The fact that it was named after a squash shot and sports an intriguingly herbal-looking logo tells you everything you need to know about Boast. Well, actually…no it doesn’t. For the full story, we turned to Boast CEO Ryan Babenzien, who’s bringing the clubby, all-American sportswear brand to a new generation of guys with plenty to brag about.
The Boast label all but disappeared for a while. Tell me the story of its triumphal return.
Boast’s heyday was in the eighties, when prep — or what I’d call collegiate style — was at its peak. When the nineties arrived, this style disappeared, and the owner, who was really just a tennis pro who created an amazing shirt, wasn’t able to pivot the brand and adapt. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone could have done that without bastardizing the brand. The business that kept the brand alive for almost 20 years was making clothes for country clubs, racket clubs, rowing clubs, etc.: Meadow Club in the Hamptons, Union Boat Club in Massachusetts, The Breakers in Palm Beach, places like that.
In 2010, Andy Spade and I had been looking for a heritage brand to get involved with and there was Boast. It was almost too perfect to find a brand that was untarnished, rich with history, and coming up on its 40th year with no distribution at retail to speak of.
Where did the name come from—why “Boast”?
The founder was an all-American squash player at Cornell, and boast is a type of squash shot. It also was used in a tagline: “For those who don’t have to boast,” which I think still means a lot as a brand compass. We’re not going to be waving our hands around begging for attention, we just want to make good stuff and be recognized for the brand we’ve always been and one that doesn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Talk to me about the logo. It’s…um…a Japanese maple leaf, right?
Ha-ha, yes. It’s always provoked a conversation, and that’s the intent, really. I had on a Boast shirt in Japan last year, and no one questioned the logo, but depending on the audience, the interpretation can range. Let’s just say we’ve been contacted a few times by hemp suppliers.
Who is the Boast guy? He doesn’t take himself all that seriously, does he?
The boast guy and girl definitely don’t take themselves all that seriously. However, they are competitive and they are successful and productive. They just understand the balance of life and success and make it look almost easy. They have fun.
You and your team recently expanded to a full collection, which made a well-received debut during New York Fashion Week last month. Tell me about it.
2013 is the 40th anniversary of Boast, and if there was ever a time to show what the brand can and will be it was this year. So we started working on the collection with our design team, which, I must say, is one of the more talented teams in the business. Daniel Pepice was one of the founders of Rogues Gallery, and works on men’s. Additionally, my brother Brendan, whose day job is the creative director of Supreme, is also working on the men’s stuff. Then we have Minnie Mortimer, who’s grown up wearing Boast playing tennis at the Meadow Club, helping out with women’s. We’ve got an abundance of talent and I’m very excited about the direction.
My favorite piece from the fall collection had to be the navy Melton wool varsity jacket with the orange sleeves. There’s a story to how that piece came about that encapsulates the spirit of the brand. Mind telling it here?
We’d done these Melton wool jackets, which are fine, but there was something off; we’d missed something. During the styling of our presentation, Daniel had brought these colorful vintage hockey socks, and we were set on using them in the show. I grabbed one of these Melton jackets, gave it to our seamstress ninja, and said go home, rip the sleeves off and see what you can do with these. She came back that night with what you saw in the show. Nick Wooster put a photo of it on his Instagram, which was well liked by his followers, and it’s become the most talked about piece from the presentation. We’ll be making a very small run of these, by hand, in New York, and I hope it shows that we live the ethos of our brand: We take chances and we have fun doing it.
For a full sense of Boast—and its cheeky-yet-clubby past—check out the brand book prepared by Partners & Spade back in 2010.