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How a dead label made some of 2022’s hardest clothes 5 years ago
Time-bending wormholes of quantum swag, with NYC jawn visionary Patrik Ervell
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In the winter of 2013 I came across a very ill jacket that struck me as intriguingly & audaciously unmoored from time… It was a big grizzly fleece, somehow sleek and burly at once, modeled on the archetypal Patagonia / North Face / Marmot style, but cut from soft, sturdy wool the color of midnight, lined with silky cupro, and BUTTRESSED at the backs of the arms with oversize nylon panels. There was something extravagantly unruly about its high-pile wool and chunky silhouette, transforming what was at the time a passé / utilitarian / REI-regs-type garment into an improbable “statement piece.”
I was still living in NYC, where I’m from, but before long I’d be moving to Oakland. The DNA of this jacket drew appealingly from both places — it was the creation of the highly Spyplaney designer Patrik Ervell, a Bay Area native who launched a mad-popping independent New York line, and whose sleek, playful clothes I’d admired since I first saw them on the racks at Opening Ceremony (R.I.P.).
With this jacket, Ervell, who’s about my age, was channeling & riffing on that epochal ‘90s moment when an unlikely sauce-portal opened up between Northern California and NYC, with kids in the latter rocking outdoor gear born in the former…
Hearing me call a fleece audacious might seem preposterous these days, because by now the premise of an “elevated designer” version has been iterated & reiterated so many times it’s unremarkable. But you gotta bear in mind, this was 2013 — a decade ago!! Meaning Ervell was way ahead of the GORP resurgence we take for granted today. (Shout out to fellow NYC fleece-reviver and Spyfriend Sandy Liang, too.)
Needless to say, I copped the s**t out of the Ervell fleece from Totokaelo (R.I.P.), and it’s been in yr boy’s rotation nearly a decade straight — which I can’t say about very many jawns…
I’ve been thinking a bunch about Patrik Ervell recently, in the context of what it means, circa 2022, for clothes to be “ahead of their time.” We occupy a weird, vertiginous moment when style trends haven’t merely accelerated but splintered, multiplied and possibly inter-dimensionalized on some quantum-physics s**t — and when I look back at Ervell’s collections from ~2006 till ~2017 I see piece after piece that would go SO seamlessly, stupidly hard today that it disturbs the notion of simple “trend pendulums” … and linear time itself !?
Ervell’s namesake line ended after the SS18 collection, after which point he got a job overseeing menswear at Vince (not a brand that’s ever done much for me personally, but I don’t think I’m really the target audience).
AS IT HAPPENS, Ervell told me the other day that — in some Spyplane Breaking News — his time at Vince has ended and he’s currently “planning the next thing, and taking my time to figure it out. I’m in Paris right now taking some meetings as a hired gun, and it’s all exciting.”
Ervell is fascinating to me not just because I love so many of his clothes but because his career offers a great lens thru which to look at the transformations & upheavals that the modern menswear* mindset has undergone over the past decade or so. He made his name in the late ‘00s, designing collections full of the slim-tailored silhouettes that were, at that moment, dominant among a type of dude whose burgeoning interest in capital-f Fashion was nonetheless tempered by a lingering lower-case-c conservatism, which Ervell worked, subtly, to break down…
*(We use the term “menswear” loosely, not only because Ervell made some women’s ready-to-wear, too, but because Erin & I think most of his men’s stuff was pretty unisex — she owns some.)
Since Ervell hadn’t studied fashion as an undergrad (at Cal), he started his line by taking classes at Parsons, screenprinting t-shirts in the early 2000s — “which felt like the most accessible way to break in,” he says — and selling them out of his roommate’s new store in downtown NYC.
That roommate was Humberto Leon, who Patrik knew from Berkeley, and the store was Opening Ceremony, which Humberto founded with Carol Lim, another Cal grad & Ervell homie. With time, Patrik expanded his line, drawing in the curious-but-perhaps-risk-averse jawns-copper of the time by making fitted club-collar button downs and minimal crewneck sweaters U saw a lot around NYC for years…
BUT he also encouraged dudes to expand their comfort zones & get freakier with it, cutting bold pieces out of unconventional materials, like upcycled-parachute jackets and a MAD ILL gold-foil mylar hoodie (layered, below, over a beautiful white mockneck) that he dropped back in 2008… Dudes are way more comfortable with outré materials these days, but in 2008 rocking a gingham button-down under a waxed-canvas Filson jacket was still considered cutting edge to many of these boys!!
