The shirt of the year
The cult mastermind behind Henry's handmade slappers, plus "striped button-up excellence" intel
In today’s BBSP we’ve got intel on various fire examples, new and vintage, of “the shirt of the year.” It’s a style that looked sick as h*ll last summer & fall, when it first started bubbling up among Mach 3+ swag lords… it looked sick as h*ll this past spring… looks sick as h*ll right now… and it will look sick as h*ll when fall hits, because it is a rare simultaneous blend of “very on trend” and “undyingly tight”:
Roomy, vertical-stripe button ups on their “Pete from Accounting” office-drone swag!!
We found a bunch of vibey beauties coppable for CUT RATES, and they’re below.
BUT FIRST — AND VERY RELEVANTLY —
We’ve admired skateboard-photographer-turned-dope-jawnsmith Keith Henry for a minute now. He’s a self-taught king who designs, cuts & sews a slowly expanding range of clothes entirely by himself under the name Henry’s at his home studio in Toronto. Henry’s is best known for sumptuous jumbo jeans, but all Keith’s pieces are extremely high-craft and, by nature, small-run. That means his drops inspire feeding frenzies — along with tears, anger and lamentation as scarce pieces sell out with ALACRITY.
No Henry’s garment illustrates that dynamic better than his blue & white striped button-up, which ~evaporated~ mere minutes after it went live the other day…
What does it take to make clothes yourself full-time in 2023? How do you design jumbo jawns without devolving into shapelessness? What secrets does Keith have up his sleeve for this mysterious Nepenthes NYC pop-up he’s doing next week?
I (Jonah) hit him on the Spyphone for some turbo one-man-brand talk to find out.
Blackbird Spyplane: People are going nutty for striped button-ups right now… Some have banker vibes, some have office-grunt vibes, yours mixes in some “swaggy old electrician’s workshirt” vibes, with the boxy cut & the snap closures… So props for entering the very crowded field of “blue-striped button-ups” and coming through with an instant-sell-out hit.
Keith Henry: “There weren’t many units, so I think I broke a lot of hearts that day. There’s a fabric supplier here in uptown Toronto, and they had this custom-woven fabric for a company that developed shirting in Italy. I bought the excess, and there were only 12 meters of it, so I could only make 6 or 7 shirts. But that’s the beauty of fabrics like that: It limits you, but it makes it that much more special if you get one.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You’re one of the key IYKYK catalysts behind the raw-denim resurgence, because designers at bigger lines definitely check for your s**t, and you were early to using dark selvedge denim in very generous cuts….
Keith Henry: “When I started, you couldn’t find baggy dark denim, and that’s all I wanted. I was skating a lot, living in Vancouver, doing my thing as a skateboard photographer, and every company I wanted jeans from was making skinny pants.
“So, years ago, I was vintage shopping in Vancouver and found these Swedish military trousers with patch pockets. I was like, ‘I can visually see all the component pieces here — there’s nothing hiding.’ And I put them on and the fit was flawless. The rise was really long so I didn’t have to sag them, the hem hit where I wanted, so I didn’t have to roll them. That was the lightbulb: I said, I wanna re-create these in a raw denim. I used to tailor clothing as a kid with my mom, she taught me a few things, and I have a DIY attitude with everything — if I can’t find it, I can try to make it, and if I suck at it, at least I tried.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You sell clothes through a “drop” model, and there’s a stampede at every release. Why do you sell that way, as opposed to taking custom orders or pre-orders?
Keith Henry: “It’s just easier for me that way to plan ahead and put things out in the world that I want to be seen. Not necessarily what Jonah or anyone else wants to be seen. I don’t have to change the stitch color for someone, I can express my full opinion: ‘This is what I want to be wearing.’ Especially because, with custom pieces, people will float some elaborate idea by you, you start coming up with a design, put in work, and at the end of it all, they say, ‘Let me think about it.’ I can’t keep afloat like that. And, yeah, doing it as a drop affords me some mental clarity versus, like, going live for preorders, closing the site in 5 minutes, and then scrambling to fulfill all these different orders.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I understand why people are bummed when they hit up a noon drop and the piece they wanted disappears before the clock strikes 12:01. But it’s hard to get too salty about it in your case, because we’re talking about one dude at a sewing machine, not the d*mn SNKRS app. Not all “drops” are created equal, and not all scarcity is “artificial”…!!
