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“Easy” was how Daniel Corrigan and Jake Sargent, the creative directors of Simon Miller, described their denim collection when we visited the brand’s NoHo showroom last week. It was an apt description of the artfully lived-in-looking jeans and shirts that hung around the space—faded just so and worn gently at the seams, their washes reportedly inspired by vintage finds from flea markets around L.A.
To hear the designers talk their way through their inventory, though, and the process behind each piece, is to realize that their clothes only look easy. Creating the perfectly laid-back pair of jeans takes a lot of painstaking R&D. To execute their Spring 2015 collection, Corrigan and Sargent made use of an ozone machine (a device that sounds like it should belong strictly the domain of weather-altering, sci-fi supervillains) to chemically break down the indigo dye in their garments by pumping them with oxygen. And the spotty, sun-faded wash on a few other items was apparently achieved with lasers.
Their process is high-tech, but it’s still decidedly personal: they do all of their indigo dying at a friend’s facilities half a mile from their office in L.A. The brand, which started out as a small 10-piece seasonal collection of men’s denim, has been growing since Corrigan and Sargent were made creative directors in 2008. Last month they were selected as one of the final 10 nominees for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, and this season they’re launching their first offering of women’s denim exclusively at Barneys, with a full ready-to-wear line coming in the spring (and an NYFW presentation this September to boot).
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For Corrigan and Sargent, all this momentum has marked a good opportunity to stop and take stock of their brand before moving forward. “I think the process of the Fashion Fund really forces you to evaluate and focus in on what your brand really is, what your identity really is,” Sargent explains. “And that’s hugely beneficial.” We sat down to talk with the designers on a big, plush denim couch in the middle of their workspace.
DESIGNERS: Daniel Corrigan and Jake Sargent
BRAND: Simon Miller
BASED IN: Los Angeles and New York
TRADEMARKS: Jake Sargent: The aesthetic of the brand really tries to find balance between authentic and contemporary inspirations, and one of the ways that manifests itself is that we pull a lot of inspiration from Japan and then also from the American West. And those different references might be, for example, in Japan we really love the level of detail that artisans there put into their product, and also how highly regarded indigo is as a craft. And then in terms of inspiration from the American West, we pull a lot of inspiration from the vast landscapes and mid-century modern architecture. So I think it’s really finding a nice balance between those inspirations.
Daniel Corrigan: For me, personally, I’m really inspired by Japanese textiles and the craftsmanship there. In denim manufacturing in the US, I think some of that can get lost—that attention to detail and so on. That always inspires me when I’m looking over our product, to make sure that we’re living up to what our expectations are.
THE PERFECT PAIR: Sargent: I’d say the design process is equally shared. In the initial development stages of each season, Dan and I are both pulling inspirations and fabrics and talking all the time about the direction of the season, and then from there Dan takes the development and production forward and I really focus on the marketing, sales, and press side of things. I think that we’re both very much on the same page in terms of the direction for the brand. It’s neither really an L.A. brand or a New York brand.
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY: Corrigan: Neither Jake or I have a background in clothing, really. I studied graphic design; he studied business management. But we both had an attraction to design and a love for it, and then we started falling in love with denim. Both Jake and I started experimenting with indigo, and then that sort of evolved and became the theme of the collection and has really driven it.
Sargent: When I was working at Monocle, I was managing their retail and product collaboration development, so I probably did over 30 product collaborations with them in that time, both in clothing and home accessories, and really developed a love for branding, which was really a focus of that magazine. So I think that Dan and I both really approach design from a lifestyle and branding perspective, and we think that actually not having been trained necessarily in fashion gives us kind of a… We feel a little bit more in touch with what our consumer actually wants to buy.
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GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Sargent: I think that attention to detail really rose with the whole menswear heritage moment that happened years ago. And the really great thing about that phase in menswear is that I think that expectation stuck with the consumer. So even though, design-wise, the market’s moved well beyond that, I think that the consumer still has an expectation regarding fabric quality and manufacturing, and that, I think, has been a really positive development.
Corrigan: We’re really inspired by vintage products but we’re not a heritage brand and we’re not a workwear brand. I think we really pride ourselves on being more contemporary than what would traditionally be described as workwear.
WHAT A GIRL WANTS: Sargent: Just in the first interactions we’ve been having surrounding the collection, a lot of women are looking for newness, new concepts and new directions, and I think, not necessarily specific to Simon Miller, but any menswear brand launching a women’s line is coming in with an already-established design ethos that’s a little bit different just by its nature than what exists in the women’s marketplace. And I think that’s exciting.
Corrigan: We always wanted to do it. It seemed like a natural evolution for us to get into women’s. And we did have friends of ours who would wear some of our jeans really small, kind of as a boyfriend fit.
Sargent: Completely. We’ve had friends of ours, girls, women, who have seen the collection, who would come up all the time and they’d look at the level of wash quality and finishing on a product and they’d just be like, “Wow, you guys need to do this on the women’s side.”
FASHION FAMILY: Corrigan: [The Fashion Fund] really is supportive. I mean, right after we were selected for the top 10, Jake asked if we could have the judges’ emails so that we could email them a thank-you, and within five minutes we were emailed all of their email addresses and [told that] we could contact them at any time if we had any questions. That’s pretty amazing with such an influential group of people, to just have them at our fingertips while we go through this process.
Sargent: I think the exposure, obviously, is hugely helpful, but almost more important than that is the feedback that we’re getting and the mentoring that we’re already getting throughout the program, and the relationship building is really what’s going to drive the brand forward from this process.
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