After coming up together at Ralph Lauren on opposite sides of the business, Grayers founder Peter Georgiou and designer Kenny Thomas were reconnected via mutual friend Todd Snyder. They hatched Grayers as a way to reinterpret the classics they’d both worked on for years, through their own casual lens. We caught up with the guys behind Grayers, on Gilt for the first time today, to hear about the name of the brand, working for Ralph Lauren, and how to make a camo sweater that doesn’t look like a wardrobe piece from Zoolander.
What’s the story behind the name of the brand?
Georgiou: The inspiration behind the name Grayers came from the colloquial term used by young men in post-war Britain, referring to their gray flannel trousers. It was in many ways a period of non-conformity in a very regimented society, and the gray flannel trouser is what loosened the stranglehold of conformity. So, before chinos and denim, it was the gray trouser that sparked the movement in men’s haberdashery we call sportswear, and the movement away from wearing structured suits. It very much defined my vision of the brand and its place in the market.
How did you two come to work together, and where did you both work before founding Grayers?
Georgiou: We both came out of Ralph Lauren. I spent 10 years in various roles at Ralph Lauren — based at times in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and Geneva, I focused on manufacturing, product development, and operations. When I decided to launch Grayers I was re-connected to Kenny by Todd Snyder, who was a mutual friend and was collaborating with Kenny on photography and with my team on manufacturing. Kenny’s pedigree was impressive — he’d spent 14 years at Polo. Started as sales associate in the flagship Madison Avenue Polo shop in 1987 right out of college, and left in 2001 as a VP of design.
Thomas: My favorite experience there was as the design director of RRL, but I also greatly enjoyed contributing to everything from Polo Main Label to Polo Sport and Purple Label. I left Polo to become the Senior VP of Design at Lucky Brand in California for 4 years. Following that I decided to leave the corporate design world and focus on fashion and art-based photography, which led me to Peter through Todd.
How would you describe the aesthetic of the brand?
Thomas: Classically referenced sportswear with modern sensibilities. We usually start with a great vintage garment and update it with new fabrications, trending colors and a cleaner fit. As the designer I want you to recognize the heritage of each piece but be pleasantly surprised by how we evolved it.
Who is the Grayers guy?
Thomas: He’s a guy who expects great design and quality, but not at the expense of being able to pay his rent or mortgage. He understands trends and follows them, but doesn’t want something so tricky that it looks dated in a year. He also expects a garment to stand the test of time and become that favorite piece once it’s really broken in.
How important are attitude pieces like the camo sweater?
Thomas: I think one or two directional pieces a season are key. The trick is how to create them without wandering off into Zoolander territory.
Which pieces form the foundation of the Grayers wardrobe?
Thomas: I would have to say our woven shirtings — Peter and I really cut our teeth at Polo and love those classic sensibilities, but he and I have gone on to do many diverse things in life and have been influenced by them. Peter and his wife, Joanna, have lived both in Europe and Asia for extended periods, for example. I think our pattern, color, and fabrication selections in wovens are a tad “offbeat,” but still recognizable as classically derived.
What are your favorite pieces from the Grayers selections we’re selling on Gilt?
Thomas: I literally wear a Birch or Blair shawl cardigan every day. They’re more rugged than a normal sweater, but they’re just as stylish.