Having good taste and impeccable style doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, it takes learning from the best in the industry to truly perfect dressing like a fashion-forward, modern man. Welcome to our series, How to be Stylish, where we pick the brains of some of the most respected figures in fashion for their ultimate style tips.
As the temperature cools off, most are thinking about coats to combat the cold. Unless you live in a particularly frigid locale, though, there’s no escaping the occasional shower. While suitable for such rainy days, trench coats have the reputation of being strictly British. Not so much, says American Trench, a new United States based brand ready to take your wardrobe by storm. What started as an American-made trench coat collection has quickly turned into an all-encompassing brand featuring everything from socks, to hats, to sweaters. In this edition of How to be Stylish, we speak with Jacob Hurwitz, the brand’s creative director, about style and the future of menswear.
The Cheat Sheet: Can you tell me a little about yourself? How did you get to where you are now, career-wise?
Jacob Hurwitz: I’ve always been interested in both the creative and the analytical. My first career phase out of college was as a high school math teacher — teaching all levels, from Algebra 1 to calculus. I taught for five years and loved it, but an opportunity came up to join the business world, specifically in financial math modeling and I went for it. While the content of my new field was totally different, the teaching environment prepared me well working on a team, working under pressure, presenting ideas clearly, and having a point of view. I was fortunate to work with many very smart people and there was a lot to soak in about mathematics, economics, finance, and government. From the business world I had two important insights: Intent is crucial to business decision making and manufacturing jobs are vitally important to a healthy modern economy. All of those prior experiences were needed to make the jump into starting a business — which is immensely challenging, incredibly rewarding, and has no rules or safety net. It’s a true sink or swim environment.
CS: What inspired you to launch American Trench?
JH: A vacation to London in the summer of 2009 with my wife provided the initial inspiration: The purchase of a classic trench coat from the British brand Aquascutum. That fall, my friend David and I had discussions about domestic manufacturing and how important we thought it was. A question came up: Who makes rainwear in the USA? We couldn’t find anyone. So that was it, we decided to create a company and make a trench coat in the United States. It took two and a half years of development starting from scratch.
CS: Who is the American Trench guy? What makes the brand different from the other American menswear brands on the market?
JH: The AT guy cares about quality, where things are made, and wants a contemporary style that is versatile and shows sophistication but isn’t fussy or overly trendy. We try to think pragmatically. Our trench is cut with room for a blazer so you can wear it to work or on the weekend. For knits like socks and hats, we favor deep saturated colors that have color, boldness, and energy, but also some restraint. There are some great classic patterns like houndstooth and herringbone that don’t need neon colors involved to be beautiful and striking.
CS: What is the one thing that every stylish man should invest in?
JH: A good piece of outerwear. Of course it could be a trench, but it doesn’t have to be. Climate and style play a big role. It could be a top coat, bomber jacket, or even a blazer in cashmere or camel hair. It should be something that elevates your look across a broad range of outfits. The ultimate test is that when you walk up to a group of friends, someone says, “That’s a nice jacket.”
CS: What are five things every modern man needs in his closet?
JH: Denim that fits your body right — not too skinny and not 90’s baggy — and in a dark color, like indigo or grey. We can’t get enough of Shockoe out of Richmond [Virginia], which is why we did a collaboration with them. A trim-fitting white button-down shirt [because] it goes with anything. A blazer in dark navy or medium grey. [Also], socks for different occasions: Camp socks don’t go to weddings and fine gauge dress socks look odd with sneakers. [Lastly], a solid pair of brown or cordovan (color 8) shoes — either long wings or a plain toe blucher. They work with suits, chinos, or jeans. They look good in the office or on a date.
CS: Some may be surprised to learn that American Trench got its start on KickStarter. How do you think the rise of accessible social media platforms and funding websites are shaping the menswear industry?
JH: Being total outsiders to the fashion industry, we didn’t have any contacts to launch a line and sell to stores and we weren’t going to suddenly develop them. Kickstarter made a lot of sense. It’s an amazing way to put your ideas in front of real customers and find out if you did a good enough job for someone to hand over their money. Crowd-funding and social media have created a huge opening for new brands to launch products outside of the traditional fashion universe. Almost all brands sell direct now via their own websites but that means most brands (AT included) and have to essentially run two businesses in parallel. I don’t think enormity of the change has really set into menswear yet, but it will soon.
CS: Where do you see your brand five years from now?
JH: In five years, we intend to have a full outerwear line with all the various styles of rainwear as well as [other outerwear such as] quilted vests, jackets, topcoats, and blazers. We’ve been discussing the possibility of opening our own knitwear factory, which is a very under-represented sector of United States manufacturing and very expensive to have made via private label. As the size of our business grows, the goal would be to further dive into the supply chain on the accessories side as well, such as securing our own American grown and spun superfine merino. Those types of projects require a bigger customer base than we have now, but that’s a peek into our thinking about the future.
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