If there were ever a designer creating a world as seen through rose-colored glasses, it would be the German-born, RISD-educated Robert Geller. His work is lit with a beauty and a nostalgia that suggests a moment captured in time, skewed by the haze of cozy remembrance. The line is designed in New York City and produced in Japan; the resulting collection is cosmopolitan, comfortable, and beautiful.
JL: One of the first things I wanted to ask you about was all the interviews you’ve done. You seem very open to discussing your work. Is that something you plan on and that you aim for?
Yeah, I think it’s just my personality. I think that, you know, I kind of came up in fashion as a fan myself. Before I had my own brand, I would check out what people were saying about other designers, and when we were doing Cloak, what people were saying then. It’s really interesting. And then in terms of the interviews and stuff, talking openly - I don’t know, I don’t feel like there’s anything to hide. I like talking to people about my work.
JL: I know you’ve talked in the past about feeling very lucky to have found your production partner in Japan. Are there other ways that being in Japan, and going back and forth to Tokyo, have influenced the direction of the brand?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, with being in Tokyo, it’s such an experience. As a designer you’re often drawing from real life, things that you’ve seen, to design the next collection. Depending on where I am, I do things kind of differently. I feel like when I’m in New York I want to be more protective and more soft. When I’m in Europe, there’s a little more of a preppiness to how I dress. But then, in Japan, I just feel more experimental. Because you walk down the street and people are wearing all kinds of hats, it’s more free to try cropped trousers and special socks - all these things you don’t see in other places. So, that kind of thing definitely influences the design of the collection.
JL: To go back to location and its importance, you’ve always struck me as a quintessentially New York designer. Coming from Germany, and then moving to Providence to go to school at RISD, what was it about New York that captured your imagination?
It’s funny, because I didn’t plan to stay in New York when I went there. I went there because I had an opportunity to work for Marc Jacobs, and New York always seemed too overbearing to me. Too loud, too rough, and then I landed here, and it was about a week, two weeks after I actually moved here, that September 11th happened. I lived like five blocks away from Ground Zero - I was one of the people running away from the falling buildings. So that was my welcome to New York moment - fucking nuts. And I came back and I fell in love with it. You fall in love with your favorite restaurants, your favorite little places and coffee [shops] where you can walk on the weekend - and that came together. And I think that sense of, “you need to protect yourself,” I think it never went away. I think that’s a lot of what I put into the collection in terms of that feeling of streetwear - and all that layering, you want to layer yourself to protect yourself, you want a leather jacket and then a scarf. Also the weather, you know - it’s real cold in the winter. So, that was the aspect of New York that went into it. But I also feel that there’s a lot of Europe in there. You know, the play with the proportions and the prints, and there’s this sort of fit that comes from growing up in Europe as well.
JL: You really love to layer the cropped outerwear over the longer mid-layers - especially this Autumn collection featured a lot of leggings - I love this stuff, but you read some of the things that people say and it’s like “Well, we love fall 2014 - except for the leggings.” How do you get guys to experiment with this stuff that’s - for most of them - so far outside the norm?
Yeah, but I’m not even saying that people should dress like - wear those leggings. You know I would love to do that, but the reality is, I understand the limitations of what the norm is, what men are willing to do - I don’t wear leggings, you know? I’m creating something that I think is beautiful, a beautiful look using the pieces that I’ve created. I know that people will go and they’ll take the jacket, or the coat, or the sweater or whatever and they’ll dress it up with the other stuff that they have, that…Maybe in the future, maybe in five years, people will be more comfortable with leggings, and then it’ll be more applicable. Really you’re showing - or, I try to show something that I think is just beautiful, and can be an inspiration - it doesn’t have to be taken too literally. A lot of the looks on the runway…I wouldn’t personally wear - I would love to see some of these guys wear that and rock it. I’m not, with every look, saying “this is how I want my customer to dress.”
JL: Speaking of beauty - you’ve got such a wonderful eye for colors, and it’s really seemed innate since you were at Cloak. I’m wondering how you developed that talent, and where that love for colors came from - I can’t think of a collection when you’ve done all black.
Yeah, no, I never have. That’s just innate. It’s like, ah - I’m so sensitive to color. If I’m in an environment where there’s [colors] that don’t work, I feel uncomfortable - like, physically uncomfortable. So I think it’s just a matter of trying to create things that I find - I keep saying this - my main motivation is to create and surround myself with beautiful things. But, I think with the color it’s really something that is innate - as long as I can remember I’ve been combining colors…I’ve never been so into the primary colors. I love the off-tones, the jewel-tones, the almost-black. Those kind of colors that are just so…I mean you can have a color card with ten colors and never be on that - you know? You have to move beyond the first hundred choices of colors that are usually available.
JL: You must sort of feel like you’re on an island now, with the all-black-streetwear-everything that’s sweeping the nation.
Yeah [laughs]. I have been for a while. I guess it was, you know, if you look at the Americana people - it’s a bit more the ‘vintage’ colors that I like. Lanvin has really beautiful colors, Marc Jacobs has a really good sense for colors, but there’s a lot of designers that just, you know, they’re devoted to black and white. And that’s what makes my collection what it is.
JL: It’s sort of got that sense of almost a “liberal arts” collection - you’ve spoken about how, at RISD, they encouraged you to be interested in a lot of different things at once, and I think that really comes through in the clothing.
Yeah, I think that’s a really good observation. At RISD it’s really all about - they want you study things besides the major that you’re working on. There’s a lot of extra-credit classes that you take, or that you can take in other fields. The first and second semesters you’re forced to take classes outside of your field, and I loved that. I really am a believer in that, if you’re a designer, you should work in many different fields. You create your own aesthetic, which is sort of the hardest thing to do, but once you create that you can apply it to any medium.