Rowing Blazers: selling the club’s stuff to members and non-members alike

Most of us live in Ralph Lauren’s world, the one where we are a Lifshitz, which should be just fine, but in hopes of becoming something else, something we see as more, we put on the trappings of that more, portraying ourselves as belonging to, or being of, that other thing.

In Mr. Lauren’s case, he did it so well that he has not only gained admission to so much of that imitated world, but he has created a whole new universe built right over the top of that old one to the point that most of us are completely unaware of this past.

But this past still exists. As in it isn’t gone but is still alive; it just usually isn’t ours.

With an eye on this old world, I have watched this little brand, which grew out of a book, that sort of sprung from an old blog, up till just now, when I was able to go check it out in person.

Rowing Blazers has been written up by GQ and Esquire, all sorts of style or fashion folks that know much more than I, so I will stick with what I got myself from them directly.

Jack is doing the work. At the Los Angeles pop-up I found him glad handing in a way that appeared surprisingly invested. LA normally lives up to its reputation of shallow fixation on the who’s who brand of social climbing, and here we have a clothing style rooted in emblems and icons communicating very specific memberships, and here was Jack paying authentic attention to all sorts of nobodies. Like me.

I have a lot of experience with nobodies and a now solid set of associations with somebodies, and way to much intimacy with wannabees. I have learned that a defining characteristic of actual somebodies is that they do not, or no longer, need to try to act or project their somebodieness. Wannabees on the other hand must constantly police and buffer themselves against the nobodies lest such association put their charade in jeopardy.

Jack showed no interest in sleuthing my pedigree before paying me attention. I watched him act the same with others.

That works for me.

Now I have never met Ralph, and maybe he acts the same, and for all I know all of this is just an act, I know how that works, but this sort of access versus authenticity matters in the realm of tradition and clubs.

And that is most definitely the world Ralph, Jack, and any other trad, prep, ivy, or otherwise institutional representative style of clothing are engaging. But while Ralph once sued the American body governing the sport of rugby for infringing on his presumed ownership of the word “rugby” (I will never let that go), Jack sells a line of rugby shorts that celebrate the rebelliousness of that sport’s roots. While tried, and tries, to pass traditional emblems off as his own creation, Jack has published books explaining the history and meaning of sartorial emblems.

In the end they are both selling things originally meant to denote in group to those who are most decidedly not in, Rowing Blazers is at least being up front about it. I should also note that Rowing Blazers is also the official outfitter for USA Rugby, USA Rowing, and a whole bunch of other actual clubs or teams. It isn’t all for the masses.

 

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It’s The LA Moment x2: Commonwealth Proper

“I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, It’s the L.A. moment. It’s the L.A. moment.” Craig stated with enthusiasm.

He did indeed say it twice and probably has repeated that repeated phrase a million times- because it’s true.

Craig said it to me in an easy-going sort of way, looking over at Mike with a smile. The two of them had just spent the entire night painting the interior walls of Commonwealth Proper’s new showroom in DTLA.

The space used to be the backstage area of Al’s Bar, one-time hot spot to see artists like Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Replacements. You can still see what used to be the stage in what is now a clothing shop next door. When I was there I could also see a white board with a sketch of the new floor plan and a list of all the construction still left to be completed before they open. It looks to be the kind of classy with an intentionally unfinished rough edge sort of place that I would expect from Commonwealth Proper.

Commonwealth Proper has matured since it started back in 2008. It has grown up in that there will now be 4 showrooms (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, LA), and matured in that the brand doesn’t have to try to be anything other than what it is. They have established themselves and are free to be whatever sort of menswear design shop they want to be.

And I kind of love what they have become. Commonwealth Proper has done this odd thing where they have learned the skill of bespoke tailoring appropriate for Wall Street and too good for Congress, while maintaining both a sense of humor and an edge.

