It’s not just any fashion brand that can get A-listers Cameron Diaz and Reese Witherspoon to come out for a store opening on a Friday night in L.A. on a stretch of Melrose that until now has been a retail wasteland.
But British-born, New York-based Rag & Bone designers Marcus Wainwright and David Neville did just that when they threw a party last month for the opening of their mammoth, 9,000-square-foot L.A. flagship that was hosted by Bee Shaffer, the daughter of Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour.
Then again, the denim capital seems to be a natural home for Rag & Bone, which was founded 10 years ago on the dream of making the perfect pair of dark jeans and is now a $125-million business encompassing men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and accessories. And the photogenic designers — Englishmen in New York with boyish good looks — are straight out of Central Casting. So much so, apparently, that Creative Artists Agency signed them last year.
FOR THE RECORD:
Rag & Bone An article in the Nov. 25 Image section about clothing label Rag & Bone identified Jeffrey Kalinsky as fashion director of Nordstrom; he is Nordstrom’s executive director of designer merchandising.
“I would live here if I could,” says Neville, 36, who lists Urth Caffe down the street from the new store, the view from the Hollywood Hills and the drum circles on Venice Beach as a few of his favorite L.A. things. Neville lives in New York with his wife, celebrity makeup artist Gucci Westman, whose best friend, Diaz, is godmother to their son. Fellow New York transplant Wainwright, 37, is married to model Glenna Neece.
Together, with no formal fashion training, the two designers have cultivated a particular brand of transatlantic cool that is resonating with retailers, shoppers and celebrities who are snapping up Rag & Bone’s $105 drapey T-shirts, $253 motocross-
inspired jeans, $495 ankle boots and $1,595 biker jacket-tailcoat hybrids. The look mixes elements of British tailoring and military uniforms with America’s rugged workwear and technical sportswear.
The brand is sold in hundreds of stores around the world, as well as in 11 free-standing Rag & Bone boutiques, all of which have an old industrial haberdashery feel.
This season, the designers launched their first ad campaign — starring Kate Moss, no less — and their first handbag, called the Pilot.
“What makes Rag & Bone so successful and appealing is that the person who buys it can automatically become a member of their club,” says Jeffrey Kalinsky, fashion director of Nordstrom.
In stores now, the fall collection is English countryside meets the Raj, with layers upon layers of richly textured pieces, such as striped blanket coats over metallic schoolboy blazers, jodhpurs fastened with trooper belts, shearling vests worn over tweedy wrap skirts, herringbone sweater dresses shot through with copper Lurex thread worn over chunky legwarmers and the Harrow ankle boot covered in a faded tapestry print.
The designers were after “a decayed look,” to reflect “the decline of the British Empire and the English aristocracy” and to capture the way in which the British have incorporated various elements of the colonies back into their own culture, Wainwright says. He notes one piece of visual inspiration: a photo of Lord Guinness at his country house, dressed in an ikat blazer.
The brand’s design sensibility is rooted in the men’s backgrounds.
Wainwright and Neville met as students at Wellington College in Berkshire, England, an elite boarding school on par with Eton, where they wore uniforms from age 7.
“Everyone was expected to become bankers or lawyers. I don’t think anyone would have given us the time of day if we told them we wanted to go into fashion,” Neville says.
Wainwright moved to New York first, after a year bumming around the beach in Mexico. Neville followed after a short stint in investment banking. At first, their goal was very specific: to make a great pair of men’s jeans, something they couldn’t find in the market but wanted to wear themselves. The task took Wainwright on several unsuccessful trips to factories in Asia before he landed at a Kentucky textile mill that specialized in American workwear.
As they broadened their menswear offerings to include jackets, trousers and button-downs, they relied on New York’s Garment District to be their guide, wandering in and out of button and fabric shops until they found resources. By 2004, they had a full menswear line. And in 2005, they launched women’s wear at their first New York Fashion Week presentation.
“I remember their first show was very small and charming,” says Steven Kolb, chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designer of America, an industry group. “Now they have major productions, and there is Cameron Diaz. They have become one of the cornerstones of New York Fashion Week, without question.”
Rag & Bone has gotten a lot of help from the industry along the way, winning major awards from the CFDA in 2007 and 2010 that included prize money and mentoring along with recognition of their talents.
In 2006, they partnered with third-generation garmento Andrew Rosen, chief executive and owner of Theory, who has helped fund the brand’s growth and owns 30%.
“When I first met them, I said, ‘Whoa, they are just cool guys,’” says Rosen, who has invested in a number of contemporary brands.
“I see them as incredibly creative and innovative but at the same time so grounded from a business perspective. They can work both sides of the aisle.”
When Wainwright and Neville wanted counsel from Ralph Lauren, whom they consider a role model, they asked Wintour to set up a meeting. Lauren’s advice? Open your own stores, where you can build a world around the clothes.
Whether Rag & Bone can grow into a multilevel fashion behemoth like Lauren’s remains to be seen. To do that, Wainwright and Neville would probably have to give up a modicum of cool and agree to make shower curtains and sheets, the kind of lifestyle products that make a designer a household name.
They seem game.
As Wainwright says, “I’ve seen Ralph’s car collection, and I don’t think anyone would not want a business like his.”