GQ's Best New Menswear Designers in America series has long been a staple of the menswear community since its inception in 2007. It has also changed considerably over its nearly decade-long run. The first installment had actually no winner or prize and more or less acted merely as a showcase to tout the talents of a few hand-picked up-and-coming designers. From 2008 to 2011, it was a true competition with a single winner, who, up until 2010, got to participate in a capsule collection with Levi's and received a $50,000 prize, while 2011 saw each brand craft a collaboration with Dockers regardless of taking home a first place finish. It was in 2012 that the competition took its on current form with no single victor and each nominee working with Gap on an exclusive capsule collection. "Each year GQ's selection of the BNMDA allows us to collaborate with the best and brightest," says Gap's VP of men's merchandising Jerry Brandehoff. "It was really exciting to see the clothes selling out in Gap stores last year and we're confident this year's collection will be received just as well."
The name recognition GQ brings to emerging designers can make or break a career, so the choices are deliberate and calculated. Among the guidelines for selection: Brands cannot be too new and must have a "full-body" collection that's not focused on a single particular piece. While some are still very small at the time of their nominations, others have been considerably more experienced. Regardless, each year is put together with a broad selection as the primary goal. The competition's roots are humble as GQ's creative director Jim Moore explains. "In 2007, we noticed a lot of new brands percolating to the surface and saw a huge influx of American designers," Moore tells Four Pins. "So giving these designers a larger platform that will make people notice and in turn to inspire the designers to keep going and growing their business is something we want to keep doing."
Some selections over the years may make you scratch your head until your scalp bleeds. Others will make you remember that GQ has had its pulse on some of the best young brands in the business. Considering the 2015 class is fresh in your mind, let's dive in and absorb 4,000 words on the topic, shall we? And, like, you fucking better because I worked my goddamn dick off. This is the complete history of GQ's Best New Menswear Designers in America. Where are they now?
2007, No competition, no prize, glorified photoshoot
Hamilton worked at Ralph Lauren and J.Crew before he started his own line for F/W 2007. The brand is still around, but its last inclusion in Style Dot Com’s fashion week wrap-ups was S/S 2012. The brand's website features some pieces to buy from a "Seth Price" collection (whatever that means), but not much else. In the interest of complete transparency, before embarking on this historic #menswear deep dive, I had not heard of Tim Hamilton.
Helmut Lang remains one of the most referenced designers and labels when it comes to fashion inspiration. His BNMDA nomination came two years after Helmut himself left the brand, which at the time was run by the husband and wife duo of Michael and Nicole Colovos, who had founded a denim company prior to taking over Lang's iconic brand. Helmut Lang is still around today and does make men’s clothing—though it took a brief hiatus from menswear in the late 00s—but the focus is much more aimed toward the women's side of the business. With Alexandre Plokhov at the helm now, we can only hope for a strong menswear revival.
Adam Lippes was the Global Creative Director at Oscar De La Renta before going his his own way with Adam+Eve. The line of men's basics is not around anymore in name, but was folded into his eponymous collections, which features both men's and a much more expansive women's collection. Lippes actually has a really interesting story of how his name brand was bought out and then repurchased to relaunch the label.
Our own editor-in-chief once called Michael Bastian the "most important American designer since Ralph Lauren." Whether you buy into such grandiose statements is up to you. Bastian left his post as fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman to start his own brand and quickly received a ton of attention. "GQ jumped in and was a great sounding board," Bastian tells Four Pins. "At that stage, I was brand new. So to get the phone ringing to bring people into the showroom was huge. You can only send out so many lookbooks and emails to buyers. For them to see the clothes on a model in GQ sort of straps a rocket to your ass in a way." Bastian's still churning out his Italian-made Americana today.
Started by two former dance music performers, Joe Haller and Ian Hannula, N.I.C.E Collective focused on that sort of weird, sort of theatrical, marching band member look. N.I.C.E. is still around (and having a sample sale this weekend) and has actually outfitted a bunch of musician's tours, like Nine Inch Nails and Coldplay, in recent years.
Band Of Outsiders
I mean, it's fucking Band of Outsiders. Scott Sternberg has turned the L.A.-based clothing label, founded in 2004 with shirts and ties, into the go-to shrunken prep clothing brand ripped straight out a Wes Anderson flick.
Brothers Kirk and Derrick Miller pitched an old English shoe company, Barker, on a modern day shoe brand that mixed the old school haberdashery look with new school tones of anti-establishment. Think, shoes with skulls and crossbones on them. The brand has a couple stores and Barker Black is still around, but their footprint (pun absolutely intended) is admittedly pretty small.
