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August 29 2014

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Perry, Meet Duckie

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For all its incredible history (the path-breaking work of its founder and namesake; that old chestnut about one Marc Jacobs and his legendary and firing-worthy grunge collection), Perry Ellis had gone stale in recent years. But the announcement several months ago about the appointment of a design team has brought buzz back to the American label. Its new creative directors, Steven Cox and Daniel Silver (pictured), the partner-duo behind Duckie Brown, surprised many. Including the designers themselves.

Cox and Silver are the first to admit they came to Perry Ellis from a distance. “I have never been inspired by Perry Ellis in a Duckie Brown collection,” Cox said at a preview at their West Village studio. “Now, go on a few months, having looked at the videos and researched quite heavily into Perry Ellis, I feel it was a really good match. Perry Ellis was considered a little bit kooky, a little bit strange. He had this odd match, that doesn’t look as odd now.”

Kooky is a word often applied to Cox’s Duckie Brown collections, which don’t shy away from dramatic statements. The contemporary perception of Ellis, by contrast, is—to use a phrase the designers don’t much care for—”American sportswear.” “American sportswear seems to me, like, 1960-something,” Cox said. “I am American now, but I was born in England. I don’t have that root in me that is growing up as a teenager with that heritage Ralph Lauren preppy thing. I don’t know about cheerleaders, I didn’t go to a prom. I have no references that a lot of American designers do that are truly American.” His Perry Ellis by Duckie Brown collection will be “transatlantic sportswear”: beholden to the American tradition but with a more studied design flair.

While the Perry name has plenty of purchase, the designers actually began with a blanker slate than many realize. Ellis himself never did a men’s-only show in his lifetime. The label has no archive; Cox and Silver bought some pieces on eBay, but for the most part, they’re starting fresh. (They’ve been playing video of old Ellis shows on loop in the studio for osmotic effect.) The label as they envision it has a feeling of their own line—and many of the same suppliers and factories—with a more commercial aesthetic, something they say has enabled them to push Duckie even farther, too. Now the question that looms over their debut tomorrow is, will the old Ellis legions approve?

“We’re a little damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” Silver said. “People are going to go ‘it’s very Perry, where’s Duckie?’; people are going to go, ‘it’s very Duckie, where’s Perry?’ I think we did it very successfully; it’s got a real sensibility.”

They, at least, are confident. “I always worry about Duckie Brown; I don’t know if it’s right or wrong,” Cox said. “With this, it’s the opposite.” A preview suggests he’s right to be confident, and Perry may be the latest label fashion’s go-to fixers—who have already helped to revive the fortunes of Florsheim shoes with their Florsheim x Duckie Brown collections—bring back from the beyond. Before tomorrow’s show, the designers shared an exclusive video of the work in progress, below.

Photo: Etienne Tordoir / Getty Images

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