George McCracken: Just a Single Guy

Text by Michael Cohen
Photography by David Armstrong

The George McCracken label, like its designer, brings a refreshing simplicity to menswear. And while the straightforward appeal pulls no punches, it benefits from a nuanced, underlying complexity. The collection of jeans, sportswear and outerwear is rooted in a refined masculinity, employing top-end fabrics to engineer a classic appeal.

McCracken aspires toward an underdeveloped niche of slow fashion for men. He said, “I’m really offering a different model than the season-to-season fashion that relies on meaningless change.” Nor is his appeal a branded, signature look à la Thom Browne. Rather, McCracken’s garments have a brand-less sensibility, forgoing the fussiness of a costumed look in favor of a more humble presentation.

Raised in the Bay Area, McCracken went from West Coast to East Coast to attend the Rhode Island School of Design as a Painting major. Sensing that his pursuit of fine art was a “pleasurable thing, from a feeling of irrelevance,” McCracken sought out a more culturally relevant outlet through fashion. After graduating in 2004, he worked for Bergdorf Goodman as a visual merchandiser and still assists in the styling of seasonal catalogues for both Bergdorf and its parent company, Neiman Marcus. Yet fine art still permeates McCracken’s approach; he cites several artists — Richard Tuttle, Édouard Manet and Rachel Harrison — among his primary influencers.

By 2008, he identified a hole in the marketplace for clean, conservative and functional sportswear. In stark contrast to the designer and moneyed trends of the mid-2000s, McCracken’s appeal is casually laid back without being lazy. He described the style philosophy as “more of an effortless thing.” Walking down the street in his garments, a guy is unlikely to be identified as wearing George McCraken. But he would emit a type of effortless chic, an elusive Americanization of je ne sais quoi.

McCracken works in the now familiar modus operandi of an untrained designer. That is, he works in drawing and sketches, in collaboration with an expert pattern-maker, to bring his vision to life. He explained his current role in contrast to the process of painting: “With art, I was so technical, and it slowed me down in a lot of ways. With art, the act of making something distorts the original idea. With clothes, I still have the original idea.” Now, McCracken’s expertise is to bring a cultural relevancy, capturing a zeitgeist outside the fashion bubble. The tangible result is rooted in his understanding of brand-positioning and relevant style.

With limited distribution at Bergdorf Goodman, What Comes Around Goes Around and other high-end specialty shops, McCracken’s pieces are produced in extremely limited quantities. Knowing he competes on the sales floor with the world’s foremost menswear labels forces McCracken to focus on perfecting each garment. He explained a primary benefit of designing outside seasonal constraints when he said, “I spend a lot more time on every single piece.” With his goal of crafting classic luxury, McCracken asked rhetorically, “If it could be great, why not take the time to really do it?”

And while he might currently lack the broader recognition of his award-winning contemporaries, McCracken seems to view his role as a complement, rather than competition or spoiler, to other brands. McCracken said his approach is geared toward guys like himself who would rather buy a single, exceptional garment than afford five mediocre garments. In focusing on “making a really great thing,” McCracken described his audience as a “guy who really appreciates material aspects of clothing. But he does not need clothes for status.”

Launching for Fall 2011 at Barney’s New York, George McCracken Black Label separates the collection’s denim component into a sub-label. His five-pocket jean, a classic slim fit from Japanese denim, looks like a perfectly regular jean — no more than it needs to be and no less than what it should be. Like all his collections, McCracken’s jean is a stand-alone that refuses to stand out. It looks simple and basic, with the restraint of good taste. In five years’ time, McCracken will likely have his awards and acclaim, maybe even a women’s line. But his current goal is simple, understated and enviable: “Stay small and respected.”