Nom De Guerre (DEFUNCT)
NDG is regularly cited as one of the best brands (and shops) that was, almost to a fault, too ahead of its time for its focused and wearable streetwear meets menswear collections that sort of evolved into military-inspired gear. Unfortunately, the brand and its SoHo storefront shuttered after the F/W 2010 collection. Rumors persist that rocky romantic drama between the brand's co-founders helped lead to its demise. Today, NDG is so well-remembered and longed for that it's difficult to have an extensive, in-depth conversation about menswear in general without their name popping up.
2008, First year of actual competition, Levi's capsule collection and $50,000 prize
Rag & Bone
I think you can put two and two together here. It's Rag & Bone, one of the biggest New York-based menswear brands in the world. A brand that has proven, especially recently, that it knows how to produce a solid collection and promote it in a way that works for just about every guy looking for fashionable clothes who might not care too much about "fashion."
Low-key, Steven Alan is one of the better menswear brands out there today. It really has it all, from great basics and accessories to tees and suits. Not only that, but the storefronts carry a variety of in demand brands, including the likes of Acne and Carhartt Work In Progress. It also has a "Home" store that carries all sorts of dope wares for your next apartment. Even if the clothing errs more on the side of cautious control, the brand has a formidable foothold and probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it's currently looking for an investor to expand and dropped an absolute banger of a F/W 15 collection.
Engineered Garments (2008 WINNER)
EG was the first ever winner of GQ's BNMDA competition. Does that blow your fucking mind or what? As the winner, EG received $50,000 and a Levi's collaboration, which you can peep in all its pixelated glory here. Judging by the Four Pins word cloud, Jon Moy and the Pins squad could keep EG afloat all on our own. As you probably already know, the label isn't just "still around," but has quietly become one of if not the best and most unique menswear labels in the world. "I never thought I would win actually," founder and designer Daiki Suzuki tells Four Pins. "I was not really fully understanding of what the whole thing meant and always wished I would have been better prepared for the judging but everything happens for a reason." Talk about spot-on. Well played, GQ. Well played.
Simon Spurr founded the SPURR label in 2006 after years being groomed at YSL under Hedi Slimane, Calvin Klein as head menswear designer and Ralph Lauren as design director of both Purple and Black Label. His pedigree and resume speak for themselves. Which is also exactly why it's kind of sad to remember that while the Simon Spurr brand still exists (SPURR was folded into Simon Spurr in January 2012), Simon left the brand just after he was nominated for Menswear Designer of the Year by the CFDA in March 2012. Today, the brand lives on as SPURR New York, but on a much smaller scale. Meanwhile, Spurr, the designer, has gone on to stints at Tommy Hilfiger and his current position as creative director at Kent & Curwen.
On a very outdated website, Gilded Age recently dropped its S/S 15 collection. The brand is still a NYFW men's staple, offering its take on simple, if unremarkable, clothing. With a year as stacked 2008 was with big names, Gilded Age kinda falls by the wayside.
Obedient Sons (DEFUNCT)
The duo behind Obedient Sons were married couple Christina and Swaim Hutson, who shut down the brand in 2009 due to struggles with investment and lack of funds. The two said they wanted to start another clothing line, but instead jumped to Generra, which launched a men's collection for 2010. You may know Generra as a brand that did the Hypercolor T-shirts that were popular in the '80s. As you can imagine, it promptly shut down, though it foolishly aimed to relaunch in 2012. Since then, there's been nary a word about the Hutsons.
Benjamin Bixby (DEFUNCT)
Plenty of rappers have started their own clothing lines, but few have gained the cult status of André Benjamin's Benjamin Bixby. Its Ivy-inspired, Polo-like clothing designed by one half of Outkast was enough to get it a nomination in 2009. On a larger basis though, the economy at the time was unkind and falling sales combined with high prices pushed Andre 3000 to eventually close down the business less than a year after the nomination. In an interview with GQ in 2012, he said he'd bring the brand back as Bixby, but we yet to see any new clothing from Three Stacks.
With raw denim and "made in the U.S.A." fever sweeping the Internet and clothing racks at the time, Save Khaki tried their damnedest to make khakis (duh) cool again. A tall feat for sure, I know. Whether it actually did that, I'm not so sure. But the New York-based brand still has three stores in NYC alone and plenty of stockists around the world selling its selection, which today feature more than simply chinos.
