Pressing Questions

The Gilt Man Q&A: Todd Snyder

He helped put J.Crew men's on the map. Now he's back with his own collection. Josh Peskowitz gets the lowdown.
Photo: Courtesy Todd Snyder

Mr. Snyder is Back

In 2008, J.Crew menswear designer Todd Snyder stepped away from the preppy stalwart that he helped re-energize alongside CEO Mickey Drexler and women’s designer Jenna Lyons, to start his own label. As the economy imploded and J. Crew rose to never-before-seen heights in the last few years, the Iowa native has been working largely under the radar, painstakingly crafting his self-financed line out of the spotlight in an industry with a very short memory. But last night marked his triumphant return as he made us all remember his fresh, smartly-tailored approach to menswear classics with the first presentation of his new label.

Tell me how many years in the making this has been.
Twenty-five.  Well, we’ve been working on this collection for two years now but it’s really a culmination of my whole life’s work. My grandmother told me that Snyder means “tailor” in Dutch, and I could never figure out why I liked apparel so much; my mother was an interior designer and my father was an engineer, and I could never figure it out. But I knew this could be the career for me so I started out as a tailor’s assistant back in Iowa and worked my way through New York for about 20 years. I’ve been working on this for 2 years and it finally came together. It’s definitely a labor of love and a reflection of who I am.

Who are you designing for? Is it yourself, or is there a specific guy you had in mind?
It’s a little bit of everything all together. It’s my experiences working great places like Ralph Lauren and J.Crew, and the influences that I’ve had from traveling the world, especially Europe, every year. Going to Savile Row and Jermyn Street and seeing that old world tailoring and thinking to my self “how can we make this young and cool?” And that’s the thing about New York, it can bring it all together; it’s British inspired tailoring mixed with American vintage.

So Iowa’s got nothing to do with it.
Iowa is a starting place for me and you will definitely see some rugged influences in the collection. I’m not exactly a farmer, but I’m also not the most polished person in the world, so it’s a mixture of all those things. Plus American vintage can go a lot of different ways.

How important is the fabric?
Fabric is really important—it’s where it all starts. And fit is really important as well. One thing I’ve always said is it’s how you put things together that makes them new. It’s like a great chef, you talk all the ingredients, but it’s how you combine them in a different way that makes a huge difference. Juxtaposition is an important word for me. It’s about taking those elements of menswear and making them fresh.

Photo: Josh Peskowitz

Military meets tailoring: The Snyder signature

Is there one look that defines the collection?
The look that I love is on David  A.

Oh, he was wearing those cargo pants in the broken army herringbone.
Exactly, and then mixed with tailoring. I’m loving military right now. And mixing that with tailoring, I hadn’t seen that before, so it feels really new. I said let’s put those together, and it made sense.

You had such an influence in bringing this Americana thing to the fore while at J.Crew. Now that it’s so pervasive, where do you see things going next?
Well I don’t think you throw the baby out with the bathwater, and it’s all about evolution, not revolution. For menswear it’s all about taking these small steps, and military is the next step. Everyone was doing preppy or whatever, so the vintage military gives it a different edge that wasn’t there.

Tell me about the leathers, they look really heavy and washed, but they are really lightweight.
Again, it’s part of that mix. I’ve always liked the idea of vintage leather jackets but they weigh like four hundred pounds. So I wanted to do something that looked authentic and looked vintage but wear it as a shirt or a layering piece.

Where is the collection manufactured?
Because of my experiences at J.Crew and Ralph Lauren, it’s really manufactured all over the world. The shirts and the denim are made in the U.S., the outerwear is made in China, the suits are made in the U.S.—a lot of it is made here actually. The thing is, when you are making quantities this small, you want to find the absolute best people to make it, and it’s hard. But a lot of people I worked with in the past stepped up and said, “Hey, I want to make your collection,” which was great.

This is an extensive collection. How important was it for you to come out in all these different categories?
It’s a full collection and that’s why it took so long. I wanted to tell a story, to make an impact. Not just a denim line or a shirt line. I was like, “you know what, I need to come out with a whole picture.” For that one moment in time when everyone makes their judgment, I wanted to come out and be impactful.

Flip through the slideshow to see some more looks from Todd Snyder Fall ’11.

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