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If you've followed fashion in any capacity in the last week, you'll have seen that L.A.'s Band of Outsiders is on its way out. The company has dropped news that it's NYC storefront is closing up shop, sparking a major sale as a result. For fans of the brand, it's official—Band of Outsiders is...disbanding.
With over 10 years in the fashion world, the brand has made itself known in it's short time, with CFDA honors (including tying for "Menswear Designer of the Year" in 2009), a slew of high profile collaborations, and a massive roster of celebrity friends willing to lend their faces to the brand's numerous Polaroid-centric ad campaigns.
I sat down with self-identifying menswear nerd Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon) to discuss Band of Outsider's past collections, the issues at present, and how it will be remembered in the future.
Jian DeLeon: Band of Outsiders started in January 2004, helmed by Scott Sternberg, former Hollywood agent. LA’s not a suit place. You’ve got your CAA agents and your Ari Gold types, but the retail scene there was not as robust as it is now. You had that amazing store, Confederacy, but not much else. That was one of the best menswear stores of its time. R.I.P. Confederacy. I discovered Band around 2007, or 2008, and at the time, the whole rebel prep thing was in; Rugby was still alive at Ralph Lauren. J.Crew was starting to get fire. I think Frank Muytjens had just gotten hired [at J.Crew]. To me, Band was like an entry level fashion brand, with a capital F. That’s like, the first “fashion” brand that dudes could really fuck with because it was so accessible and the silhouettes.
Greg Babcock: The way I think about it, is that if you’re buying Ralph at the outlet mall, or you’re buying Ralph in high school, you could buy yourself Band and it’d have the kind of rebellious style you were looking for—but you were still comfortable with the silhouettes and what it was really going to offer for you. But I think, you’re talking about L.A .as a style “non-capital;” at least in this context—during the beginnings of the brand. I think what Band of Outsiders does, is it takes the L.A. aesthetic—which is very Hollywood-driven—and has Sternberg tell his own story in that environment. Those inspirations are a main focal point for the brand. The brand is named for a French film with the same name, by Jean-Luc Godard. Inevitably, it’s meant to signify a group of outsiders within the scene.
JD: There’s always been a sort of cultural cheekiness. There was sort of an art school aspect to the brand, especially with the René Magritte reference, “This is Not a Polo Shirt”, when they branched out into more casual offerings. At its core, I think Band of Outsiders, for many guys, was the first big purchase that they would make in the menswear realm. When it’s like, “I bought this $98 chambray shirt from J.Crew. Could clothes get better?” And then you find Band. You put a Band shirt on, and it almost feels like a second skin made of Oxford...with mother of pearl buttons, the box pleat in the back, and all these bells and whistles.
GB: It’s details like those that make it better than your regular big box store, while still offering those amenities for the male buyer. Inevitably, it’s probably part of their downfall, but at the time, that cheekiness was appreciated.
JD: That’s part of the appeal of the brand, especially for Internet menswear nerds. A majority of them are tall, and skinny, and can never find clothes that fit. It was sort of a running joke that, after Band of Outsiders came out, dudes would buy shirts from Brooks Brothers and J.Crew and you would take them to the tailor to make them “fit like Band.” I’m guilty of this. I actually bought a Yves Saint Laurent shirt from Beacon’s Closet way, way back in the day. I took it to the tailor along with this white Band of Outsiders shirt I’d purchased. I said, “Make this gingham shirt fit like the Band shirt.” I even had them recreate the box pleat.
GB: Seersucker gingham. That sounds like Band of Outsiders. It sounds like something you’d find at 70 Wooster. But noting the internet’s relationship with Band, one of the most powerful marketing schemes for B.O.O., is the use of Polaroids in their campaigns Remember in the beginning of the 2010s, when Polaroids were very hip? And for it to have a roster of celebrities wearing its clothes, using the Polaroids gave the campaigns an intimate feel—it adds another layer of character to the L.A. vibe that this is aiming for.
