Photo: Odyn Vovk

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.

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  1. Jim says:

    This is the dumbest shit I’ve ever read. Real men — real American men — don’t care about fashion or trends, they care about style, and style doesn’t require “innovation” in the form of drop-crotch shorts and mesh shirts (“I am ahead of the curve and complicated and therefore I am wearing ALL BLACK.”)

    Then there’s the nerve of Blackbird’s proprietor calling anything overpriced when you can get most of the stuff on their site everywhere else for 20% cheaper.

    Good luck with those suede backpacks in Seattle, though.

  2. Adam says:

    love this post

  3. darren says:

    Well, I for one LOVE a J Crew state of mind in NYC and I didn’t particularly care for the tone of this interview.

  4. mark says:

    I have to say that I had always sort of admired Blackbird for being a sort of UN-Pacific Northwest. I lived in New York for 30 years and one thing I loved about it was, in spite of the “common wisdom”, New Yorkers rarely openly disrespected other cities or their occupants, in spite of the obvious shortcomings of the hinterlands. I recently relocated to the Northwest and looked forward to shopping at Blackbird. Now, after reading this article, I won’t. I’ve rarely heard such arrogance and chauvinism.

  5. J says:

    Didn’t particularly mind the tone but I have to agree with Jim in that just about everything on the site can be had for at least 20% cheaper (if not more) elsewhere on the web. Great selection, but I’d rather do a quick online search and get it elsewhere then to pay the premium.

  6. Christian says:

    Can’t blame her for speaking her mind. It’s what fashion people are known for and wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t agree w/ everything mentioned but I like the fact that a Seattle based store has the balls to stand-up for what they believe in. It shows the evolution in menswear where most people think anything bought outside NY or LA doesn’t garner much respect.

  7. John says:

    Jim says this article was the dumbest shit he’s ever read. I won’t engage in hyperbole but Jim’s comment is the dumbest thing I’ve read today. “Real mean”? “Real american men”? As opposed to the fake ones? Who is the counterpoint here, cross-dressing women? And what the hell is “style”, anyway. That whole post was a joke and made me want to stab myself in the eyes with a screwdriver.

    As for the article, she’s entitled to not like new york and honestly, for me, most SS collections (not just ’11) are weaker than FW ones… but it’s hilarious for Blackbird to call anything overpriced. When Blackbird goes on sale for 40% off, I say “oh good, now they’re actually selling things for ordinary Japanese retail prices.”

  8. Mark says:

    What’s this article actually about, Blackbird or New York City? Sounds like some crybaby in NYC is just upset that somebody picked on his city. Get over it. I like Opening Ceremony. I like Blackbird. They’re 2 completely different kinds of stores. What’s wrong with that? I think Miller has balls to say what she did.

  9. brian says:

    Shopping with Blackbird for over 4 years now, this is NOT what they stand for. It seems as if this interview was taken way out of context and should be taken, like a everything you read, with a grain of salt. I stand with Blackbird.

  10. David says:

    Nice interview and getting to the nitty gritty. It’s good to have a lil drama. I live in Seattle and love Blackbird as they were selling Common Projects, Band of Outsiders, APC, Geller, Gitman , WH and etc, way before the Barneys and OCs. Also what they do for the community of the NW.

    However I am not to fond their premium markups. It will be interesting to see what trend/style Blackbird promotes next since these past year were ninja goth mixed with Rick Owens.

    Though I don’t think thats a trend I will hope on. Sticking with my fitted oxfords. Anyhow any publicity is good publicity. I love NYC too.

  11. david+ says:

    Men’s fashion in NYC is…well, let’s just say it’s not a good moment for NY runways. I completely agree with Miller’s statement that it just seems too conventional in men’s american fashion. Too staid, too out of the moment. There’s Band of Outsiders and then not much after that.

    You really have to look to Paris for inspiration when it comes to men. And parisian men aren’t far out left field. It’s innovative but still wearable.

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