While in New York this past week, I ended up in New York's Bowery District several times, completely unknowingly and without any forward planning. People just invited me there for dinner or lunch at the very cool restaurant called Freemans and the sweet brunch spot called the Five Points Restaurant.
Once upon a time, The Bowery was home to high European culture and then was the centre of a grassroots movement of artists and musicians in America's new melting pot in the late 1800's. However, since the early 1900's the area has languished as a skid row zone of brothels, run-down buildings and grime. Today, the Bowery remains one of the few areas in Manhattan yet to be gentrified and therefore has a feeling of authenticity and realness that I crave, especially in the context of the rest of the city, which can sometimes feel like it is is hurtling quickly towards a feeling of Disneyfied homogeneity.
The highlight of my Bowery visits, by far, was a visit to the Barking Irons (19th century slang for "pistols") studio, in the heart of the Bowery. Barking Irons is the creative offspring of two brothers, Daniel and Michael Cassarella, who have used a combination of the Bowery's historical artistry and legends, beautiful design, and an appreciation for functional clothing that all guys can appreciate, to create a budding young business that deserves attention. Having secured important stockist relationships like Barney's in New York and Isetan in Tokyo, they are beginning to get their message out.
Yet, I believe this is a brand with so much more potential than that. Up until now, Barking Irons have really been known for their graphic t-shirts, not least because of TV appearances on coveted chests of Hugh Laurie on House, Adrien Grenier on Entourage and Mathew Fox on Lost. And while the t-shirts are great, what really stood out to me were the ingenious jackets and hoodies with a twist. They have taken iconic American street clothes and twisted them so that the wearer knows they have something special on their backs. As Michael took me through the studio with its original dark wood flooring and passionately recounted the stories and history of the Bowery, and how it is manifested in their clothes and design, I saw so much more than t-shirts and streetwear.
This is a business with that rare authenticity that can form the essence of a real brand, with all of the meaning to last beyond trends and new competitors. And, they offer a lesson to all young designers that if you stick to the meaning behind what inspired you to set up your company in the first place, it is bound to shine through in your products, your workspace, and the way you communicate what your brand is all about.
Sellouts need not apply.
Daniel giving me the scoop on some of the 19th century spoons that form the inspiration for the new BI jewelery collection.
Cool tuxedo detailing on a soft cotton shirt. An original costume from the Gangs of New York.
A full view of the back of the studio. The original Dutch spelling of Brooklyn on a BI t-shirt.
Barking Irons riffs on the classic hoodie and plaid work shirt.
Some more Barking Irons T-shirt graphics.
I have put in an order for this jacket
© 2007 Copyright Imran Amed - The Business of Fashion. Adrien Grenier photo courtesy of Popsugar.