For Nicole Miller, buyer/owner of the much-loved Seattle retailer Blackbird, men’s style is about point of view—something, we learned while conducting this interview, she’s got plenty of. Here, she gives us her blunt take on the spring 2011 men’s collections (“absolutely zero innovation”), New York City (“miserable…it would never even occur to me to open a shop there”), Blackbird’s mission (“the opposite of Opening Ceremony”), and the fashion community at large (“fashion people are not loyal and are extremely affected”).
What trends did you see or buy into this spring?
We don’t buy based on trends. We buy for guys ahead of the trends. Plus, I hated most of this season. Hated it. We went to Paris and it’s Rick Owens and Julius and all this innovation inspired by those labels. In Paris, there was just innovation without even thinking about it.
Who do you buy for, then?
Not James Bond, but James Bond’s evil twin brother.
Did you buy anything during your trips to New York City?
There was absolutely zero innovation. Like, “Oh, here’s a chino, it fits really well. Here’s a button-up.” No innovation at all. In Paris, there is such an emphasis on innovation and on creating unique silhouettes. New York was really just J.Crew, yet way overpriced.
Why do you think innovation was absent this season from New York?
It started when you actually couldn’t find an oxford cloth shirt that fit. These designers provided that and filled that vacuum. They just didn’t have any other tricks up their sleeve. It was just a very lazy season.
So, you’re saying you didn’t enjoy your trip?
I distinctly remember we were sitting on a corner, it was unbelievably hot, we were miserable. We hated New York and I’m happy we didn’t buy too many brands. It just doesn’t make sense. For our basics we’ll go with Penny Stock or RVCA. Those are our basics and they’re affordable and great.
All that said, what are you excited about for spring?
We’re excited about Assembly. We’re interested in mixing it up, in suede backpacks, shorter pants, bulkier shoes. Like, shorter pants/longer shorts. Mesh, brands like Peter Petrov, sheer jackets. Basically goths in hot weather, like, covered up but in breathable fabrics.
What role does Blackbird play in the Ballard neighborhood and elsewhere?
We love our neighborhood and are very excited about the people who live and shop in it. We want to be their menswear store that has real value. I kind of see us as the opposite of Opening Ceremony—we’re much darker and we don’t get too poppy. Then again, we don’t take ourselves so seriously.
The online portion of Blackbird is extremely successful. How do you account for this?
Fashion people are not loyal and are extremely affected. Our whole team online really connects with a person. We communicate with them, find out things like where they live, what they’re reading, interests like this, and are able to build an online community.
You’ve mentioned a lot of forward-looking fashion labels, yet you still work with brands like Alden. How does this fit together?
The Aldens we sell go out to a guy, and he wears them with a Jil Sander suit.
How do you see Blackbird expanding? Do you see a New York store in the future?
We’re a neighborhood shop, not a global store, that stays ahead of the curve. It would never even occur to me to open a shop there.