JL: You had such a massive, massive shot of popularity and critical acclaim from Cloak, and it seems to me that you’ve been a little bit unique in being able to so quickly turn that into your own brand. Why you think you’ve been so relatively successful?
RG: I’ve had a good partnership from the beginning. Having someday that believes in you, someone who has the financial ability to support a brand for the first couple of years when you’re not making money - the reality is, you’re never going to make money for the first couple, even if you do very well. The bigger the business gets - and even if let’s say you start off really great, you still have to find the money to produce the collection. If you have trouble with production at any point, if there’s any returns, stores closing all the time - all these things that happen, and if you don’t have a partner or have a lot of money it’s impossible to do it. And I’m not talking about, like, a hundred thousand dollars; I’m talking about millions of dollars.You need the money. It takes time to get to the point where it comes back, but when it comes back you can start making money. So it’s kind of - somebody has to have the pockets. I mean that’s the business point of it, that’s the reality of it.
On the other hand, you have to grow the business and you have to have a good product, you have to deliver on time; you know, there’s a lot of different factors that go into it. It’s really difficult, if you think about it - all of the things that have to go right, to be able to support a business in the fashion world? It’s totally crazy. You’re making 240-250 new styles a year, you know, unique designs. You’re looking at like - even a broad design company, even like Brown’s or something - a big one, come out with five to ten designs a year? Not that they’re that intricate, but the reality is, you have twenty, twenty-five pieces you need to order for each garment. It’s complicated. So you need to have the organizational skills to get that right, then you need to have the ability with the business to make sure that all of the collections are in on time. It’s an amount of work that, if you don’t have a partner to take some of that off your shoulders, you kind of wither away. It’s a very, very difficult business to run by yourself.
JL: It all sounds like madness, and I think it’s incredible that you’ve managed to build such a name for yourself in such a short amount of time.
RG: It’s funny for myself, because I don’t…I did my work and I kind of do my thing, but I don’t, you know, I’m surprised when I meet people and they know my brand. It still surprises me. And the reality is it’s menswear, it’s a much smaller market than womenswear, but it’s a great market. I think that there’s such a great camaraderie within the industry. People are just friendly, you know? When editors come to the office to write about the collection, they come, they hang out, they talk - like we’re talking now. It’s kind of, it’s friendly - it’s not about getting a snide remark or saying “Oh, Robert Geller said this about blah blah blah…” You know what I mean? It’s not like womenswear - there’s a lot more, like, cattiness there, than there is in menswear. And menswear, even at the showroom, with other menswear designers, we all hang out, we talk about things; “Oh, there’s this place you have to eat in L.A., I’ll give you the number” - that would never happen in womenswear [laughs].
JL: I’m sure you must be so sick of talking about Cloak at this point, but it obviously had such a lasting impact on menswear; we’re still talking about it now. How hard has it been to escape Cloak’s shadow, both in terms of what buyers want and expect, but also just in terms of what you’re interested in, and what you want to send down the runway?
RG: It’s crazy [laughs]. It really was. It’s funny - I knew that when I started I didn’t want [Robert Geller] to be a continuation of Cloak. I knew that from the beginning, because Alexandre and I did it together, and it was great for what it was - and in the beginning it was kind of, like, the first couple of seasons [of Robert Geller] it really bothered me that people kept talking about Cloak, I was like “No, I’m doing this new thing now.” And now that’s totally passed - now it’s a compliment about something I did before. And I think it took the Robert Geller brand to reach the accomplishment that it has over the past years for me to be comfortable with what was in the past. I always wanted this to be the new project; I wanted Robert Geller to be as globally recognized as Cloak was, and it’s totally - I can’t even compare where I’ve gone with Robert Geller to what Cloak was at the time, in terms of the size, in terms of the actual business sensibility and a real…a real business. Cloak was fun, and it was great, but it was never reality. It just…it wasn’t. We were making beautiful clothes, and trying to sell them at [impossible] prices. So - and the thing is, when I started Robert Geller, it was like, the price-point where I was going with it, we wanted to create a product that was made well; we wanted to be producing a designer product but we wanted it to be thirty percent below Gucci and Prada and whatever. And Cloak was up there at some point, with those designers.
But you know, I’m a fan of what Cloak was. I keep some of the old pieces, and they’re so great. And I see a lot of Alexandre [Plokhov]. Alexandre is, to me, one of the best designers out there. I think he, in terms of creating a garment, creating details - stuff like that, I don’t think there’s anybody better. So it was a combination of some of the things that I brought to the table and some of the things that he brought to the table that made Cloak so special. It was at a time where it didn’t really exist, that look. There’s just an impact to what Cloak was - and then suddenly Cloak was gone, too, like James Dean. It died young.
JL: Was there something lasting in Cloak, specifically that sort of mid-century aviation look, that stuck with you, or whether that sort of thing is really just a nod to the necessities of the marketplace.
RG: Ahh, no. Most menswear designers reference a lot of military garments - there’s such a wealth of beautiful, functional, amazing pieces, if you look at the history of military clothing. So, I think that’s - I don’t know - I think it’s something that menswear designers are just very interested in at all times. I bring that into the collection because I like it myself, and the kind of particular things I do with it. Depending on the collection, you know - the collection about like, the late sixties or the student revolution - there was something more military in there than, for instance, last season, which was about modernism.
But, you know, we do a hundred and twenty different styles; there are parts of the collection that I don’t necessarily plan on showing on the runway, that don’t necessarily adhere to the theme of the collection, because I know that they will do well in sales. You have to be smart about supplying things that will do well. Sales really are fuel for the company. I’m allowed to do crazy, knee-length knits, or neoprene pants, because of pieces like the Richard jacket. I mean I love the Richard jacket, but it’s the fuel for other things. And I have to make sure that the things that I make for sale are really, really great; so make that I can make more great things to push the brand forward and create the image that I have in my head.
JL: You’ve also done the wool sweatpant/trouser hybrids, you’ve done cozy, long sweaters with loose-gauge knits; there is a recurring gesture towards the idea of lounge-wear. Where does that come from? Everyone’s got a designers sweatpant now, a designer bathrobe -
RG: I know! But I’ve been doing it for longer than everybody else! I think that’s a really good question. I think that element of comfort is like - I think it comes, a lot, from Japan, you know? My idea of these super-cool Japanese guys wearing sweatpants - I saw that when I started going over there in 2007. But also the idea that you can make a sweatpant or a lounge pant in something really cool, or like have the comfort but also have the classic - there’s something so cool about a really stylish guy walking down the street, and you’re like “That guy is so good-looking, and so well-styled…But he’s so comfortable.” You know what I mean? That makes it so much cooler than some guy walking down the street that, you know, has the super-tight shirt, the super-tight jacket, and you know he’s not comfortable but he looks cool. It’s just not my style.
JL: You must get a lot of use out of them yourself - back and forth on planes to Tokyo.
RG: Oh, yeah. All the time. I wear my Richard pants all the time. And my sweatpants, when I can. They’re for travel! Travel or, you know, dressing at home. My whole collection’s kind of made for staying at home. Not necessarily not leaving your house, but comfortable.
JL: This sounds similar to what you were just saying about finding your own little neighborhood in New York City and protecting yourself.
RG: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that’s the thing - it’s nice to be able to walk out of your house and not have to dress up. You put on your usual pair of sweats and a sweatshirt; wrap a scarf around and go to the deli - that makes you feel comfortable. It’s your neighborhood - you see your neighbors, whatever, you say hi to the guy at the deli, you feel like you’re in a small town, walking over to the neighbor’s.