Matt Bernson is enjoying plenty of buzz, thanks to a rebranding overhaul and plans to debut full collections of handbags and men’s shoes for spring ’14 (for more on the men’s launch, see page 43). The designer and new father noted that the arrival of his son, Myles, has focused him. “I accomplish more than ever before,” he said. Also on his long to-do list is retail expansion, both via branded boutiques (he aims to open four to five locations within the next three years) and by growing his international presence in the 22 countries where he currently sells, and then beyond.
I arrive early at the Bernson residence in Battery Park City to catch up with proud parents Matt and Lindsay, on the 6-month birthday of their son, Myles. They introduce me to açai bowls, a healthy smoothie-like treat Matt learned to love while visiting the Brazilian factory where he produced for the first four years. “It was a great learning experience in terms of handmaking shoes, but the quality [of the product] so clearly improved by moving from Brazil to China. There was no going back,” he explains.
Born on Jane Street in Manhattan, Matt is truly a downtown dweller. With his dog, Abraham (“a Tribeca fixture”), we walk to the studio, located downstairs from the designer’s store on Harrison Street. “Most of our New York business is referrals,” Matt reveals. “Through the store, we know not only who our customers are but their names, their dogs and how they wear our products. We see they’re wearing a Céline bag, Isabel Marant jacket, Alexander Wang T-shirt and our shoes. We want the brand to reflect that sophistication.”
“The evolution of the product design had overstepped its branding,” Matt admits, explaining the identity relaunch the company has undertaken. “But it’s really about capitalizing on our success.” Updating everything — from the shoebox to the website — with a new logo and fresh styling is all part of the plan. Like much in the Matt Bernson purview, the logo typeface was made from scratch. After approving his final business cards, we move on to the sample review for spring ’14. “Developing our own materials is integral to the product, ensuring its luxury feeling,” he says. “Branding is in the details!” He will add to his growing jewelry offering for spring, in addition to launching men’s shoes and a bag collection composed of seven styles, from a satchel to a fold-over clutch. “In the beginning, we were on our own in this price point,” Matt points out, “but now a lot of big-name designers have entered the contemporary accessories space.”
Matt’s fascination with vintage furniture leads us to seek inspiration at Burden, a well-known Tribeca furniture shop. Along the way, he reveals he has identified Culver City, Calif., Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas as his next locations for branded boutiques. “I’d like to take our Tribeca aesthetic and apply it to each city’s look and feel.” The designer notes he will look for more high-traffic spots in these cities, but interesting architecture is a must. Meanwhile, top wholesale accounts for the self-funded brand include Shopbop.com, Nordstrom, Scoop, Isetan in Japan and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong.
Next on our Tribeca tour is a visit to Polux Fleuriste, the flower shop located inside All Good Things market on Franklin Street. Matt introduces me to his mother, Elizabeth Bernson, who works in the shop a few days each week. While we explore the market together, Matt confesses he sees people on the street in his shoes virtually every day. “The interesting thing is being out of the country and seeing it.” Does he foresee his label becoming a lifestyle brand? “Having a longer view pays off, but to do an accessories lifestyle brand well takes time,” Matt says. “Steven Alan is a great example of a New York-based lifestyle brand that is replicated well in multiple cities and categories.”
We wrap up our day with lunch on the Soho House rooftop, joined by Malorie Kaye of Cameo PR and Michael Pampalone, Matt’s longtime friend and attorney. The designer has enlisted both in finalizing the details of an upcoming collaboration with blogger Grace Atwood of Stripes & Sequins. He is mum on other projects for spring ’14, but past unions have included Edun, Zac Posen, Tommy Hilfiger and Dannijo. This summer, Matt plans to escape for the month of July to Martha’s Vineyard with Lindsay and Myles. “August will kick off the most intense period in my professional career, so I’ve got to relax first.”