Designer2Watch | Mitchell Evan

by Tillie Eze

The only thing I love more than menswear is men’s cologne. It’s like they figured out something that the women’s industry is still struggling to grasp. From fit to silhouettes to style to material, most brands that I’ve seen over the years and have grown to love, have nailed it. It’s not to say they are for every man, because they aren’t, but the designated audience never fails to be surprised by what is churned out season after season. That’s how I feel and what I respect about, Mitchell Evan. Brainchild of Mitchell Sandler, Mitchell Evan presents itself like a perfectly curated capsule collection brimming with pieces that are so simple, yet truly complex.

Recently we chatted with Mitchell Sandler and Vice President of Retail Strategy at Lividini & Co., Adam Lefkowitz, to uncover what makes Mitchell Evan so distinct.

Tell us a bit about your background in fashion.
My background in fashion. I moved out to LA 10 years ago to work in film. My family growing up spent a lot of time in New York and my mom was kind of a fashionista. I was taught at a young age to think outside the box, and then I would take that back home and incorporate it into a much more conservative community. When I was producing here in LA, in the back of my mind always was this fantasy venture to go into fashion. There’s so much overlay. It’s just the creative process and it was real. It was something that I wanted to do. About 5 years ago, I went out on my own and started buying up fabrics and hiring designers and just trying to figure out what exactly the team I needed to build a brand.

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How did that work out?
I failed miserably. Miserably. I put it on the back burner and I went back into development. As I was completing my first feature, my vice president, who has been a part of my life for a long time, Jenny De La Rosa, she had just left Vanity Fair. She was in this place where she wanted to do something much more grassroots-oriented. We had a lunch and I was just like, “Listen. This has been on my mind forever. Would you be willing to go with me on this journey?” She signed up and was super motivated. We just started with this basic idea of, what do you want your brand to represent? For me, my family is very patriarchal, very … You respect your elders. I think it’s the tradition stuff that’s kind of going away. When we decided what the brand was going to be, it was an homage to my grandfather and his time in the war and what he brought back from that experience, both in the way he raised the family and the actual memorabilia which literally took up the attic space of his house.

Me and my brother would go up there and play with the swords. It has this very particular smell. He had all this wardrobe from the war. We just played dress up growing up in the attic space. When it came time to say, “Okay, what do you want to do?” It was so organic, the thought that, “Let’s just respect my grandfather. Let’s make it about him.” That’s where it conceptualized. Then I started in New York with a really small team. That was like a test, just to see if I could accomplish it. The basic of actually producing product. Adam will tell you, for somebody who came in it from film into fashion, we succeeded. I would say that what we were able to do is people recognized that we were taking it seriously. They were recognizing that we had a different ethos that really came across. From there, it was just, how do we make this real?

So, how was that remedied?
Mitch: We moved all of our operations to LA, brought in the perfect team. That’s part of the real process, is the vetting of the team, getting everyone to be on the same schedule, being on top of everything over and over and over again. My team now is just extraordinary.

This was our first collection. I think the response was stellar and I think the knowledge that we gained from being on the floors, from talking to buyers, to press, has been such a quick learning curve. We’re going into spring/summer taking all of that and incorporating it into continuing to polish, continuing to expand the identity of the brand and the story of what I consider the renaissance nomad.

Adam: Yeah and one of the things … You look at other men’s brands that have these design teams and people who have grown up immersed in it in a way. Whether they are interning at Paris and whatnot and the clothes, they’re amazing, but they’re not great for the guy who’s actually going to wear it. I think one thing that Mitch does in a great way is he’s the consumer and a consumer that wants to wear, as he said, things that are comfortable but still has a cool backer to it. He’s making things for that guy who, like myself included, just wants to wear cool stuff and doesn’t want to wear something that came down the runway because it’s just not for the everyday kind of guy.

