This morning we were invited to sit down with American powerhouse Mr. Michael Bastian, former Men’s Fashion Director at Bergdorf Goodman and all around charmer.
We chatted about New York City, films, emoticons and more…
WONDERLAND: Hi how are you?
MICHAEL BASTIAN: I’m well, just in London for a couple days and I have to fly out to New York tomorrow.
Back to America, fun! You’re originally from NYC, right? Do you still live there?
I’m from upstate near Rochester, and then I moved to New York City when I was 22 once I finished college. I grabbed the first job I could. I went to Babson College, which is a business school and studied business since that was the only course they had. My first job was a buyer at A&S, which was a small Brooklyn department store, and I was almost fired because I sucked at math. It was the early 90s, and they enrolled me in this retail-training program where the mantra was, “to be a good retailer you need to be able sell anything.” I started out in budget handbags (like knockoff gap handbags) then they moved me to junior knits and I got pulled into HR and they yelled at me because I was horrible at the math and they consequentially moved me into carpets and rugs because I sucked so bad. I think they were hoping I just quit at that point. I got more into fashion when I went to a party and a friend had a friend who was a fashion director and needed an assistant. It was one of those New York things where you go to a party and meet some people and things just happen. You know that’s how Diana Vreeland got her break, she was dancing at a club and the director of Harpers said, “That girl can dance, who is she?” and voila!
I recently moved to London to get a change but I think New York has my heart. I don’t know if you watch SATC but like when Carrie went to Paris with Aleksander and realized, get me out of here! It’s really a city where you can go living anonymous.
Yes! You must see the film Dreams of a Life where a woman died in her apartment in London and no one found her for 3 years. It’s so crazy that like none of her neighbors or family checked in on her!
Welcome to London! No, I’m kidding! How much do you think the city influences you? New York is always changing but remains the same.
I live in Greenwich Village just above Union Square and NYU and the New School surround me and if I need inspiration I can just go for a walk. They may not be wearing my style or brand’s aesthetic but seeing people doing something new and try is inspiring and fun. No one in NYC is from NYC and it’s like this dream that you have; it’s a pot. LA is more a dream of reality but NYC is that reality.
Like those street drummers and performers, they’re a sight to see. What are you influences? Your collections are very clean and easy.
Always a theme for the season, that’s really important. When you’re talking about designer clothes, people pay for the dream. We put thought into the concept. You have to push it every season or it just ends up being clothes. I even had a collection inspired by jaws. It comes from everywhere. I was recently inspired by The Red Balloon; films and iconic people who embody what I am thinking that season.
You previously worked with Italian luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli, tell me a bit about that.
We were with him for about 4 years, and it was really a great education. He built this brand and made it into this powerhouse and created this mega following. This idea of “Made in Italy” and there was even a spiritual component. There was a real following and it was a lifestyle his brand.
So you were able to implement that into your own then. How did Bergdorf’s come about? Were you sad to go or more focused on your own line?
I was as at Ralph Lauren and some of my colleagues went to Bergdorf’s and called me and asked if I wanted come over to be the Men’s Fashion Director. I was at the home and living department at Ralph and then went there. I wasn’t a fashion guy. I had been at Sotheby’s in press and at Tiffany’s so I was trying to talk them out of it. At that time Bergdorf’s was just a place where your dad bought socks and sweaters so we did a bunch of research. We were at Pitti Uomo and all over the place trying to reinvent this. Then that’s how I met Brunello and then I said I’ll start a little chino line but my boss at Bergdorf said they cant carry the line of employees and I couldn’t continue to work there if I stocked in competitors so I had to just leave and do what I wanted.
Were you scared? What a bold move!
Not at all because I talked to Brunello in a hotel room and I thought I can do the American version of his work and he was like yeah of course. It was like a blind jump. We were so reckless. My press director and I were working out of our apartments, I took her from Bergdorf’s too. Then we bought our license and wanted to change our prices. When we were with Brunello we only did the actual product and the people there did all the logistics so when we were independent we were able to take control, though we were a bit lost because we had never done this before. Previously I had no control over what it cost and where it sold. We got to establish the DNA of the brand at that time.
Are you selling in Bergdorf’s now?
Yes, they’re our biggest seller actually. We’re at Barneys and Saks also but we’re now taking these first steps in Europe. Korea is also a budding market for us, they’re taking off in the market. No learning curve, they just arrived and said “we’re here!”
First thing I think when I hear Michael Bastian (as an American) is Gant, is that your main focus right now?
Gant was a job I took to make some money but then we fell in love with our money gig and created a little brother to what I was initially doing and then a little sister. I just kept going on and on with it because it ended up being something I really liked. It was one of those lucky things and ended up being something I’m really into.
You’ve always been a buzz in menswear at CFDA, how did it feel to finally win in 2011?
That was the year we took a season off to get things in line and then I heard I was nominated and then even won. It was crazy because I hadn’t done a collection that season so I didn’t even know I could be a contender. I was nominated for 5 years before so it was just one of those things where it was like “Oh God, again!” Winning was amazing though.
Your career seems to have been based on unconvention, luck and timing then!
Laughs – Yes, I just think it’s more important to go for it. Fashion students always ask me advice all the time but I don’t have much because I didn’t even study fashion. I let life guide me and went with what I wanted. The bits of advice I do have are don’t name your line after yourself. If you get big then the brand and the name is after you and if things go wrong then you’re fucked. You also get super personal when your line is eponymous, because then you see it in the press and it is the only name you have!
Duly noted. Who is the man that you are dressing, if there is one? For instance I’d say a young and contemporary James Dean.
The guy remains the same. An in-between guy, with men hardcore designer customers and classic luxury guys and there’s nothing in-between. No one was addressing that guy. Implementing a lifestyle where you can find everything. Keeping it not boring. Givenchy does a track pant and then there’s a sloppy ass dad pant, no in-between. I’m where you can find sweatpants to cashmere sweaters and they’ll always be quality
I read on your Twitter bio, “I love emoticons 😉 but that’s another story,” is that true? I’m actually really into emojis these days, they’re very dynamic and vivid
I LOVE THEM. Have you seen the one of the pear? He’s like crying some crazy tears and blood. It’s crazy shit.
Maybe your next collection will be emoji inspired?
Laughs yes maybe! Or maybe not…
I’m intrigued by all of this. You’re such a unique story and I love it. Lots of people are just go to school then get a job and it’s planned out. Amazing talking to you Michael, so lively and interesting. Thank you so much.
Shop Michael Bastian’s current collection at www.matchesfashion.com