There’s more to menswear than suits and ties. Every other Monday, we’re giving the fastest developing facet of fashion the attention it deserves and introducing the designers, buyers, trendsetters, and stylists you need to know.
Another day, another up-and-coming knitwear brand. A new favorite at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Union in L.A., and United Arrows in Tokyo, Orley is the franchise of brothers Matthew and Alex Orley and Samantha Florence (the former’s fiancée). But their Spring 2014 collection, which showed this summer at Pitti Uomo and two weeks ago in New York, makes it clear that they intend to expand beyond knit. In fact, they always have. “We were just sort of waiting for when was the right time and when the retailers were ready to see more from us,” Alex explains.
They’ve been growing their offerings slowly and surely since they debuted with just five sweaters and two accessories for Fall 2012. When Bergdorf told them point-blank that they wanted more, Florence and the Orleys followed through with a 20-look collection that delivered their finely knit sweaters and sweatpants alongside new, non-knit options in shirts, pants, and shorts. Bergdorf followed through, too, and ordered almost every piece.
We spoke to the three designers as they were recovering from jetlag 24 hours after a trip to Italy, where they were checking in on the development of their next collection.
DESIGNERS: Alex Orley, Matthew Orley, and Samantha Florence
AGES: 26, 27, and 28 (respectively)
HOMETOWNS: Detroit, Detroit, and Toronto
ORIGIN STORY: Alex Orley: Matt and I moved to New York for NYU and both started working at different clothing companies. While I was at NYU, I was an intern at Rag & Bone and eventually worked my way up to design assistant, and at the same time Sam had moved to New York as well and was working at Helmut Lang.
Samantha Florence: I was working as the assistant in sales and then eventually became a sales manager.
Alex Orley: So we were each working respectively for different clothing companies and just decided that the moment felt right and we had talked about doing something together for a long time. And it just sort of materialized. We started working on something and we showed our first collection for Fall 2012.
SIGNATURES: Alex Orley: Menswear that is elegant and irreverent. Those are sort of the tenets of the brand. We really focus on producing the highest-quality product possible. Eighty percent of the collection is produced in Italy. All of the knitwear is produced in Italy. We really focus on subverting menswear, whether it’s through color or just through small subtle details and stitch techniques that we develop. It’s about subverting classic menswear that is still elegant, but also, again, irreverent and playful.
NO “I” IN TEAM: Alex Orley: Because it’s just the three of us, it’s pretty even-keeled. Each of us definitely has a big impact on everything whether it’s sales or design. But in terms of our day-to-day roles, we sort of divide and conquer whatever is on the table that day. We really each do 33.3 percent of the work. [laughs] It’s shared.
Samantha Florence: Well, we definitely have our different experiences. Alex, after graduating from NYU, went to Parsons to get a technical degree in fashion design. So we each have different strengths and experiences, and that obviously becomes a big part of how we participate.
Alex Orley: But in terms of the vision of the brand, it’s definitely the three of us working together to execute a single vision.
INSPIRATION: Alex Orley: All of our collections tend to be really autobiographical in terms of design. We really design for ourselves. Matthew and I wear the entire collection. I think in terms of spring ’14, we’d been traveling a lot and spending a lot of time in Italy—I had actually been spending a lot of time in Turkey—and so this Mediterranean color palette was something we talked about experiencing and something we decided we really wanted to develop in the collection. And then it sort of spiraled out from that initial concept into the motifs that you see in the collection.
THEY HEART NY: Alex Orley: The majority of what we were doing up until the Spring 2014 collection, we were working out of Italy. Much of our production and a lot of our development was based out of Venice. We have a very small office in Manhattan, but we’re going back and forth pretty much once every six weeks. We’re New Yorkers, and we love living in New York, but working from a design and studio perspective out of Manhattan has been new for us. It’s definitely a new aspect of what we’re doing.
Matthew Orley: I’ll also add that I think one truly amazing thing that you just don’t get if you’re working in any other city is that no matter how big your business is, the biggest brands and the emerging brands are all using the same people in Manhattan in the Garment District. To be able to connect with all these different people on such different levels elevates our business and helps us to grow and build momentum—we’re connected to so many people who are connected to so many others in the industry.
KNIT NERDS: Alex Orley: One of the styles that we did for Fall 2013 is a Teflon-treated yarn, so it feels like a sweater and it has a really nice hand quality, but it’s Teflon-coated and totally water resistant, so you can wear the accessories out in the rain or the snow and the water just sort of flicks off. It looks really nice and it’s this really awesome treatment that we only just discovered. We’re always looking for things like that.
BOYS’ CLUB: Alex Orley: I think there is something really liberating in the framework [of menswear]. I think for us, we really like to push the boundaries of classic menswear, and I think that’s exciting, to have a framework to work within and see how far you can push something that has been around for a really long time.
Matthew Orley: There’s also a really nice community around menswear, and they’ve really embraced us and supported us, and I think that is sort of different from what you find in womenswear. It’s much smaller around menswear, and I think everyone knows each other to a much tighter degree.
Alex Orley: I would say one of the main things is that our retailers have reached out to their friends who are also retailers and been like, “Check out this brand. They’re new and exciting.” Just sort of through that non-competitiveness, we’ve really been able to grow our distribution.
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