What do you think makes it different?
It walks that line. Adam makes a very valid point. I think one of the things that I guess is different about me or my voice is that I know what I don’t know and I know that I do come from a consumer … I come from that perspective. I didn’t go to FIT but that being said, again, I respect the business. I’m not telling somebody what to do. I’m sourcing materials with everybody. I’m looking at the stitch width. We’re gauging everything from trims. I’m there. I’m in it.

I think it takes time to gain the respect of the community and I think that comes down to consistency. It comes down to really being able to tell a story and to continue that story collection to collection. Then most important is to really get to the guy like me and Adam and get him to say, “I’m going to take it. I’m going to take a chance.” Because that’s the hardest part. Once you have a guy, it’s great. To get him to say yes is a process. That’s for sure.

Right. Very true. I guess you answered where the idea of Mitchell Evan came from, or unless you can elaborate a bit more on that.
Like I said, it started from a homage to my grandfather. It’s become something like the t-shirt that we have this last season is the “Steve” t-shirt, which is my father’s name. We incorporate family subtly into each of the pieces. For instance, our first collection, we had a dad jacket. Literally, it was called “The Dad” jacket. It was the most awesome thing you’d ever seen. We named it cheeky but that’s where it comes from. That’s the way my family runs. You have to respect the elders.

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Where did you get the inspiration for this season’s collection?
It was again awesome. I produced a short that actually … It did not win an Oscar but we were so close. (laughs) It was based in Afghanistan. It was about an interpreter going over to Afghanistan. What we decided to do was to take the color palette of the dunes of that place and time and encapsulate it in our color palette for spring/summer.

For instance, our t-shirts are speckled sand and we’re going to be doing some dye process to come up with a nice color palette that incorporates this ivory throughout the collection. There’s going to be a lot of earthy tones. I think it’s almost an expansion of our first collection.

What was your take away from this collection?
I think one of the things we learned in showing and reviewing the first collection was that our stuff is seasonless. I know it’s a buzz word right now, but I really think that we have a collection that just will continue to expand and contract as we open up and then polish and see what works. We’re using a lot of browns, a lot of ivories and then in contrast, we’re going back to our blues and greens and then the whole palette of getting to that, as grainy as possible of those particular colors. Which is hard. It becomes expensive. It’s the subtlety of the texture that you can’t find. When you do, it’s out of Japan. You’re like, “Oh, great. Okay.” When you turn around to get that, think over.

Some of the material isn’t made in perpetuity. There’s a really cool story you mentioned to me when we met about the Japanese … Was it tents or something that you used?
One of the things that we are very adamant about is incorporating American fabrics and even more so, vintage American fabrics and … I hate that I use the word, but re-purposing them for our collection.

It’s been done to death. We like the idea of again the homage to the American soldier, just this melting pot, all of this. We used World War II tenting that we enzyme washed and then put a water repellent on. We got it and it was this starchy stiff. I’m actually looking at one right now and I’m like, “We have to find a way to get this on one of our pieces.” Through this testing and testing, that was what turned into one of the bomber jackets, which was great. Then we also did a shooter, which was the one with the patchwork here that also took the tenting and re-purposed it.

As we move forward, what we’re doing is calling the list of mills that we really think represent the American factory. There’s one in particular out here that we’ve been really investing our time and efforts into called Brookwood. The military gets them to do speck camo stuff for them, so very technical quality materials that we’re incorporating and then to contrast, we’re using vintage materials. We’re doing this again walking the line of new and old.

Is this like a storyline that you would intertwine within further collections?
Yes. I’m a big believer that … Again, I’ve got to go off of my ethos, and my ethos is I like everything to have a story. Every piece that matters to me usually has a story. Hello? I like the idea of when you purchase one of my pieces, you’re going to get a tag and it’s going to say something that indicates some type of story. Then you get to take that with you. Again, when you’re at a bar or at a restaurant, someone goes, “I really like that sweater.” You can say, “Oh my god. Let me tell you. This was 1940s wool that they re-purposed into this sweater.”

