The Innercity Raiders: Borne in Brooklyn, Made in America



She began in New York City’s East Village, took it to Bushwick, Brooklyn, and now resides in Chicago, where designer Jenn Dixon creates her entirely “Made In America” clothing line The Innercity Raiders. What stemmed from a desire to create clothing her friends would want to wear – a chance encounter with David Bowie had her designing his entire wardrobe for his recent tour. Her, she tells us all about her “secret sauce.”

Life+Times: What’s behind the name?
Jenn Dixon:
I moved to Bushwick in 1999, looking for a big loft to live and work. Eventually, I convinced all my friends to move there too, and the name represents my original friends and supporters that moved out there in the early days.

L+T: You launched your brand in 2000. What was the motive behind your menswear brand at the time? Over the years, how has the mission changed?
All I wanted to do was make some kick-ass clothes for my dirt bag friends. A lot of them were in bands and I was dressing them up at the time. I always believed that men are sexiest when they wear clothes that looked lived-in, like they rolled out of bed. Men’s clothes in general are too stuffy. My mission is still the same: I still like dirty men that wear the same jeans they wore the night before.

L+T: You have both a design and stylist background – what propelled you to launch your own line?
I couldn’t find what I wanted. There were no tight jeans out there for dudes in 1999. I worked for six years as a sportswear designer, so I knew how to make them. Soon, I was making t-shirts and hoodies and everything else to go with the jeans. And my boyfriend at the time rode a motorcycle so I designed him the perfect leather moto jacket. Before I knew it, it was a collection.

L+T: Now, you’re based in Chicago and no longer in New York, how does the lifestyle of Chicago influence your clothes?
I left Bushwick in 2009 and I wanted more space and on a whim moved just north of Chicago and bought an old property with a three-story farmhouse from 1892. I have been converting it to the new I.C.R. Homestead. I have a big design workshop in the attic, a screen-print shop in the basement and the original carriage barn outside on the property is now The Innercity Raiders showroom and clubhouse. Everyday I am influenced by this place. It’s old, dirty… and we have a ghost. I have a garden full of wildflowers and a rusty old barn, but downtown Chicago is just a short drive away when I need it. It’s the best of both worlds.

L+T: Everything about your clothes is “American-made” – from the designs to the products to the materials. Was this something that was always important to you when setting you your business?
Yes and I am completely obsessed over it – I won’t even use thread that isn’t “Made in the USA.” It makes me feel like I am doing some good to support our own economy, to know where my stuff is made, and to support American workers. If I can’t buy it here, I just make it myself. I wish American-made was cheaper but then everyone would do it. It is definitely the harder way.

L+T: There’s a secret recipe to your brand in the finishing stages, which you’ve called the “dirty wash.” While it’s a secret, what can you tell us about this process?
The “dirty wash” makes every garment I produce feel like you have owned it your whole life – I personally screen-print each garment here by hand. Then, I beat ’em up and break ’em in with my secret sauce and they end up faded, shrinky and full of just the right amount of holes. Each one is unique. Although I have been doing the “dirty wash” since I started the brand in 2000, I have perfected it here on the Homestead – there is something just right about the dirt here.

L+T: 2004 was a big year for you – you were invited by David Bowie to design his “Reality” tour wardrobe. How did this experience come about? What references did you look at when putting together the designs?
He literally asked me to collaborate with him – I was so fortunate! I had made a few custom I.C.R. t-shirts on request for Patti Wilson and Steven Klein who were working with David for a L’uomo Vogue cover story. On set, David and I got to know each other and he really loved what I made for him and the direction of my brand. He asked me if I’d like to work with him further. Luckily for me, I got to design his entire wardrobe. References came from my own recent collection, and I presented him a concept board of ideas that we worked from together. It was a very personal and collaborative effort. His main stage look was a custom I.C.R. black tailcoat, tight dirty black jeans and a custom ‘dirty wash’ t-shirt. Underneath the tailcoat was a crushed metal jacket that was based off one of the first patterns I had ever made. I saw the show 6 times, and took my whole family front and center at Madison Square Garden. His main stage look, along with my design concept board, are on display at the current V&A “David Bowie Is” exhibit, which is coming to Chicago MCA this September.

Photos by Jeff Forney