Men’s style doesn’t move as fast as the ladies. For starters, it’s only been in the last decade or so that a critical mass of guys have given half a shit about what they wear. As much as Mad Men ushered in a nostalgia for the more dapper menswear of the 1950s and 60s, that look was pretty much a uniform. Blue or gray suit, white or blue shirt, blue or red tie, brown or black shoes. That pretty much ran the gamut of options available to guys. There were without question dandies and other well-dressed men during these times, but they were the exception not the rule. As such, menswear designers catered to a more classic, traditional look.
But when everybody looks the same, it can get really boring. It’s like watching the same episode of the same TV show over and over again. Fortunately there have been maverick designers who looked at the mold and said, “Screw the mold. What do I want with a mold? Mold is gross.” (That may not be a verbatim quote.) These designers had a vision—sometimes artistic, sometimes around a lifestyle, sometimes around a customer’s experience—that prompted them to zig while others zag and break from the status quo.
The resulting styles don’t always catch on with a large audience, but that isn’t the point. The fact that they dared to “Think Different,” as Steve Jobs famously exhorted people to do, is what it’s all about. Because in the end, anyone can build another blue button-down or a pair of jeans, but it’s when you create something truly unique that style can become an art.
The 7 mavericks below each did that, in their own way, and charted their own individual path that helped change men’s style and the fashion world at large.
Not to trivialize things, but Rick Owens once sent models down the runway with their balls hanging out and punched a model when he busted out a sign that read “Please kill Angela Merkel—Not.” It doesn’t get much more renegade than that. Not surprisingly, brash hip-hop stars such as A$AP Rocky and Kanye West are fans. But Owens has been creating his brutally stark garments long before he was name-checked by rappers and he will do so long after. The winner of the CFDA’s Perry Ellis Emerging Talent award in 2002, Owens is the godfather of the “goth ninja” look that is now getting so much attention. His palette is black and white and not much else, but Owens is able to do incredibly things with those hues. His designs always feel hypermodern and unlike anything else that’s out there. Even the copycatters can’t keep up.
Jebbia founded Supreme in 1994 as a skate shop on Lafayette Street in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. It is still a skate shop. You can buy a deck, trucks, and wheels there. But Supreme has also grown into the coolest of cool-kid brands. Its collaborations with everyone from us at Playboy to artists like Damien Hirst to bands like the Bad Brains attract scores of hypebeasts who line up around the corner at Supreme’s stores in New York, L.A., London, and Japan. What sets Supreme apart though is how it knows exactly who it is and never strays from that, which is a credit to the reclusive Jebbia’s leadership. Lots of people say they set trends and don’t follow them, but most of the time it’s B.S. In Supreme’s case it’s true. And it isn’t just the hyped pieces that sell out in seconds that are worthwhile, garments like their well-tailored Loro Piana wool overcoat and its rigid slim jeans, which are available season after season, are all crafted with a clear attention to quality and detail.
NEIL BLUMENTHAL AND DAVID GILBOA
When you think of fashion mavericks, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania isn’t exactly a prime breeding ground. But that is where Warby Parker founders Blumenthal and Gilboa (along with co-founders Jeffrey Raider and Andrew Hunt, who no longer work for the company) came up with the idea for a company that revolutionized the way consumers purchased glasses and sunglasses. The glasses market is almost entirely dominated by the Italian company Luxottica, which owns brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley and stores like LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut and produces glasses for fashion brands like Chanel and Prada. Since they basically had a monopoly, Luxottica could charge exorbitantly high prices. The Warby Parker guys came in and offered glasses that looked as good as everyone else’s, if not better, at a fraction of the price. Not surprisingly a better product for a smaller price was an attractive idea to consumers and now Warby Parker is valued at $1.2 billion.
Famously reclusive, the picture above is the only one of Margiela floating around the internet. During fashion shows, he would not even walk out at the end, choosing to remain backstage. But Margiela’s work speaks for itself. The Belgian designer was a major proponent of Avant-garde fashion and looked to unconventional materials to create beautiful garments. Everything from old varsity jackets to wigs was fair game to be reinterpreted by Margiela’s clever mind. Even the labels on a Maison Martin Margiela garment were ripe for subversion. The four white stitches visible from the outside would be viewed as unfinished by any other designer. But Margiela made them a status symbol for those in the know. Margiela left the company that is named after him officially in 2009, but his creative ethos still runs through the brand and is evidenced in items like the Chuck Taylor collaboration that were covered in white paint, which flaked off to reveal a new color underneath over time.
At first glance, the founder of Patagonia may seem like an unusual choice for this list. The guy who makes the fleece vests for frat bros and basic women drinking pumpkin spice lattes is a style maverick? But Chouinard deserves his spot, not for the cut of the clothes that his company makes but for the way in which it produces and sells those garments. Patagonia’s commitment to finding the most sustainable way to make its products is beyond repute. And the way that Patagonia extols customers to only buy what they need, going so far as to tell people not to buy a certain jacket, is more than just a marketing ploy (although it is that as well). Equally rare is the way that Patagonia, under Chouinard’s stewardship, has owned up to the areas it falls short. The brand doesn’t come across as holier than thou or having all the answers, it just recognizes that if it doesn’t try its best to find the answers that the entire planet may be screwed.
As the founder and creative director of Comme des Garcons, Kawakubo was one of the first to combine street and high fashion in a cool way and even though the company is over 40 years old, it still is one of the best. Another press-shy designer (what is it with mavericks and reclusiveness?), everything that Kawakubo touches pushes boundaries in new and interesting directions. From its high fashion offerings to its accessible but no-less-awesome Play line to its collaborations with Converse and Supreme to its unlike-any-other shopping experiences at Dover Street Market, Kawakubo’s output always feels fresh.