I will confess with some shame, but in the spirit of candor, that at a certain juncture Ervell’s visions became too advanced even for me, a longstanding Ervell appreciator. Case in point: At his SS16 show he sent models down the runway rocking murdered-out Vibram Five Fingers (!) with matching Tevas (!), a move that left me dizzy... I processed it, to the extent I processed it at all, as some combination of dadaist visual pun (which it kind of was) and an outright body-horror troll (which I don’t think was the case).
But let me tell you that here, six years later, I love this unholy combo and spent the better part of an hour tracking down the exact models of both shoe & sandal… The only thing that’s kept me from smashing the cop and rocking them proudly out in the world is my TIMIDITY — even as Demna Gvasalia has long since kicked off the “cool-person rehabilitation” of Five Fingers at Balenciaga, helping them progress on the path from earth’s uncanniest shoe to an “ugly genius” Crocs-style reappraisal …
Ervell spent his final few seasons playing around not only with dope techno-futurist-body-horror footwear but also with BIG volume; with increasingly adventurous materials (thanks to an ingenious partnership with the upholstery-game titans at Maharam); and with all kinds of “declassé” references, to a degree that had my head spinning. I dipped my toe in, copping a rubberized-cotton field jacket I still own, but otherwise let late-era Ervell pass me by.
“For me, it was always about, ‘what’s the furthest I can think ahead,’ and sometimes the timing wasn’t right,” Ervell told me over the SpyPhone from Paris. “Being too early can be just as bad as being too late — in business. And when I was designing Patrik Ervell it was never about business.”
Which is great, I said. “Yes, but that of course created some problems.”
I brought up his ahead-of-the-curve interest in GORP — from the grizzly fleece to the Five Fingers + Tevas — and his interest in playing around with other Northern California totems and mythologies, too, like when he created a fake software company called IDEGEN and put its logo all over mockneck tees, knits, and denim jackets for his FW16 collection, presaging the spike in interest in Y2K vibes / “Pentium-Chip Drip” by several years:
“I was mining where I was from, for sure,” Patrik said. “These garments that bubbled up from that place, and ideas that bubbled up from that place — that dovetailed with an interest in the future, and all the things that can mean: It dips into science fiction, it dips into technology, and in many ways, I think that’s what the Bay Area is about, and long has been. The future just starts to bubble up there first.”
I wanted to know where Ervell’s head was at during these last few collections — the ones where he lost me in real time, but which I look back at now and curse myself, wishing I owned mad pieces, because they would go hard as h*ll here in 2022.
The colorblocked windbreakers, pleather Macs, moto jackets, big pants, and chunky soled New Rock shoes of Ervell circa 2016 & 2017 (below) put me in mind of a kind of Eastern European Raver / Hacker look — not a million miles from what Demna has ushered into the fashion mainstream…
But Patrik told me he was thinking further back, and further west: “I was looking more at late-’80s original ravers, in England. There was an interesting cultural moment there, where around the same time that raves were happening for the first time in fields in the UK, crop circles also began appearing in the UK countryside — these shapes and symbols that of course were made by eccentric English people, but when you look at them they could be rave-flier graphics.
“Both things bubbled up in the same time and same place, and I was trying to get at the strangeness and romance of that. I was too young to actually be there, but I wish I had been — it was a genuine counter-culture.”
This is fabric-of-space-time-bending s**t … Because in part what’s happening with my excited re-discovery of old Ervell jawns is that the last couple years feel like they somehow “don’t count,” in fashion and beyond — in the sense that all kinds of interesting ideas that were starting to emerge and re-emerge and collide in the years before the pandemic were put on hold, or cryogenically frozen, and are only starting to thaw and express themselves, in mutant form, now.
But there’s something else going on: With our moodboard-abetted fixations on “what’s dropping RIGHT NOW” and “what cool stuff people were wearing ~25 years ago,” it’s just easy to forget / overlook / memory-hole ideas that happened in between those poles, even (especially??) if it was extremely recently.
There are “buried treasures” to be unearthed from ~5 years ago, in other words, if you know where to look!!
Patrik himself feels me on this score. “There’s a bunch of my own pieces where I look back at and wish I still had them,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of stuff, but I’m kicking myself that I don’t have a complete archive.” U and me both king.
🌾 Patrik Ervell pieces pop up at resellers periodically, they were (almost?) entirely made in the U.S.A., and the craftsmanship was top-notch.
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