Aaron Levine is Club Monaco’s VP of Men’s Design, a role he recently took on. Just as his first collection is hitting stores around the globe, Life+Times caught up with the design ninja and found out why his best ideas bloom out of a chaotic office space.
Life+Times: You recently joined Club Monaco as the new VP of Men’s Design. What POV do you plan to bring to an already established brand? What do you want to ensure you do in this position?
Aaron Levine: My team and I are working to create an elegant, wearable, upscale lifestyle brand that our customer can come to for all his clothing needs. If we’re going to err, we want to err on the side of a good taste level. That’s our default. We want to hold ourselves to an extremely high taste level. We want to ensure that we give our guy everything he needs, then push him slightly out of his comfort zone with some pieces. The best things in life happen when you step outside your comfort zone.
L+T: Prior to this, you’ve held roles at Jack Spade, Rogue’s Gallery and Hickey. What did these places, individually, teach you?
AL: The more I allowed them to, the more each experience taught me. As I grew and was capable of understanding more of how what I do actually works, the more I would learn. There were changes in my life and how I grew as a person, which allowed me to learn more at each stage of my career. What’s wonderful is learning life lessons – lessons that teach you about your character that allow you to perform your job at a higher level and handle sometimes high pressure situations a little cooler. It’s all about your mind’s perception of challenges. It’s about taking possible negative perceptions of an obstacle and turning them into positive perceptions on how to solve a puzzle. And, I love puzzles.
L+T: Your first collection is hitting stores as we speak. What inspired this collection? What references did you utilize to help you with the design process?
AL: What inspired this collection was returning to the fundamentals of menswear. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. If you’re designing for the sake of designing, you’re designing for yourself and not your customer. We wanted to reestablish the corners of the pyramid on which we built the rest of the collection. Our goal is to reinterpret our guy each season and differentiate ourselves in such an already niche menswear market, making customers want to spend their hard earned money on our product. References included defining our muse… envisioning our ideal character. Asking ourselves – what does he do in different situations? How do we make him look the way we want in those different situations?
L+T: Tell me a little bit about your design team. I know you’ve described the guy who works on outerwear as a “ninja.” What are the six of you like as a collective?
AL: I love our team. We’re like a delightfully dysfunctional family. I didn’t mean to not include the rest of the team in the ninja comment. They’re all ninjas in their own regard. We don’t have a large team and we have a ton of work to do. We roll up our sleeves and get the job done and pitch in where we need extra hands. Even the younger people on the team are incredibly skilled and passionate. I’m honored and humbled daily for the opportunity to be able to work with all of them. Our team may be more like Voltron. The whole doesn’t function without the sum of all of the parts. I understand Voltron only had five members, but you see where I’m going…
L+T: When you start with a collection – what’s your first thought?
AL: Inspiration can come from anywhere though sometimes ideas are harder coming than others. If you force the concept, the end result feels forced. It’s unbelievably important that the idea comes organically and the passion behind the concept is real. If we’ve forced the process, it will reflect in the product. Ideas flood in and out all the time. Some are garbage. Some are great. It’s important that we share and mold ideas within the team because one that starts as something less than ideal can spark something great.
L+T: Club Monaco, in many ways, has become a lifestyle brand, like stocking McNairy products. What other products can we find in select CM stores to accompany your designs?
AL: We’re working with a great group of companies right now – Ernest Alexander, Rancourt, Golden Bear, Terrapin Stationers, Aether, HW Carter, Smathers & Branson, Barbour, Richer Poorer, Assouline books, Wood & Faulk, London Undercover, Sunspel, Gloverall… Each brand compliments ours, in its own way.
L+T: What are you currently working on these days?
AL: Currently, several seasons at once, simply because of the product life cycle. We’re in the teeth of Fall ’13 at this very moment. So many other things at the same time though.
L+T: Tell me a little bit about some of your favorite designers – past and present? Why?
AL: I don’t have a list of favorites. That’s like asking what your favorite band is and you end up listing so many that the term favorite no longer has any meaning. I love so many different designers for so many different reasons and so much of that could change with the mood that I wake up in. Just like music…There is so much awesomeness out there that I think it shows disrespect to pick favorites. I love people and brands that are passionate about what they do.
L+T: What’s your office environment like – aesthetically speaking?
AL: This comes up a lot. Aesthetically speaking, it’s a total mess. There is a lot going on around here at all times. It’s like Wonka’s chocolate factory – wonder and collected bits of inspiration everywhere. A whole concept for a collection may come from a pile somewhere. Honestly. As one of my talented designers says, “design is messy.”