated, expertly crafted versions of the kinds of footwear classics (brogues, loafers, cap-toe oxfords) every man needs in his arsenal. We called Daniel Silver to get the complete backstory—and a preview of Duckie’s soon-to-be-unveiled Fall 2011 collection.

How did your collaboration with Florsheim first come about?
Serendipity. We had a high-school kid write to us who said he loved rock ‘n’ roll, girls, and Duckie Brown, and wanted to know if we’d dress him for his prom. We’d just been nominated for the second year in a row by the CFDA, and thought it was a good press opportunity. I thought, this is perfect for “Talk of the Town” in The New Yorker, and I convinced Lizzie Widdicombe to do a piece. So the kid came over, we fit him for a suit, and Steven, who has a little bit of OCD and likes to get everything out of the apartment, happened to find an old pair of Florsheim dress shoes that we’d used a few seasons prior for a show. We asked the kid if he had a pair of dress shoes and he said no, so we gave them to him. Lizzie wrote that in the article, the Florsheims read it, and they contacted us. It was a fluke.

Florsheim, of course, is a brand with a long and esteemed history. They must have impressive archives.
They do. And we just keep mining them. They’ve been making shoes for over a hundred years; they’re one of those true American heritage brands. And they just have amazing stuff there—unbeknownst to them, really—that we can tweak or do a riff on. The whole concept behind the collaboration was to turn up the music ever so slightly, and to sprinkle some magic fashion dust over their label.

That magic fashion dust has taken the form of shoes in some very bright, very un-Florsheim-like colors—as seen on the feet of many stylish New Yorkers.
Nick Wooster looked great in the yellow brogues last Fashion Week. We’ve just taken those original, very historical Florsheim lasts, which we love, and upped the ante with better leathers and better colors. We took their brogue shoe and turned it into a brogue boot. And right now we’re giving our leathers a wash, so there’s going to be a whole distressed thing going on in the Fall 2011 collection. One thing I always say to John and Tom Florsheim is, they were smart enough to hire us and just leave us alone. They have an unwavering belief in what we do, and allow us an amazing amount of freedom.

What was it like to move from designing clothes into designing shoes?
We weren’t shoe designers per se, but I think if you’re a designer you can design anything. The first thing we did was, we had Florsheim cut a shoe in-house so we could see how a shoe was made. We knew how a suit was made, but had no idea how a shoe was.

A lot of men have trouble with footwear, as we see on the subways of New York each day.
God, is that true.

So what’s our problem?
We think a pair of shoes is going to last us a lifetime. That’s not to say that a pair of cordovans isn’t going to last, but guys need to buy new shoes. At least a pair or two a year. I mean, women buy shoes for a Saturday night! Guys want to wear their shoes into the ground. You should not be wearing the same shoes every day. It’s not good for your feet, and you want to have three or four pairs of shoes that you’re rotating through.

What three or four pairs do I need?
It’s great to have a brogue of some sort. And it’s great to have some sort of boot shoe. And you need a casual shoe with a soft bottom, maybe a suede lace-up. And at least two pairs of running shoes.

Speaking of running shoes, men tend to gravitate toward the high-tech, made-on-the-moon sort, don’t they?
My thing with running shoes is that I think they’re basically kind of ugly. Why don’t people do technical shoes that are beautiful?

Maybe that’s where you come in.
Well, that might be nice! I live and hope.

So there’s a lot of urban lumberjackery out on the streets these days, huh?
Oh, there is indeed.

Duckie Brown regularly poses challenges to the prevailing set of men’s trends. Where will you go next?
Well, I really applaud those who are making a statement, and doing stuff that’s different from the Americana stuff, because I think we’re really inundated with that. But we don’t pay attention to trends—we set them. We do our own thing. We want to excite you, we want to titillate you, we want to make your blood boil. Whether you like it or not is secondary—having a reaction is what’s important.

Any item you think will be coming back in style?
I think there’s always a place for heavy prints and tweeds. That can always be fresh. But what’s next? I don’t know. I mean, men get stuck in a way that women refuse to. It’s hard to even get a man into a pleated trouser unless he’s 80.

So will pleats make a comeback?
Well, we have a great pleated trouser in the next show. It’s got 8 pleats.

8 pleats?
Yep. We love pleats. And we think it’s an important moment to show them. At some point the skinny jean will no longer exist. Whatever is in eventually is gonna be out. That’s the nature of fashion. At some point we’re going to see a wider-leg trouser. It’s inevitable. And it’s not rocket science. It just takes time for everyone’s eye to become used to a new silhouette.

Anything else you can tell us about the new Duckie Brown collection that’ll hit the runway in February?
It’s got lots of tweed and lots of pattern. It’s a collection that looks simple but isn’t. And it’s got sort of a looser feeling for Fall/Winter, a season which usually tends to be a little uptight.

And pleats.
And pleats!

Florsheim by Duckie Brown, on sale now at Gilt MAN.

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