JD: The Polaroids were a huge aspect, as were the art school aspect, indie film. It was like an indie film that was a fashion brand. That’s super interesting to note. Five years ago, in Fall 2010, I was at my first New York Fashion Week ever. Band of Outsiders was my first “legit” fashion show. This was one of their last presentations before they went to full runway. The Fall 2010 collection looked like a Wes Anderson movie come to life. There was a vintage Jaguar, the models were wearing puffy down vests over their oxfords, blazers, and tweeds. Some of them were standing on fake snow cap pedestals. I’ll never forget it because that was the first time I ever saw Anna Wintour in real life. When she walked in the room, I was looking around like, this is what it’s like to be in fashion. All the models looked at her, and some of them got off their respective blocking and took pictures of her. That’s one of my special connections to the brand.
GB: Absolutely. That’s show sounds like one of the best descriptions. And even the actors that he chose would be casted in that film (in this case the ad campaigns). You have Aziz Ansari, Frank Ocean, Michelle Williams, Jason Schwartzman, Kirsten Dunst, Donald Glover, Charles Hamilton. These are people who are recognizable, but are certainly very much on the outside...Hollywood, Fashion, etc. In a way, they’re Hollywood outsiders, and so “Band of Outsiders” is very applicable.
JD: I think we can say that the Band of Outsiders landmark moment in pop culture was 2013 Grammys when Frank Ocean performed “Forrest Gump” in the really bright tuxedo.
GB: That, to me, is the most recognizable Band moment. People knew that Band had made that tuxedo, and that was also tied in to what’s likely the beginning of Frank Ocean’s pop appeal.
JD: Don’t forget Anna Kendrick wore a Band of Outsiders tux at the 2015 Grammys.
GB: True! But let’s shift forward in time for a moment. In 2011 in the summer, Band debuted Spring 2012 menswear at Pitti Uomo.
JD: Right, they were the featured designers.
GB: To have that in your brand history at that point is huge. Pitti Uomo is the menswear spot, and for a brand like this—which thrives on the Wes Andersonian vibe of “works in New York City/ summers in an Italian villa/vacations at the Grand Budapest Hotel”—kind of all coming together, there’s a level of European luxury that the brand had exuded, but now had solidified with that kind of presentation.
JD: It was super expensive. The New York Times did an article about how their khakis cost like $400, everything was made in the USA, their suits were Martin Greenfield, who’s the same guy who makes suits for Rag & Bone and Boardwalk Empire. He’s one of those legit Brooklyn tailors. One of the funniest things about Band, and one of the things that any guy who’s owned a Band shirt can attest to, is that these are well-fitting, beautiful shirts, but the buttons are sewn like shit. Within a week, the buttons would fall out. And having to sew them on actually made me like the shirts more.
GB: There lies one of the pillars of the problems that Band faced. What you’re paying for is the luxury, and what you’re getting isn’t exactly what you’re paying for. It’s a little bit like a Wizard of Oz moment, when you’re like, “Oh wait, I paid $200 for a shirt, but the buttons are falling off.”
JD: True, but it didn’t make me like it any less, you know? The buttons are still mother of pearl, it still has the box pleats, it still fits great. I think for dudes that go from one end of the spectrum of clothing of wanting quality to wanting style, and what they’re paying for the cut and the cachet of a certain brand. It was fashion-y enough to make you feel better about shopping at the mall or at a box store, but it was accessible enough that they could not feel like they were pushing the envelope too much. Menswear moves at the pace of a glacier, and this was the moment when guys were moving from this very well-defined notion of what menswear was, to the notion of menswear being clothes that just “men wear.”
GB: If we’re talking in the timeline of menswear, and if 2013 is the year of the street goth, what are we looking at in terms of 2008 and 2010? I mean, that’s the tail end of the preppy era going into sprezzatura and Americana, so was Band embodying both of those things.
JD: I think his most understated impact is that Scott Sternberg made cropped, slim-fitting shirts cool. Brooks Brothers extra slim fit shirts did not exist until after Band of Outsiders. I wanna say they were introduced around 2012. In terms of larger universe of menswear and trends that trickle down to the mainstream, Band of Outsiders directly led to Brooks Brothers saying their shirts weren’t slim enough, let’s make them super slim. J.Crew has a slim fit now. The fact that slim fit is such a common offering for shirts, is a reflection that guys weren’t satisfied with the current status flow of how shirts should fit. Band of Outsiders is integral of ushering in that wave.
Even Ralph Lauren has always had their custom fit and their regular fit, but now their custom fit is even more trimmer than it was back then. The raised arm holes are a thing now. Band has the higher arm holes so you didn’t have the little "billowy-ness" under the armpit.