It is really cool. What are some of the key looks or key pieces that make Mitchell Evan so Mitchell Evan?
One of the ones that we really think we hit out of the park that we’re going to continue working on is that very textured pullover hoodie that has a very … I want to say Assassin’s Creed kind of a hood to it. That piece looks great on everybody. Adam will tell you, it’s in your face but it’s not like … It’s manageable. You can wear it. I like pushing my boundaries, but just a little bit at a time. That’s one of those pieces that I really feel for the guy who is learning … I think men, we all can agree, it’s not new news anymore. Guys are starting to really appreciate their fabrics, their cuts, the story and that one piece in particular, I really feel will continue to be a staple.

I think our bomber jackets … I’ve said this until I’m blue in the face. The fit of our bomber jackets is unreal. Everybody wants a bomber. Everybody. But when you put it on, it’s either this is wrong or that’s wrong or the arms are … It always never hits, at least for me. We worked on this fit forever and I think we really hit it out of the park. Moving forward for spring/summer for instance, we’re taking a linen fabric and we’re going to do a bomber jacket in linen and really lighten up the hardiness of the jacket but keep that fit.

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Will that change the storyline of the collection?
Mitch: I think that’s a combination of both the modern aspect of the military menswear where we’re cleaning up the lines and at the same time, you can recognize it with the ones from fall/winter, the shearling and the details on the pockets and the ribboning. They’re very particular to that style of jacket.

Adam: I also think one … Because I was at a lot of the appointments with Mitch and Tracy. I think another part of that collection that people really responded to is in the sweatshirt that he’s wearing now comes in three colors and matching sweats. Actually, I think my favorite piece is it’s not one of those sweatshirts that you’re going to die of heat in, but it’s not one of those thin … It’s like a good gauge knit. I love it. I think a lot of people reacted to that group as well.

Mitch: To go off what Adam said, we listen to everybody. Adam is right. I think that one of the things that I didn’t recognize until somebody says it to you is that, “Dude, you live in LA. Your brand encapsulates a California-esque,” and what I call the “soft Sunday” attire, the stuff you wear to go get your coffee but you want to look good but you don’t want to look too done up. That’s where I think our bread and butter is going to be. But that being said, I don’t … I have two things I care about. I care about that and I care about my outerwear.

With Mitchell Evan, what have been some obstacles you never thought you’d have to ever deal with in life?
I could honestly tell you that fashion is the hardest business I have ever been in. I thought film was hard. How do I put this? I used to describe film and I feel like fashion is the same thing. You get in a boat with a bunch of people and you’re given one oar. There’s an island way, way on the other side. You’re on one side going like this. Then you’re on the other side going like this. You’re just hoping that when you get to that island, that you execute what you would conceptualize from the beginning. It never is 100 percent with the team.

I think the biggest obstacles that we’ve been working on since the first collection is sourcing our fabrics. We sourced from like 40 places last time, because I care. That’s a big part of Mitchell Evan is the fabric. It really is. I think we learned that dealing with a time frame that is the collection’s … Having the markets at the right time, you have to stay on schedule and you have to buffer with your turnaround times. Your first fitting with muslin never works and then you put the fabric actually on your fit model and you’re like, “What the … What is this?! This looks nothing like the last time.” It’s just over and over. You get highs in the day and then you get a phone call and it’s like, “Oh, there’s a minimum for yardage on this piece or the trims won’t come in in time or our sewer is out sick.” You name it and it happens.

You have to focus and you just have to get across to the other side. Then I think one of the nice things that you said that I remember taking away from our first time meeting was, “I come into these meetings expecting less. This was one of those exceptions to the rule.” I was like, “Ugh, thank God, she gets it.” Because a lot of the people out there, they’re still stuck in this time warp. I think that was an indicator to me that, “Okay, we’re accomplishing our goal. Let’s get back in the boat and let’s go back to the other side and see if we can do it again and again and again.”

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