Robert Geller (2009 WINNER)
Come on now, this is Robbie we're talking about! Jon Moy's best friend! Though, I'm definitely better friends with him because I've actually talked to him in person. Yes, Robert Geller won the BNMDA competition in 2009, taking home $50,000 and designing a capsule collection with Levi’s. "From what I heard afterwards, Thom Browne [who was on the judging panel] was really pushing for me," Geller tells Four Pins. "That I was important and it was a different look. In the spectrum of the business, $50,000 is not that much. But the exposure does more. It was the first step where people started paying attention and knew the name more." Since his much-deserved victory and the CFDA nominations he racked up around the same time, Robert Geller has become one of our favorite brands and been recognized for his work, taking home the 2011 Swarovski Award for Menswear.
Yigal Azrouël (DEFUNCT MEN'S BUSINESS)
These early days of the BNMDA process really hammered on the "new designer" angle. Many of the brands selected were within the first few years of a their respective designer's career. Azrouël started his brand in 2007 and was nominated just two years later. Unfortunately, he stopped producing men's collections after the F/W 2012 collection, which was pretty fire. The brand now only produces womenswear.
Shipley & Halmos
S&H occupies a weird middle ground in men's fashion with sort of sporty, sort of masculine, sort of mainstream clothing. Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos had previously founded Torvata, but moved on to found S&H in 2007. Now, Sam and Jeff are designing Haspel full-time, while the Shipley & Halmos website features a post-it note that basically says "BRB."
Rogues Gallery (DEFUNCT)
In 2003, Alex Carleton founded Rogues Gallery in Maine while working for L.L. Bean after some time at Ralph Lauren. Rogues Gallery was initially a side project and though Carlson gained quite a bit of recognition for his work and eventually even brought on Aaron Levine, who has since gone on to Club Monaco, Rogues Gallery closed in 2013. Carleton moved onto L.L.Bean Signature and then Filson soon after.
Billy Reid (2010 WINNER)
The 2010 competition winner, Billy Reid wasn’t exactly new as he began his menswear business as William Reid in 1998. After shuttering that iteration and restarting as Billy Reid in 2004, the Florence, Alabama-based brand is now one of the best and most recognizable American menswear brands, having celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. To quote another menswear writer, he is the Dixieland Daiki (Suzuki). We can't think of a more appropriate nickname.
Caulfield Preparatory (DEFUNCT)
Experiencing possibly one of the quickest downturns in BNMDA history, there's not much of a remaining footprint for Caulfield Preperatory whatsoever. Just over a year after being nominated, the vapid, preppy clothing brand with one of the corniest names of all time was gone just like that.
If you remember back to when mewelry was having a serious moment, Burkman Bros was one of the bigger names in the men's accessories game, with Kanye wearing their signature friendship bracelets as part of his now iconic Céline blouse fit at Coachella. The brand is still around today and, yes, does make proper clothing.
2010 was a pretty good year for Chai as he won the CFDA Best Menswear Designer of The Year and was nominated for GQ's BNMDA. Though we don't regularly pay too attention to Chai aside from New York Fashion Week, his collections consistently impress even though it's rare to spot anyone outside of a celebrity sporting his designs.
Unis' calling card is its skinny chino, called the "Gio." And those pants are on the legs of so many people thanks to GQ. Designer Eunice Lee has been a sight for sore eyes in the menswear game since she founded Unis in 2000. While she wasn't exactly new when she was nominated, she says her experience in the competition made her look deeper than she had previously. "You start to ask yourself, 'Why do I exist as a men's brand or as a brand period? What makes me different?'" she tells Four Pins. "I looked at myself more. That was when I decided I was going to fucking own these chinos. And GQ was fully in support of it." The brand's outposts in L.A. and New York are clean and simple, stocked with those amazing chinos and varsity jackets surrounded by the likes of Common Projects, Makr and Anonymous Ism.
J.Crew, Frank Muytjens
This was the first instance of a designer being nominated on a more "corporate" basis, so to speak. In 2010, #menswear had begun to boom and J.Crew was one of the driving forces behind that. And it was Muytjens that really revived J.Crew's efforts after he was appointed as menswear chief of design in 2008, shepherding their heralded Liquor Store and culture of collaboration. Though, admittedly, the idea of Frank or J.Crew as "new" was a bit off base as he had spent eight years working at Ralph Lauren before joining J.Crew in 2004. In 2015, J.Crew continues to be a retail monster, bringing many a menswear trend to the masses.
2011, First and only year of Dockers capsule collection done by all nominees
You know who Patrik Ervell is. His minimal, sometimes off-beat clothing is a calling card for New York style and he's successfully blended experimentation with more conservative basics extremely well. He continues to be a sophisticated menswear and CFDA player.
