Singer-songwriter-actor Lyle Lovett can add fashion designer to his list of talents this month as a line of Western shirts he created in collaboration with custom shirtmaker Hamilton rolls out to retail. We recently had a chance to chat with the Texan about the partnership, his sense of style and how constantly tweaking the details of his shirts eventually landed him a role as attorney Monte P. Flagman on AMC's series "The Bridge."
When we recently saw you and the Large Band at the Hollywood Bowl, you were all wearing suits. What's behind the way you dress on stage?
I want the audience's first impression of us to be that we're taking what we do seriously.
Do you have a go-to label you like to wear?
For years I've worn Prada on stage. The suit from the Hollywood Bowl was a lightweight kid mohair which breathes really nicely in the summertime, which is important, and it hangs out well after a show so I'm able to wear it more than once a tour. And I find that Prada's designs fit me right off the rack.
What other designers are on your radar?
All the classic stuff. I love Gucci clothes, Paul Smith I think does wonderful stuff. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. [Giorgio] Armani years ago in Milan and go to one of his shows, and that was something I'll never forget. It was like getting to [walk in] a Comme des Garcons [runway] show for Rei Kawakubo [in Paris in 1992]. It was just magical.
Who do you credit for shaping your sense of style?
My mom and my dad. What they wore for work was always something they were very deliberate about. ... Somehow I always have sort of been conscious of what I was going to wear for the day and always had that feeling that ... my day could be better or worse depending on the shirt I wore. If I was happy in my shirt, I was happy that day.
So how did you go from someone who appreciated the emotional value of a good shirt to someone whose name is on the label of a Lyle Lovett for Hamilton shirt?
For a long time I'd been getting my Western dress shirts at a saddlery and westernwear shop by the name of M.L. Leddy's in Forth Worth [Texas], which gets its private-label shirts made by Hamilton. The guy in charge of the men's department there — his name is John Ripps — would let me go through the fabric books and help me order my custom shirts.
After a couple of years of ordering shirts, I started asking him if maybe they could change this or change that detail. I think my first change was the pocket flap. I thought the pocket flap was a little too deep. Then I thought the line on the pocket flap was a little too straight so I asked him if we could do a scallop. After fooling with me for a couple of orders, Ripps suggested I should go to Hamilton's down in Houston and introduce myself.
So I've been ordering my shirts from them ever since, based on their Western dress shirt design with my little tweaks. I'd seem to change something with just about every order, so the shirts kind of just evolved over the years.
And back in January when I was in there ordering shirts, I said to David [Hamilton]: "Do you think anyone else would like my [shirt] modifications?" And David said: "Yeah, well, maybe." And I said: "Would you be willing to do a shirt with me, with my name on [it]?" And he said: "Yeah, that'd be fun."
And it was as simple as that.
What are some of the modifications that make these shirts different?
It really is just about the design details. One is the shape of the scallop. I wanted the scallop to be consistent from the yoke on the back of the shirt to the yoke on the front of the shirt to the shape of the scallop on the pocket flap. And the button stance. I prefer mine to be just an inch higher than on a normal dress shirt. And the cuff is different. Their standard Western shirts have just a standard dress cuff on the sleeve and I wanted to do more of a Western cuff, which is a little bit longer and has three buttons on it instead of the regular one.
So the project sort of just evolved gradually?
This wasn't a "Hey, I want to design a shirt" kind of thing, it's just [a version of] the shirt that I wear. And the funny thing is, the shirt project is kind of how I ended up getting a part on "The Bridge."
You're going to need to explain that.
Back at the end of March, I was with David and Kelly Hamilton in New York to show the shirts to some men's magazine editors. I'm in the lobby of my hotel, and I run into [actor] Ted Levine, who said he was in town doing press for this new show. He goes upstairs and mentions that he saw me down in the lobby. [Fellow cast member] Annabeth Gish said she knew me and would make the introduction — and that's how it happened.
(What Lovett didn't realize at the time was that the show's creator, Elwood Reid, had used him as the basis for one of the characters in the series — and that's the part he got.)
The Lyle Lovett for Hamilton collection retails from $225 to $265 and consists of 22 different ready-to-wear versions of the custom Western shirts the 130-year-old company makes for the singer/songwriter.
Tweaked details include the curved yoke and pocket flaps and three-button barrel cuffs. Like the rest of Hamilton's wares, the entire collection is hand-cut and hand-sewn in the company's Houston factory.
The shirts are available at Mohawk Man, 4017 W.st Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, and online at Hamilton's website.