American Life

Text by Franklin Melendez

Without Woolrich Woolen Mills, Norman Rockwell’s idyllic tableaux might have been a bit more scantily clad. Since 1830, the venerable label has been churning out classic sportswear and has served as the unofficial, but ubiquitous outfitter of the American mythos. It may seem like an unlikely partnership, then, to see this bastion of Americana enlist Japanese wunderkind, Daiki Suzuki, who took over the line in 2006. Yet, Suzuki, like many of his countrymen, has a deeply rooted appreciation for American staples, a weakness he indulges as a buyer for Japan’s top boutiques in the ‘90s. Suzuki championed everything from moccasins and hand-knit sweaters to hunting gear, all of which found their way into the most avant-garde outposts of Harajuku. In 1999, he launched Engineered Garments, which developed this sensibility, producing sportswear classics with subtle flare and innovative tailoring.

It was this very challenge of re-inventing the past that drew Suzuki to Woolrich. “We love imperfection,” he says. “We love something that doesn’t look like something else.” With this in mind he has tackled the Woolrich Woolen Mills arsenal, maintaining many of its traditional manufacturing methods. Under his direction, the mill has churned out a new generation of basics—car coats, flannels, hunting trousers, and fishing caps—all finished with a craftsman’s precision, but tweaked with the eye of an innovator.

For Spring 2009, Suzuki has returned to the label’s roots, basing the collection, in part, on illustrations from Field & Stream magazines from the ‘30s and ‘40s. There’s a woodsy elegance to the offerings—in luxurious knits, tartans and glen plaids—that capture casual menswear at its best. And the world is taking note; Suzuki was honored this past Fall with the CFDA/GQ Menswear Designer of the Year Award—the industry’s equivalent to a Blue Ribbon best, a fitting accolade for this unlikely heir to a Yankee tradition. Lest you think this is only for rugged sportsman, take a look around. An army of hipsters, from the Mission to Brooklyn, say it all: in these dark times, there’s nothing more comforting than a good, wooly flannel.