Warriors of Radness (DEFUNCT)
Warriors of Radness' gnarly west coast clothing seems to have come a few years too early. Nowadays, everyone is buzzing toward west coast gear, but the brand shuttered after its S/S 13 collection, which looks like it may have never actually made it shelves. The brand itself was bought by American Apparel in July 2012 and folded into the company, which you may know isn't doing all that well for itself either.
Riviera Club (DEFUNCT)
2011 was probably one of the biggest years for #menswear after it initially picked up steam. It was that year that Tumblr sent literally 20 bloggers to NYFW to capitalize on the blogging service's fashion love. Riviera Club was just one of the many casualties of the brands that started up around that time. But don't cry for Riviera Club. Its co-founders are dong just fine. Greg Ullery is designer director at Lucky Brand, while Joe Sadler and Derek Buse have teamed up to start their next chapter with CWST.
Gant by Michael Bastian (DEFUNCT)
Gant by Michael Bastian was the first partnered brand to be nominated for GQ’s BNMDA. It came at the right time too. The dual label brand had a huge presence in 2011 when guys wanted to wear sport coats and more buttoned-up looks to their jobs that didn't require them to do such. Ah, who can even forget that nerd renaissance? Despite that early success, the partnership between Gant and Bastian ended after the F/W 2014 season, but that doesn't mean everyone involved doesn't look back on the collaboration as game-changing. "That was a big deal for me, and for Gant as well because there was this perception that secondary and collaboration lines aren’t considered designer lines," Michael Bastian tells Four Pins. "We approached Gant by Michael Bastian as a designer line at a different price point, but it was just as designed as anything else we had done. So getting recognized like that changed everything."
A mostly bespoke tailor service/haberdashery in New York's West Village, Miller's Oath is still around. Founder Kirk Miller put in shifts at Paul Stuart, Thom Browne and Barker Black, who you might remember was a BNMDA nominee with his brother in 2007, making him the only designer ever to be essentially nominated twice. You can even find Lawrence talking about cutaway collars in the ACL comments from a 2011 story about Miller’s Oath. While made to measure suits will never go out of style, in retrospect, Miller's Oath seemed like a strange choice for a competition rewarding fashion "designers."
T By Alexander Wang (2011 WINNER)
When you Google "T by Alexander Wang," the first references are all in respects to the women's side of the business, which makes sense because Wang is primarily and most famously a womenswear designer. But against one of the biggest and best BNMDA classes, T by Alexander Wang won the final year of the competition format and received money to expand the line, while every nominee involved participated in a Dockers collaboration. Since his win, Wang has only grown and reinforced his menswear business into one of the strongest and recognizable in fashion.
2012, First year without a designated winner and start of Gap collaboration
Ian Velardi (DEFUNCT?)
One of the most beloved brands in recent menswear memory, Ian Velardi unfortunately closed up shop after what was a spectacular F/W 13 collection. If you're unfamiliar, peruse his site. Velardi melded tailoring with the kind of casual sportswear that we're all wearing basically every single day now. His insane puffer robe/coat is still a piece of menswear lore—a true grail—at least in my mind. Ian went on to become the design director at Bonobos, but he says the brand isn't dead, simply hibernating until the time is right. "I ran my business completely on my own from sales to logistics," Velardi tells Four Pins. "I managed everything. It's very consuming. I knew there was no way I could grow my business without a proper investment. But it was never going to be a permanent thing. I'll come back when the time is right." Fingers firmly crossed.
Ovadia & Sons
The Ovadia & Sons cup has runneth over since brothers Shimon and Ariel opened shop back in 2009. The brand is clearly still going strong and has shifted acutely with trends, opting for a more high-fashion look as of late after starting with a traditional menswear look. 2012 was the first non-competition year and each participant received a $10,000 check and a Gap collaboration, of which the O&S gear was amongst the most coveted. "We think that it's great that it wasn't made into a competition," the Ovadias tell Four Pins. "It made our approach more relaxed and gave the designers the opportunity to just celebrate the moment together. Everyone won just by being nominated."
By 2012, the Swedish-born Johan Lindeberg had already had a successful menswear run thanks a stint at Diesel and running his own namesake J.Lindeberg brand, but left in 2011 to focus on a new venture, the denim and leather-centric BLK DNM. Today, Lindeberg is a fashion party fixture and as quintessentially New York as any designer in the city.
Whether it was a function of playing it a bit safe with the other nominees, McNairy was the wildcard of 2012. He's still around doing his McNairy thing like only McNairy can, of course, churning out camo, tie-dye and floral each and every season. His reputation-building, unique take on footwear still grounds his namesake label to the floor and his curmudgeon-y attitude combined with gaudy designs makes for a hell of a fucking pair. You gotta love this guy.
