Why good-quality clothes will always be worth investing in

Sarah Karmali
Photo credit: Victor VIRGILE - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

If the 2010s will be remembered for athleisure, lip kits and our collective iPhone addiction - which, with it, brought us the ability to online shop anywhere, at any time - then the 2020s, by stark contrast, already looks set to be the decade of sustainability, caring for the planet and more mindful consumption; where the concept of wearing something simply for one season seems gauche, and people are thinking twice about quite how much they spend on disposable fast fashion.

Arguably, then, it's those brands which provide a quiet consistency, season after season, which reliably produce high-quality staples and long-lasting, timeless designs, which should be excelling in the current climate. While the spring/summer 'must have', or the autumn/winter 'it-bag' will quickly date, that great pair of leather trousers will last you for years, (hopefully) earning you more compliments per spend than anything else you've ever bought. Is this the decade for the brands who don't always shout loudest, to be truly heard?

Photo credit: Victor VIRGILE - Getty Images

Rag & Bone is arguably one such label. Based in New York, but with a Brit at the helm, the brand has been a part of the city's fashion scene for the best part of two decades. Since its splashier, more headline-making beginnings, the label has settled into a cool comfort zone. But not too comfortable, as CEO and creative director Marcus Wainwright is quick to point out.

"The job as a designer is to push the idea of what your brand stands for, just past comfortable," he tells us, on the day of his most recent New York Fashion Week show. "This isn't high conceptual fashion, that’s never what we’ve done. It’s clothes that people actually buy and clothes that people want to wear... For me, people have got to be able to see themselves in the clothes, rather than see art that doesn’t relate back to real life. That’s just not what Rag & Bone is."

Indeed, the idea of making clothes that people actually want to wear day-to-day might not be quite as Instagrammable or red-carpet worthy as a feathered cape, or a billowing tulle gown, but is certainly more realistic. It's perhaps not as sexy, but surely that's ultimately the whole point: to produce clothes that people will actually, realistically, wear?

"The mission here is to try and create a brand that is a go-to for just lovely things," explains Wainwright. "Things that you can keep in your wardrobe forever. Clearly fashion is important and you can’t always have that many pieces that are that timeless, but you can approach them all from the same perspective and really care about how they’re made, and what the fabric is, and the attention to detail. It doesn’t have to be so high concept that you can’t even wear it. It needs to just be so well made that you never want to throw it out."

Photo credit: Slaven Vlasic - Getty Images


And that, right there, is Wainwright's version of sustainability - which, arguably, has been the more discerning shopper's take on sustainability for years; spending more but buying less, and investing in quality craftsmanship. They perhaps just didn't realise it.

"My version of sustainable is making clothes that don’t get thrown away and don’t fall apart," he says. "I just think about product in a different way. We spend as much time on a T-shirt as anything else. We rethink the T-shirt and try and perfect it every single season. 18 years in, it’s still hard to do a good T-shirt. They’re never going to be the most exciting things in the world... but it can be a treasured piece."

Wainwright, now in his forties, grew up in the world of traditional British craftsmanship - "whether it was umbrellas, or hats, or suits" - the influence of which can clearly be seen in his collections today; English tailoring, military accents and beautifully crafted staples are signatures, combined with a more eclectic and sporty, 'New York' approach to layering and styling. The designer keeps one of his father's suit jackets from the 1950s - which he then wore himself to school - hanging in his office to serve as a reminder of the power of timeless investment pieces.

Photo credit: Victor VIRGILE - Getty Images

"It’s still in incredibly good condition and it probably cost a lot of money at the time... but is that really expensive, if you think that it could last 70 years?" he questions, adding that this kind of long-wearing product should, quite rightly, come with a costly price tag.

"It's just a different way of thinking about clothes. Clothes should be expensive if they’re made properly. It’s not about the concept or even necessarily the brand, it’s about the justification for the craftsmanship and the attention to detail that went into it."

So, are good-quality staples the unsung heroes of the fashion world? "I do think they're the unsung heroes, yes," he agrees. "I can happily say that denim is one of the hardest things you can do. It’s one of the hardest things to get right. The fit is incredibly difficult, the fabric comes in an unbelievable range of colours... it’s probably the most iconic garment ever designed, the five-pocket jean." In fact, Yves Saint Laurent famously once said he wished he'd invented the blue jeans, describing them as "the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity - all I hope for in my clothes." (Of course, that credit actually goes to Levi Strauss and Jacob W. Davies, who patented blue denim jeans in the early Seventies.)

Photo credit: Slaven Vlasic - Getty Images

In an industry that's constantly celebrated for newness and pushing the sartorial boundaries, with thousands of brands all competing for the attention and money of consumers, sometimes the bravest - and most difficult - thing a designer can do, is to simply trust their instincts and stay in their lane, without trying to make money for money's sake.


"It’s very hard to grow a business and remain completely true to often very naive ideas about what a brand should or could be at the beginning," says Wainwright. "You build brand equity by staying true to who you are and making product that you’re proud of, and making clothes that make people feel a certain way. I think that you can try and make money but it doesn’t work; money, for me, has to be a by-product of creating something great. We were doing that without understanding it; we were just making great product and doing whatever the hell we wanted. And we were making money. When we started trying to make money we realised we didn't know how to do that. You end up taking your eye off what you stood for. That’s something I’ve learned in the last four or five years."

It's a lesson that's served him well. Since first launching in 2002, under Wainwright and his former co-CEO David Neville, who left the business in 2016, Rag & Bone has grown into a billion-dollar label and is now stocked in more than 700 stores worldwide. Not bad for a man who, by his own admission, "had no interest in fashion" prior to starting the brand.

So where does he hope the label will be at the turn of the next decade? "I hope that Rag & Bone stays completely true to itself, that’s all really," he muses. "My headspace is that right now: do what you love and stay true to who you are. And if Rag & Bone does well as a by-product of that, then fantastic. In my obituary, I hope it won't say 'sold out'."

Photo credit: Slaven Vlasic - Getty Images




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