5 Questions for Rag & Bone Duo

Rag & Bone hit many high notes in 2012.

“Our brand is continuing to go from strength to strength,” said designer Marcus Wainwright, who co-founded the label a decade ago with David Neville.

The New York-based men’s and women’s brand launched its first print campaign, featuring Kate Moss, in early 2012. It also continued to expand its branded retail presence, bowing stores in New York (where it now totals six), Los Angeles, Boston and Seoul, South Korea, as well as London, where the label opened its first European flagship. San Francisco, Chicago and Paris are next, with additional locations planned for Japan and Korea.

On the product front, Rag & Bone recently introduced its first handbag — a single style in two sizes and several colorways — as an exclusive for Barneys New York. A larger offering is in the works.

Wainwright said he also views the label’s shoe collection as one of Rag & Bone’s most promising areas. “Footwear, bags and accessories are the next major focus,” he noted, adding that the duo plans to soon open more freestanding shoe shops similar to the one it operates in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “Footwear is a key component of our brand. It’s not the biggest part of our business yet, but it is growing very fast.”

Key to the label’s overall success is the partnership behind it. “We really balance each other out,” said Neville. “I focus more on the commerce and brand-building, and Marcus takes care of the design, but it’s a very collaborative relationship.”

The pair spoke with Footwear News about Moss, craftsmanship and other labels they admire.

Does your design philosophy for footwear differ from your approach to apparel?
MW:
I don’t think so. We span a very broad spectrum of types of clothing, from T-shirts to $5,000 shearling jackets. At the end of the day, the core of what we do is clothes that people wear. Some of it definitely pushes from a fashion perspective, but we are not making fashion for the sake of fashion. We are making clothes for real people, and that’s the way we approach the shoes.

DN: [Footwear] is very much an extension of how we approach apparel. The inspiration when we started the shoe line was for that classic English, rugged-yet-elegant aesthetic with everyday wear in mind, and the Newbury boot in particular really represents that ideal. Each season we cut it in new colors and fabric, and it continues to sell out.

Your inaugural print campaign features the ubiquitous Kate Moss. How do your ads stand out from her countless others?
MW:
Kate Moss is incredible, just to see her transform as a person in front of the lens into whatever you want to make her. Our approach was somewhat different, though. We tried to focus on who she was when she wasn’t modeling, the way she dresses and puts clothes together and her general effortlessness as a person. We didn’t want any airbrushing or any post-production. We didn’t want what everyone else had from the Vogue September issue. We [aimed for] a really authentic photograph of a real person in a real environment without making it fake.

Rag & Bone was first manufactured in Kentucky, and you continue to produce many of your products in the U.S., including two men’s boots this season. Why is “made in America” important to the label?
MW:
It has to do with the history of American workwear and the skill that goes into making proper functional work clothing — military clothing included. Our backgrounds, being English and having grown up with a lot of tailored clothing, [we mixed] that with a sort of American workwear sensibility [to create a] sense of functionality and durability. That’s what made a big impact on us.

DN: When we started out, we learned the time-honored techniques from some of the most skilled manufacturers in the U.S. who had been working at these factories for decades. It was there we witnessed the importance of craftsmanship, which informed our core philosophy.

Are you inspired by other shoe labels?
MW:
I love Church’s and John Lobb and the sense of history they have, but I admire how things are made more than who is designing them. I admire anyone who focuses on making the best possible product that they can, and focuses on quality and artisanal craftsmanship — people who are more proud of the integrity of the product than just the design of it.

Andrew Rosen, CEO of Theory and Helmut Lang, has had a stake in your label since 2006. How has that partnership worked, and would you consider additional investors?

MW: Our connection with Andrew Rosen has been awesome. We were very good friends, and it has been an amazing relationship. It has nothing to do with Theory or any of his other brands. [Andrew has] a minority investment in Rag & Bone, and David and I run the company. We get a lot of good advice and counsel from him when we need it. We would consider other strategic partners. It’s about having partners who you can build a business with and who won’t be overbearing or force you to compromise on what you believe in.