Back then, as they still do now, Saturdays really had the formula down with its blend of simple menswear basics that evolved out of a surfing ethos. Today, its patented world of coffee shop-cum-menswear store, is as appealing as ever. They're HUGE in Japan.
Personally speaking, having gone to college in Des Moines, being interested in men's fashion and knowing who Todd Snyder is went pretty much hand-in-hand for me. Snyder worked his way up through retail at local menswear outpost Badowers before hitting New York to hone his skills at Ralph Lauren, Gap and J.Crew. He's since gone on to great success, regularly providing the few times that menswear dudes got to hit up Lincoln Center for Fashion Week and a continued collaboration with Champion.
2013 was perhaps the year with the least name recognition and the safest choices fashion-wise. It also narrowed down the pool (beginning in 2007 with eight, subsequently moving to six, then five) to four nominees. Bespoken was founded by two brothers who actually worked in their fathers business, Turnbull & Asser—PERHAPS YOU HAVE HEARD OF IT—before founding their own label in 2008. The clothing is nothing overly daring or innovative, but strong and successful enough, providing a unique take on classic tailoring with the heritage to actually match the ambition.
I remember first hearing of Ernest Alexander through some random Tumblr posts when it was just doing bags and leather goods. Now, it's a full-blown menswear label showing at Men's Day during Fashion Week. It's still mainly an accessories business, but the growing men's collection is a welcomed change for the J.Crew set.
Baldwin is a true, homegrown menswear brand in the same vein as, say, a Billy Reid and is still based in Kansas City today. Baldwin is known for producing solid denim at solid prices and continues to expand it's offerings into a wide variety of categories each and every season.
This one remains a fucking mystery, fam. I, like pretty much everyone else, had never heard of Aviator Nation before their BNMDA nomination and haven't heard of it since. But the brand does has five stores in California. Was Aviator Nation's seemingly out of nowhere success based on the fact that it's founder, Paige Mycoskie, is the sister of TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie? All we know for sure is that Aviator Nation is without a doubt the least deserving, aesthetically abysmal nominated brand in the history of this competition.
The uniform for “young creatives” who “need a suit,” Brooklyn Tailors is doing everything it can to keep the menswear uniform "alive" with a selection of updated, skinny suiting, shirts and ties from their outpost in, you guessed it, Brooklyn.
GQ’s fascination with west coast-inspired clothing is clear as it has actively worked to include surf-like brands in quite a few years of the competition. This is by design as creative director Jim Moore mentioned in our introduction. There's only so much that can happen within a year, give or take, so M.Nii—designed and founded by the guy who came up with the Hollister concept for A&F—is still kicking around as to be expected.
John Elliott + Co.
John Elliott's rise has been well-documented on this very site, from his love for Nike to the fact that Kanye showed up to his first ever runway show. The brand just keeps gaining steam, has added great new pieces to its rotation of staples and continues to impress, earning the distinction of being the Four Pins 2014 Designer Of The Year, which is obviously an extremely official award. We are full-blown JE stans and aren't afraid to admit it.
Rob Garcia was basically the heart, soul and face of En Noir as the GQ nomination process took hold. Now, Rob has left En Noir to start his own brand, Rob Garcia, and what's left of En Noir is still waiting to be sorted out. We're not sure exactly what's going to happen to every rapper's favorite leather sweatpants, but the brand's website reads "collection coming soon," so no doubt time will tell.
So, what's our takeaway here? I mean, we have to provide you with something, right? Well, there is a lesson to learn here. GQ's Best New Menswear Designer in America competition has done an incredible job of surfacing of disparate brands and designers under a single umbrella dedicated to finding the best emerging fashion talent who call America home. Some of GQ's choices have shined bright while others have flamed out spectacularly because you can't win 'em all. That's just life. For the most part though, GQ's choices for the past nine years, including the most recent 2015 class, have been on point. In GQ's case, it's shooting, like, 80% from the field aka hall of fame type numbers. "We don't have any different crystal ball than anyone else has," Jim Moore says. "There's a few people on this list that are no longer around or maybe they're around but they've retooled their business. But we do like to watch everyone. At the end of it, you feel you've helped out a designer."
With menswear absolutely bursting at the seams with countless new brands poised to either fly or flounder, GQ has done the thankless and dirty work in anointing some of the truly best menswear on a pretty damn near consistent basis. Print media may be dead, but good taste will never die.