Timeless Resonance — Michael Bastian clothes the contemporary man in American classics
Examining the world of fashion around him on his way up the industry ladder from Lyons, New York to a menswear directorship at Bergdorf Goodman, Michael Bastian grew distraught with the scarcity of relevant American designers amidst scores of European and Asian innovators. So he decided to launch his own eponymous collection in the fall of 2006. Shortly thereafter, he began designing for Bill Blass, ultimately attaining creative director status, which galvanized the evolution of Bastian’s own collection—one with traditional American distinction, continually growing to resonate a deeply personal voice. After six seasons, while contenders in the field may be loath to concede and though still fostering a young company, some have Bastian pegged as the definitive designer of American menswear, with his F/W 09 collection On the Road propelling him even closer to the peak.
What is your greatest strength as a designer?
My biggest strength is that I always put myself into the collection first. I make it personal and always think to myself, “Would I wear this?” It sounds so fundamental, but I think a lot of designers send out stuff they wouldn’t even wear themselves.
My biggest weakness (at the moment) is that I’m so focused on the seasonal design, I really give very little time to planning out our business long term. With the tiny team I have right now, that whole strategizing part is something I haven’t given the attention it deserves. We’re really living day-to-day right now, but I guess that’s how it goes when you’re so new.
How important are non-American markets to your business?
Here’s the crazy part right now: I look at myself as a quintessentially American designer—it’s where I live, it’s what I know, and I never try to take my guy on a trip anywhere else. But in the last season or two, we’ve seen our business actually become bigger in Japan than in America. It just shows me that this classic American look is just as appreciated in other countries as it is here at home.
Which American fashion designers (current or historical) do you most admire?
The American designer I’ve always admired the most is Perry Ellis. People forget how influential and amazing he was when he was alive. He was one of the Big Three that emerged in the ’80s, along with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and always embodied to me how American guys really want to look—not too retro, not too minimal or futuristic, just pulled together, healthy and happy in their own skin.
Do you design for a specific man, for yourself?
The guy I design for started out to be more or less like me (you’ve got to start somewhere)—a guy in his 30s or 40s who is basically preppy, doesn’t have to wear a suit to work, lives in a city, etc. But I’ve since expanded to older, younger, all types. The thing that has always remained consistent, I feel, is that what I do will always appeal more to guys who are a little more introspective. All of the secrets are on the inside, so to speak.
On the Road: How do you pack for a journey that lacks a destination?
I love that question, because when we were pulling this collection together, we were thinking about exactly that: What would we pack in our duffle bag if we had no idea where we were going to end up? And what we decided is that we’d just pack those things we had an emotional, personal connection with, that made us feel protected and loved and had become part of our lives and self-image. The bag would be filled with random stuff, but just what we needed and it would all be part of who we were.
Updating classics is a cliché in menswear. How does a contemporary man stay both classic and current?
The trick here is to take something essential and integral to a guy’s wardrobe and modernize it through the fit or the fabric or the construction. These days, you really have to give men a reason to buy a new shirt or pair of pants; you have to offer them a slightly newer version of something they are already comfortable with.
How big do you want your company to become?
Right now, there are only four other people who work full time with me on my line, but I don’t see any limit to our potential to be a big global brand someday. It sounds very “un-humble” for me to say that, but I really believe in what we are doing.
This reading is by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Michael Bastian
1. This person is innately quite psychic and intuitive, but often insists on a rational explanation for things. This makes for frequent struggles between reason and intuition.
2. Strong leadership ability equals this person’s ability to follow a leader. Definitely plays well with others.
3. Their health will tend to be somewhat delicate all through life, since frequently exposed to the elements while questing for experience.
4. A collector of friends, objects, relatives and memories. Once an attachment has been formed to something or someone, it will remain lifelong, even long after it (or they) has served its purpose.
5. Has a good heart, and feelings run deep, but isn’t always well understood when experiencing or revealing these.
6. An excellent wordsmith, revealing pictures and experiences in word patterns that allow the listener or reader to truly see them.
7. Extremely intelligent and able to create and perceive patterns beyond the norm. An acuity for thinking intently while talking—a very unusual talent. This person would be an excellent politician if not so sensitive to criticism from others.
8. Experience is more interesting to this person than financial gain. Money is useful in that it will buy one a ticket to a place where experience may be acquired and enjoyed. It is from seeing new places and new faces that much of their creative inspiration arises. They will save everything that crosses their path—except money.