GB: I can remember being in high school and trying to find shirting at your local mall, and those features were not embedded, particularly before 2010.
JD: I think it’s important to note that. By the very nature by which shirts are made, people don’t understand you can’t exactly take a billowy arm hole and raise it up and have it look exactly the same. The way the shirt is cut, imagine adding sleeves onto a vest. If the vest is already wide at the arm holes, you can’t add more fabric where it’s already been cut away for the billowiness of a sleeve. You’re talking about going back to basics of the very pattern. Band made that part of the new normal.
GB: Band is the brand who maybe didn’t reinvent the wheel, but made it run a little smoother.
JD: It’s like music. There are two ways of making it. You either do something new that blows everybody’s minds, or you do something really familiar really well and get enough people to fuck with it that they can’t get it out of their heads. It’s like Taylor Swift and Drake, where one is a totally creative and new paradigm, and the other is altering the old paradigm to fit a new message.
GB: Let’s talk collabs. Sperry is easily the most notable [collaboration] and easily the best fit. Obviously Sperry has a history as a boat shoe that ultimately found a home within the preppy masses who had the money and the means to go sailing and own a boat. It’s what helped it become a staple of Ivy League style.
JD: Band of Outsiders made the boat chukka cool. Before then, the boat shoe wasn’t going anywhere. Leather was a classic Sperry Top-Sider, even the “super bro” Billfish, but that essentially looked like a New Balance tech trainer as a boat shoe.
GB: Before this, boat shoes were for your dad. Band of Outsiders were doing them with fur, with nylon, with sweatshirt material, suede, corduroy.
JD: You’re right, it was the suede ones and the leather ones that people really resonated with. There was a solid two years where that was the look. It was like, desert boots or boat chukkas. Boat chukkas fall into the realm of just...fashion, because it’s all about aesthetics and zero pragmatism. They don’t really offer any more traction than a regular boat shoe on a boat. They just looked different enough that what you’d see on the street that it was pushing the envelope. But it was never so far that you fall off the deep end.
GB: I mean there’s the charm; it’s comfortable, it’s familiar, but it’s not offensive to your tastes.
JD: Le’ts not forget more important collabs too, likw the rain boots. Sperry made boat boots. It was crazy. I actually have a pair of those—the black ballistic nylon boat boots that were modern duck boots. I bought them thinking they would be super practical, but they’re not waterproof, they’re not that rainproof, but they do look cool with stacked denim or chinos.
GB: Aside from Sperry, their other collaborations primarily involved stores. One major clothing collaboration has to be with Barneys New York. The title of that collection was, and still is, “No Bunk No Junk” which is a reference to Barney’s original tagline in the 20’s.
JD: You know Barneys started originally as a bargain basement store, which is what that slogan makes reference to.
GB: Let’s remember, aside from just collaborating with Barneys, having your collection in Barneys (just ask Virgil Abloh) makes a major difference in how you’re perceived publically.
GB: Simply put, it’s an indicator of luxury and designer status for your brand. But let’s move on. Another store Band worked with includes Opening Ceremony. Band of Outsiders did something that tied in with the 2012 London Olympics, and that was sold at OC stores across the world.
JD: OC and Band are a great fit because the offer a similar quirkiness. I think one of Band’s main problems was, like any sort of indie band trying to make it mainstream, you can’t appeal to the masses without sacrificing a little bit of what made you special to the few.
GB: And maybe that’s why their collaboration at Target didn’t work.
JD: That’s also a problem with the brand. The bigger you get, you have to appeal to more people, and you sort of lose sight as to why people started getting into you in the first place. Look at [French band] Phoenix. Their first couple albums were dope and super strong, and as that band got bigger, the sound got more mainstream. Kings of Leon is another example.
GB: I mean really, B.O.O.’s collaboration with Target is known for selling poorly. I think the reason for that is because the enjoyment of shopping in, and wearing Band was that you were in on the joke. You understood what you were wearing was not only expensive, but also had that tongue-in-cheek kind of impression. When your mom can go and buy a Band of Outsiders beanie at Target, the joke’s less funny.
JD: I don’t think it’s that, I think it’s more that more people started making well-fitting shit. Like now, you could go to Uniqlo or to Gap and you can get a selvedge denim.
