The patron saint of uniform dressing, Patrik Ervell is opposed to the mainstreaming of menswear. Since launching his line of utilitarian, military inspired men’s clothing in 2005, the designer has witnessed a drastic shift in the fashion landscape. Nowadays, collections hit the Internet almost as soon as the clothes hit the runway, and major fashion conglomerates are provoking what Ervell classifies as a “bro-ification” of an industry once relegated to the margins.
Ervell prefers to keep his collections apart from the fashion machine, drawing his inspiration not from the latest trends, but from movements in art and architecture. As the designer confesses, it’s a “narrow path to walk,” but his choice to chart his own course has resulted in great commercial success and a legion of devoted customers. Here, Ervell talks his fall/winter 2015 collection, designing for the Internet, and what’s next for his company as a whole.
What specifically in terms of art or furniture design or architecture or music were you inspired by for this season?
It’s always a bit tricky, because it’s never such a literal thing for me. But I think this collection is about Brutalist architecture. It has this weird quality of looking at once sci-fi from some sort of dystopian future, but also like it’s from the '70s. There’s an '80s drop shoulder happening and these v-shaped silhouettes… but at the same time the fabrics and the look tends to be slightly more sci-fi. To me, there’s this sweet spot in between the two that’s really interesting. It’s from the past and the future all at once. In menswear, that look where it begins to feel a bit sci-fi is this place of high drama and high romance. Those words, “romance,” “drama”—it’s so easy for it to not become believable, it becomes a bit silly. But I think that’s a sweet spot, and I find that sweet spot also in Brutalist architecture.
Drama implies a drastic change, and one of your greatest strengths is that you’re consistent from season to season.
The meat of the company is always a uniform. And I think that’s important. In menswear, I think that matters.
I’m curious about the choice of footwear this season.
Those were really intense. They were more than orthopedic, they were for some post-surgical, medical purposes. They were gigantic and extremely tall. They make an extremely exaggerated silhouette, and I think that worked well with this, especially the gigantic pants.
You mentioned you’re going to start making your own shoes in the future.
It’s in development. Of course, the shoes that we make are the shoes that you want to buy and wear. The shoes for the runway were a bit more experimental.
Talking more broadly about menswear, what changes have you noticed since you launched your brand in 2005?
I do think there’s a growing frustration… there’s a “bro-ification” of menswear that’s a bit disappointing. Menswear was once a pretty obscure corner of the fashion industry, and it’s not anymore. It’s more on the main stage, but in that process, there’s kind of a dumbing down.
“There’s a ‘bro-ification’ of menswear that’s a bit disappointing.”
Your collections tend to shy away from trends, don’t they?
It’s about its own trajectory; it’s less about being on season. That can be a dangerous trap to fall into.
I think of your line as comprised of very practical things that people can actually wear. Your pieces are interesting of course, but it’s not about showmanship on the runway necessarily.
It’s a tricky thing, menswear. It’s such a delicate balance. I think [design] becomes the most powerful when it’s something you can show on the runway, and it’s meaningful, and you also want to wear it and buy it. It’s almost like cheating if you’re showing something on the runway that you would never actually want to wear or buy.
“It’s [...] cheating if you’re showing something on the runway that you would never actually want to wear or buy.”
Is there more showmanship on the runway because everyone can see the collections immediately online? Designers are under pressure to just present something that photographs well and people will be excited by, but when the clothes actually hit stores the customer wants to see something new again. It’s like designing two collections.
In a way. You show the runway and then you show the version of what comes to stores. There’s that, but there’s also designing for the Internet. That’s a different mindset. Some parts of it make me feel a bit sad because so much of our business now is online. I can’t get into the nuance of one tone of navy next to another…because all of that is lost on the Internet. If you see it in the store then it matters to me, and it matters when you wear it. A lot of nuance is lost. Or that nuance is still there, but you only discover it in your hands when you’re wearing it.
How has your design process been affected by the popularity of viewing the collections and shopping online?
I think shape has become more important. Silhouette becomes more important. Graphic and pattern become more important. You can’t be too subtle in your use of color—in real life you can—but on the Internet it becomes meaningless.
Are there any designers who’s work you particularly enjoy? Do you keep up with the collections?
Not really. I think Raf [Simons] still produces amazing stuff. I always try to keep an overview, but I try not to look very closely. If you’re looking at too many things then you get polluted. You can get turned around. I think for me the best way to look at fashion is on Instagram. Then it’s really a cursory glance, you just flip through.
Do you have any favorite Instagrams that you like to follow?
“There’s never a shortage of energy or ideas. It’s more shortage of resources.”
Are there any developments going forward?
The big picture is to take on another gig, a bigger gig, in addition to my own. That’s something that’s maybe in the cards in the near future. To make all the things match up and to gel is like a weird alchemy. It all has to work. I’ve had many different things like that come up.
Does designing for two different brands feel daunting at all?
No, I don’t ever feel like there’s a shortage of energy or ideas, that’s never been an issue. It’s more shortage of resources.