As a die-hard rock climber, Spencer Phipps loves an uphill battle. So when the 34-year-old designer chose to launch the sustainable fashion label Phipps, the challenge was the point. “It’s a nightmare, to be honest,” Phipps admits. “We could have just said, ‘Fuck it,’ and gotten something that’s really cheap and looks good, but that’s not as rewarding.”
Phipps grew up in Northern California where the uniform at the time was comprised of 7 For All Mankind jeans, flip-flops, and North Face fleeces. But the teenager, who himself favored chunky Jesus sandals, orange nylon shorts, and a blue Hawaiian shirt, also harbored a fixation on luxury fashion. That led him to Parsons School of Design, in New York City, where, for his final-year collection, he was shortlisted for Designer of the Year. After graduating, Phipps joined the menswear team at Marc Jacobs, where he would spend the next seven years designing alongside a small team within the larger Jacobs machine. But Europe, with its avant-garde sensibilities, beckoned, and Phipps eventually moved to Antwerp as the first dedicated menswear designer for Dries Van Noten. Phipps, who was also the first American to work directly with the legendary Belgian designer, used his outsider status to his advantage. “I hadn’t really considered myself very American until I got there,” says Phipps. “It was a bunch of quaint, conservatively dressed, very European people, and I was there in a dirty hoodie talking about the Hells Angels.”
When it came time to do things his own way, Phipps carried his love for the American West with him to Paris, where he had access to Europe’s best pattern-makers and fabric manufacturers. Phipps’s first three collections—“Origins,” “Nature Loves Courage,” and “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes”—were rooted in his fascination with the natural sciences, a theme the self-described “number-one nerd” returned to for his SS20 offering, the geology-inspired “Like a Rock.” Phipps, who was a finalist for this year’s coveted LVMH Prize, filled the collection with pragmatic yet high-end workwear that includes cargo pants and cowboy hat.
He relished the freedom to develop a narrative that felt authentic to his brand. “The interesting part about starting a business is that you set your own rules,” he says. “I always go back to the word ‘purpose,’ and the idea of purposeful luxury. Sometimes it’s educational garments that can help you improve your life just by learning something, or sometimes it’s something that has more of an emotional purpose. It’s useful shit that’s made well.”
Model: Nicolas Annereau
Casting: Molly Ledoux
Photography Assistant: Maud Escudie
Mountain Guides: Eric Bellin and Laurent Soyris