August 20 2014

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little britain in the west village


“I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” Apologies in advance to Mr. Yeats, but there’s nothing foul about the new Rag & Bone store in the West Village. On a recent summer morning, however, as brand founders Marcus Wainwright and David Neville supervised a frenzy of last-minute work on the converted coffee shop space, there was no dearth of ladders—or heart. “It’s like we’re taking everything we’ve put into Rag & Bone over the past few years,” Neville noted, “all the hours, all the ideas, the whole philosophy behind the clothes, and giving that stuff an address on Christopher Street. So yeah,” he added, “I guess you could call this a labor of love.” As Neville and Wainwright would go on to note, the Rag & Bone flagship also serves as a locus for the duo’s transatlantic mentality—the exterior references historic London shops like wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, while the interior mixes original fixtures like the stamped tin ceiling, brick walls, and wood flooring uncovered during renovation with classic mid-century modern furnishings scavenged on antique-hunting trips into the Yankee hinterlands. All in all, the first-ever Rag & Bone store makes a fitting home for Rag & Bone’s clothes, what with their mix of English reticence and tailoring and American edge and ease. Both references will be on the runway today as Rag & Bone debuts its Spring 2009 collection; here, Wainwright and Neville talk to about failing up, freaky friendship, and feeling English.
The store isn’t officially open until September 17, but you actually soft-opened a week or so ago. Why no big fashion week blowout to celebrate?

Neville: We wanted some time to work out the kinks. That’s been the Rag & Bone MO all along—try something new, fail, then figure out how to make it work. And then make it better. And anyway, what’s the rush?

Wainwright: The rush has been getting everything done. It’d have been pretty silly to invite a bunch of people over here only to say, hey, welcome to our unfinished store.
The location is a little off-the-beaten-path. What made you decide to open here, on Christopher Street, rather than on one of those notorious shopping blocks?

Neville: Frankly, I like that people have to seek us out. We work over on this side of town, and we enjoy it over here, so there was an appeal to the neighborhood—and just walking around looking at places, we’d see people dressed in Rag & Bone clothes, so that was a bonus, too. It feels very us, a charming, pretty little block with a tea shop and, you know, Leather Man.
Not that “Leather Man” is a Rag & Bone theme this season, or anything.

Wainwright: No, but the collection is a bit hard. Hard in the English sense—tough, street. We really went back to England for this one, started out thinking about Joy Division, wound up going through the whole anthropology of music’s effect on English style and culture. Ska, rude boys, skinheads. And mods! The mods are really fascinating, from a fashion perspective—I mean, these guys were unbelievably precise about their clothes, like, how many buttons on a sleeve, and so on.
Speaking of England, you two went to boarding school together, right? You’ve been friends since you were, what—13, 14?

Wainwright: I wouldn’t go so far as to say “friends.” We knew each other—

Neville: We’d smoke together sometimes, in the annex between our houses.
Point being, you’ve led parallel lives. I mean, your sons were born a week apart. Having been through so much in tandem, do you ever look across your desks at each other and indulge in those moments of, holy smoke, how did we wind up here?

Neville: Rag & Bone has been a slow burn, and like I was saying before, it’s been such an organic, trial-and-error process creating the brand, that I don’t find many occasions to pinch myself, as it were. I think the fact that Marcus and I have led similar lives, in some ways, comes through more in our sharing a philosophy—we’re both very invested in Rag & Bone feeling authentic. Authentic to us, and to the people who wear the clothes.
Authentic how?

Neville: A desire for authenticity goes to every decision we make. As a general matter, there’s the fact that neither Marcus nor I had any proper fashion training, and so Rag & Bone has evolved quite directly out of our own very personal aesthetics. And it’s grown up and gotten more sophisticated as we’ve become better designers. So there’s that. And then, you know, a philosophy of authenticity is also what made us choose to produce Rag & Bone locally, rather than shipping each collection off to Asia. We like to keep an eye on things.

Wainwright: The fundamental thing is that David and I are both English guys who live and work in New York, and so we share references. We share a particular fusion of references, and I think you see that in the clothes and you see it in the shop. We can’t reproduce Knightsbridge in the middle of the West Village, but we can acknowledge that part of who we are, and give it the energy of New York. We approach tailoring the same way—using the tried-and-true English methods in order to make something that feels relevant on Bleecker Street, today.

Neville: We want things to look cool and new, but maybe because we’re English, we also like to do things the way they’ve always been done.


Photo: Ben Ferrari