Keith Henry: “Yeah, I’d love to have staples on hand, but it’s logistically out of the question at the moment. Another thing is that I like to do style pairings, color pairings, and play with proportion, and that’s easier to do across a drop than through custom one-offs. It’s nice to create a full look and roll that out. Things do sell really fast, though, to where I wonder if people are even looking at measurements before they buy.”
Blackbird Spyplane: It could be tight to post the measurements before the drops go live, so people have a minute to digest them. But yeah, everything in the most-recent capsule felt mad harmonious — what design choices went into that?
Keith Henry: “It could be because I work with a similar block for jackets as I do for shirts, and my jackets have a really dropped armhole that allows layers underneath. Because I’m a big dude, and I like my things to be free-flowing — I like movement in pieces.
“As far as color, I found that emerald-green denim (above) and I was like, How can I use this? I decided the green would look good as something with more stitching, to break up the color, so that’s why I went with a double-knee jean, and the Swoop jacket (above top left and below top right), too. I didn’t know what the green would pair well with, but I put a swatch of the shirting on top (above center) and said, ‘That looks incredible.’ When I saw the finished pieces as a full unit I didn’t actually love how it looked together — there’s more blue in the shirt than white, so it had a bit of a weird tonal clash with the green. I added the navy pants to bring in some neutrality, and it all worked out.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Where do you get inspiration?
Keith Henry: “My all-time favorite designer is the U.S. military — I’m obsessed with old army stuff. But when I buy those pieces, they don’t fit me the best, because the guys who were issued those clothes were like 18 years old, they were skinnier, it was the 1940s, so the armholes are really tight and constraining. I like to loosen up those zones to add movement to a piece — but it’s not formless, it has a bit of taper.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You’re raising an important issue in this voluminous era: How do you work with volume without spilling into shapelessness?
Keith Henry: “I like when things come to a point, whether it’s the taper of a trouser, or adding things like darts and pleats, or cutting it a certain way. If you take the Criterium jacket [the cream-colored Bedford-cord joint above], I used the same pattern block as the Swoop jacket, which is cropped and wide, but I cut the back panels with a taper at the bottom, instead of adding darts or pleats, to give that curve to the waistline. This is all trial-and-error, though. I’ve made stuff before where it’s floating around you, and you feel like it’s wearing you.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Is clothesmaking a full-time gig, or do you have to do other work to support it?
Keith Henry: “I’ve been doing it as my sole job about 4 years now. There’s a lot of ups and downs in terms of stability, but I have full creative control. Some months I don’t support myself that well, some months I support myself very well. I don’t have financial backing or a rich family, so I just have to ride the flow. I don’t have a way out. So I work every single day, putting in the hours, and I think it’ll benefit me in the future — all the work, all the pattern-drafting, losing my mind, but then you break through and create something like the Criterium and you say, D*mn, I didn’t know I was gonna do this today.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Finally, tell me about this event you’ve got next week with Better Gift Shop and Nepenthes…
Keith Henry: “So I’ve been friends with the guys at Better Gift Shop for a long time, and they’re doing a little pop-up at Nepenthes NYC on July 20th. They asked me to have some product in the pop-up and I said, I’ll do it if I can use old Engineered Garments fabrics. So, with their access, it came through. I’m not working directly with EG, but I’m able to use their deadstock fabrics.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Mamma mia.
Keith Henry: “I said, ‘Send me whatever you want,’ and so far I’m doing a Criterium in this green ripstop, and a pant that hasn’t seen the light of day yet, based on old RAF Mountain Rescue Pants — that’s basically a cargo pant with welt pockets around the kneecaps, because it was designed as an over-pant, with no hand pockets or side pockets: You’d wear it while you were sitting in a cockpit doing mountain rescues.
“I’m not sure what else they’re sending me. I want some heavier fabrics, but we’ll see. It’s just nice that I have a business that’s small enough, and just me, where I can work on projects like this as I see fit.”
If you aren’t one of the half-dozen people who got the Henry’s blue striped button-up, and consequently you have a “STRIPED SLAPPER”-size hole in yr life, we are here to bless you with a Cla$$ified Exclusive dossier of very cool new & secondhand striped bangers, in blue & beyond, mostly on sale and/or coppable for the low —