While their CFDA-nominated menswear collection, Duckie Brown, is cheeky and often eccentric, designers Steven Cox and Daniel Silver live by a no-nonsense ethos. “What you see is what you get!” quipped the British-born Cox, playfully gesturing to the workout garb he donned while chatting with Interview in his West Village studio. This straightforward attitude is the driving force behind the duo’s latest project, Perry Ellis by Duckie Brown.
Perry Ellis International, whose flagship menswear collection has seemingly declined in pizazz over the years, tapped the designers for a three-year contract. They’ll debut their first menswear collection for the house during the Spring 2013 shows at New York fashion week on September 11. And while it may seem surprising that the corporate label hired these quirky downtown provocateurs to revamp their menswear range, whose roots are planted in vintage Americana, the Duckie boys’ irreverence and expert European tailoring may be just the thing to invigorate the house’s image.
Perry Ellis, who died in 1986, was largely known as one of the big three American designers, along with Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. And while country-club-cool khakis and crisp button-downs were signatures, his playful approach to design, along with an affinity for stripes and polka dots, made his clothes must-haves for men and women throughout the 1980s. “We were given 104 films of Perry Ellis runway shows and interviews,” said Silver of their research, noting that his first encounter with the iconic clothing line came in the 1983 when he was working as a “display queen” at Henri Bendel. “Geraldine Stutz, who owned Bendel’s, wore Perry Ellis every day. She’d wear a navy sweater with uneven white dots and a navy pleated skirt as a uniform. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is a fabulous womenswear brand,'” recalled Silver, who incorporated his early memories into the collection.
The designers will send out 32 tightly edited looks, which they describe as “minimal for them,” (i.e., no wild zippers or exaggerated proportion play). Aptly named “50 Shades of Khaki,” the collection will, in the spirit of Ellis, include every hue of khaki imaginable, from gold to dusty pink to gray. “It’s an army of khaki soldiers,” laughed Cox. There will be lots of cable knits, stripes and dots, as well as a focus on a new approach to suiting; the designers will show trench coats, suede bombers, or crisp shirts and trousers as alternatives to the traditional two-piece look.
According to Cox and Silver, the Perry Ellis project—their most commercial endeavor to date (although they’ve found a great deal of success in their ongoing collaboration with Florsheim Shoes)—has allowed them to explore more experimental possibilities in Duckie Brown. “Duckie has become more of a laboratory for us to do what we want to do,” said Cox of their signature label, which was launched in 2001. For example, the long leather belt loops (pictured in our gallery), which will drape across denim and tartan looks during the Duckie Brown show on September 6, and a denim jacket with what look like abstracted flower petals blossoming from its chest, while masterfully crafted, aren’t exactly for the average American. The Perry Ellis range, however, has potential for mass appeal.
What Cox and Silver want to make clear is that their goal with the new line is not a full-on Perry Ellis revival. “We’re not stepping into his shoes. It’s Perry Ellis by Duckie Brown,” stressed Cox. “And hopefully he’d feel like we’ve honored the essence of what he was about,” added Silver. Naturally, there will be Duckie touches in the line, like a gold mesh T-shirt (it’s decidedly more wearable than it sounds), a pair of drop-crotch jodhpurs, which are a subdued version of the duo’s signature circle-seam pants, and “baseball cap bowlers” that will crown every model. But, with pieces priced between $150 and $1,400, the line will have a little something for everyone.
Perry Ellis famously skipped down the runway after each of his shows. And, considering Duckie Brown’s theatrical edge (last season, they showed twisting turbans and flouncy Mongolian lamb toppers, just to give you an idea), one might expect Cox and Silver to follow suit. “No. We will not be doing that,” said Cox when asked. “There will be no skipping down the runway,” snipped Silver, adding a sarcastic, “You know what, actually, I’m going to do a handstand.” Despite their emphatic resistance to a celebratory strut, we’re not ruling it out.