At the core of every piece of clothing you own is fabric. It probably came in an enormous sheet, spun off a loom that churns out thousands of other sheets just like it. Then, it probably got folded up and shipped to a factory on the other side of the world and was assembled in some manner along with hundreds, if not thousands, of other pieces completely identical to the one you own. It's a necessary element of the fashion cycle, especially for brands who want to make money.
But there are always exceptions to the rule. This is where Rare Weaves comes in. The brainchild of New York City native Hartley Goldstein, Rare Weaves takes everything you've accepted about clothing and style and goes in the complete opposite direction, not out of some "fuck you" attitude, but rooted in a love for those enormous sheets of cloth that haven't yet dreamed of one day becoming clothing. I've known Hartley for about two years now and he wears his passion on his sleeve. The moment you step into the Rare Weaves "showroom"—a term used as loosely as possible here since it can be more accurately described as the living room of his apartment—you understand exactly where he's coming from.
Stacked in the corner of the room is a tower of quilts, as crudely sewn band collar oxfords hang in the windows, letting the sunlight pass through and exposing every handmade stitch, while a quilting book on the counter is opened to a page about Gee’s Bend, a type of quilting done by a community in Alabama that features abstract patterns and imperfect lines. There are patchwork pants, painted coats and repaired vintage T-shirts. Everything is 99% made by hand, that final 1% being a machine hem put on the pants to make sure seams don't open up. It's a step back in time for sure, toward a primitivism that Goldstein loves. "When I see other people reimaginging old garments or reinterpreting it, it's all very fashion forward and you can tell two or three garments are pasted together," he says. "I don’t like that. My inspiration comes out of quilting, which is a repurposing of fabric, but I aim to create pieces that feel quiet—clothing that feels more in line with obscure folk objects where you can't necessarily tell the origins."
It's progressive in the way that it's regressive. It's an intentional step backward and started out as a hobby that has grown into something a bit bigger. "I purely did this from base level as a way to express something that I wanted out of clothing that I wasn’t seeing," he says. Since then, a cult Instagram following of fabric and detail nerds like himself has brought his passion to a wider audience, an approach Goldstein acknowledges flies directly in the face of the primitivism that grounds Rare Weaves. You may have seen Tommy Ton or Nick Wooster in a piece of his in a street style shot or on Instagram yourself. It's clear that Goldstein's love of the old has struck a chord.
"When you look at this Wrangler, it's not selling a line—it's an object that was considered carefully unto itself by an actual person, not a robot or a board meeting," he says. "Whether you like it or want to wear it, it's there. Respect the fabric, how the fabric is made in the first place, understand what you like about it and translate that into a vision."
That is what I love about clothing that can be lost in the infrastructure—individuality
, character and personalization.
That's the DNA of Rare Weaves. While the genesis of the entire brand can be boiled down to a few insane Boro coats, it has since evolved into a broad offering that call comes back to those oxfords bathing in the light of Goldstein's SoHo apartment. The shirting comes to Hartley in pristine shape, "Which is atrocious to me," he says. From there, the shirts are treated to soften the fabric and sun faded to create a lighter look. They're hacked apart and then rearranged with new panels to create a completely new shirt. Any one piece could be made of fabric from three others to create a unique, quilted and tiled look. When holding the finished product it's clear they've made the transition from garment to wearable art.
Still, the fundamentals and details are there, like a ribbon of gauze that circles the waist of the pants to make them more comfortable, which Hartley wants. This isn't merely art for art's sake. This is clothing to be worn. The hand-stitching is firm and strong, the clothes are wearable. "They're functional, but they're also art," he says. "You don't play soccer in a couture dress and everything comes with a disclaimer that encourages you to repair it yourself. A friend of mine busted a stitch on his and I would be happy to fix it, but I know he sews. So he sewed an off-color stitch into the shirt. That is what I love about clothing that can be lost in the infrastructure—individuality
Prices are high, prohibitively, in fact, much like you would expect for a literal, handcrafted piece of clothing. Tees run $200, while oxfords start at $1,000 and go up to $2,000 depending on their intricacy. Other pieces like scrap work jackets, pants, jackets and blazers range from $1,500 to $3,000. They're expensive, no bones about it. But as one should be, Hartley is proud of the work, "I think it lives up to the expectation, but I realize these garments are only for a small niche of people," he says. "I want them to wear it and present it in a fresh way. I don't want it to be for everyone."
But he does want more people to see it, which is why he opened his doors to us and has begun to put feelers out with the editorial above, entitled "Exiles." It's a firm representation of both himself and the brand, outsiders in an industry where everyone wants to be an insider. Shot on film by Mikael Kennedy, styled by Justin Dean of Gentry with masks crafted by Satoshi Kawamoto of Greenfingers, it's vibrant and beautiful. It's a pre-cursor to Rare Weaves making the jump to a more public eye with a small presentation to display the pieces during the upcoming debut of New York Fashion Week: Men's.
More than anything, Rare Weaves is an expression of someone who loves turning great fabric into great clothing. Maybe it won't move units or even make money, but that's not what it's about. The hobby that started out of Goldstein's living room may have grown to the point where he now has a handful of equally passionate artisans working with him to create the works of wearable art you see before you, but that homegrown primitivism runs as deep as ever. "I'm 34 and it wasn’t necessarily cool to care about clothing when I was younger. That is why it took me so long to commit that I actually wanted to do this," he says. These days he's more committed than ever and it's clear to see why.