I am not a floral corduroy jacket or full plaid suit wearing guy, I’m too physically large for that much pattern, but I love that Craig makes and wears those things. I love even more, and am the sort of guy, that would wear a fitted navy suit with the two Ron’s, Swanson and Burgundy, printed on the lining. I would wear that to death. If someone pitched that idea to me in advance I would snicker with self-righteous doubt, which of course shows how little I know and how skilled these guys are.

A Fanboy Obeys the Giant and the Necessity of Open Arms: Shepard Fairey

A part of growth and maturation is the humble re-learning of things we already know. We understand that what goes up, must come down, yet throughout our mortality we continually toss things into the air hoping they will somehow take flight. Ideas, aspirations, children, all tossed up and most of them tumble back down with varying effect or consequence.

But sometimes things soar.

There have been times and occasions when I have thrown about the idea of committing myself to being an artist. In those moments, before the idea falls flat, I have looked at the careers and works of two artists whose work I have simply always liked- and who I have in many ways imitated. Those that soar.

One of them is Shepard Fairey.

Back when my wife and I were young, and broke, and had nothing on our walls that I hadn’t painted myself, I would troll the Obey Giant website waiting for Shepard’s flash sales but never bought anything. It is hard to justify buying art when the kid needs diapers.

So. Many. Diapers.

In 2007 I made my very first art purchase. It was just a print. The image consisted of two small African children rendered in gold, green, and orange, below the word “HOPE”. It was affordable, $15 0r $25 if I recall correctly, and all the proceeds went to Darfur. It was a perfect purchase. It looked how I liked, had a message I appreciated, with the bonus of potentially tangible aid to a cause.IMG_0489.JPG

A year or so later I saw another HOPE poster by the same artist. So did the whole world

My oldest daughter, who I thankfully caught when tossed in the air, recently reminded me that having a fandom isn’t considered cool. I asked her in all of her middle school expertise, if there were some things cool enough that fandom would be excusable. She could not think of any.

This was in my mind when I shook Shepard’s hand last Saturday.

Not that I have ever had any real cool to begin with, but I did my best to keep it in that moment. In every instance I’ve made the attempt to keep my cool when excitement was bubbling hot below the surface, the results have been stiff and awkward encounters. I was awkward and gawky. I tried not to be, as I was in this instance the guest of a guest, but “tried” almost by definition denotes failure.

Luckily the person whose guest I was initially, was, and is, cool enough that I didn’t ruin everything, but at the end of the day- I met my Luke Skywalker.

I also met, but mostly saw, a world, or crowd, not my own. I like that world, I just don’t know it. And in knowing I don’t know it, but finding myself there that night, I felt myself world adjacent. I was next to it, I saw it, but I was never really in it.

That is how worlds work.

You can know all sorts of things without them being a part of you. You can want to know everything, you can look, stare and gawk, but to enter, you need an invite. A host.

How does one find a host in a world they know nothing of? I’ve lucked my way into a few of those in the past. I crashed a party or strolled past the guards unannounced and stumbled into the lap of a host here and there. But gate crashing only gets you so far. It can get you in the room, but not really into the group. I get that. I get it. It is what it is.

It being what it is, is why I have decided that when I have a chance, when I am positioned to be one, I will look for people who need a host. I will be that. In the event that one is outside looking into wherever I am, I will open the door and my arms, and show them the ropes.

No one can welcome everyone, and if where you are is a place everyone wants to be, I get the need to screen. Or protect. Or just rest. But I am not there. I am just here. Just is the right adjective. I am only in this middle place that only some people want to be but aren’t, so I can afford the extra company. If you want into my world, the one I know, I can and hope to be that guy. HOPE. The print I bought had that word, along with the words “helping other people everywhere.”

I cannot expect entre’ into all the spaces and places and peoples at which I gaze. Nor do I deserve it. But if I, or maybe you, catch the eye of an outsider, they will forever remain outside till one of us lets them in. And who knows, maybe one day I, or one of you, will toss out an idea, and it will be one of those hosts who give it wings.

Also… Shepard Fairey, and his art, and his studio, and his friends, are freaking awesome and I don’t care what my middle school daughter thinks!

And also also… Justin Bua is on notice.