GB: That’s an “over-time” change, I would say.
JD: I think the brand’s decline has more to due with the fact that everybody got onto the bandwagon that they had built, but they got onto it at lower prices. Scott Sternberg talked about this at the Fashionista Summit, where, whenever you want to have a big fashion brand of a collection, you have to have a really strong vision. He was mentioning Joseph Altuzarra as one of the last people that had that. Sternberg is a great stylist, but by no means is he a groundbreaking designer. He’s like slight built dude that wanted to make clothes that fit him.
GB: His aesthetic has really taken off, in a more recent sense, in Japan. In fact, they opened a store about two years ago in Tokyo, and the brand has gotten a lot of following, just in that short amount of time. Maybe it’s because of the fit, and maybe it’s because that aesthetic is appreciated, but either way, I think in America, the service that Band of Outsiders once provided exclusively is no longer exclusive.
JD: Yeah, but let’s keep in mind Japan has saved two huge American traditional menswear brands. The first being J. Press, which was the alternate Brooks Brothers. They went out of business, and now they’re a Japanese-owned company. The second is Thom Browne, who almost went out of business, until he got a Japanese investor. I’m just trying to point out that the Japanese market has long favored this type of menswear. What is Band offering that those other two aren’t?
GB: That could be the end of the brand right there. Band hasn’t publicly spoke about why it’s closing down. Obviously we’ve talked about hints and over time what it’s offered—and importantly—what it didn’t offer compared to its competitors. From my perspective, Band closed because they were offering things at a price point that made them non-competitive for what they were providing. Add in the fact that Band of Outsiders is an independent brand—meaning it’s independent of help from a conglomerate like LVMH or Kering. Ultimately it sounds like it was unable to handle the financial responsibilities that go into not only producing a collection, but selling one as well.
JD: Honestly, I think it’s that their women’s business didn’t take off as much as they had thought it would. If you want to become a legit fashion brand, women’s is the name of the game. That’s why Virgil Abloh is making a women’s collection, and that’s why Raf is at Dior making women’s clothing. It legitimizes you as a designer, but that’s where the money is. Menswear as a market is growing, but it’s smaller.
I feel like Band wanted to grow as a business, and I think their menswear business was as robust as ever, but I feel like they may have lost sight of their core consumers. Those are the men who want to dress like a cheekier Wes Anderson character, and the women who also want to fit into that aesthetic too. I think if they had stuck to that and kept that vision lean and focused; really just made that aesthetic their signature, they probably would have had a longer staying power. At least they would have known about the direction their business should go in and the stuff that people come to them for.
GB: Rubgy is a cult brand, and by a very distant connection, Benjamin Bixby is also a cult brand for those who are really into that aesthetic. Do you think Band of Outsiders will become a cult collectible brand as it fades out?
JD: I think Band’s legacy is that it will be looked on fondly by dudes who were just getting into fashion and learning about the notion of spending a shit ton of money on clothes that made that feel like a better version of themselves. Band of Outsiders is a gateway drug to runway fashion for many men. As the trends changed and more people were putting out different things, the guy that buys a Band of Outsiders shirt for $200 is the same guy that now looks at a John Elliott & Co. hoodie and says, “You know what? That’s a decent price for a hoodie with side zips made of terry fleece that fits.”
It builds up a tolerance to sticker shock, and you get what fashion and menswear is about, which is like, “I’m going to buy this, not necessarily because it’s the last shirt I’m going to buy, but because I think this is awesome enough to be worth the amount of money.” A lot of us ended up either giving it away to friends who were slightly skinnier than us, or selling it on eBay or forums because we decided it wasn’t us anymore. Band of Outsiders is the marijuana to the molly water that is Rick Owens.
GB: Band of Outsiders does cater to nerds as a whole, and I think for menswear nerds, or guys who have a nerdy personalities in the way they obsess over things, Band was able to turn those nerdy personalities from something like video games (they did do a collaboration with Atari), and turn those things into a long lasting love of menswear and high fashion product.
Band will be remembered fondly, but its lasting impression will be more on personal memories with the brand than with design innovation.
JD: To be extremely honest, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that if Band came back, I’d be glad...but I still wouldn’t buy it.