Todd Snyder comes from Iowa, which is not exactly known as a hotbed of fashion talent. But perhaps because of his midwest upbringing, Snyder designs menswear that always feels “real.” Not real in the sense that it doesn’t require a VR headset to try on, but real in the sense that a stylish gentlemen can watch Snyder’s creations come down the runway and easily imagine himself wearing them. His clothes aren’t some avant garde art project, though they are certainly artistic. They are designed to be worn—and worn well. He blends refined, tailored silhouettes with cooler, more downtown styles seamlessly. The result is that a guy can easily find pieces he’d wear for quite literally every occasion, from the office to the gym to a dinner or a wedding.
That realness extends to the brands that Snyder collaborates with. As he’s created his own classic American menswear brand, Snyder has partnered with other American brands like Champion and Timex that have a rich history and an authenticity to the products they create. Snyder’s latest collaboration is the PF Flyers Grounder sneaker. He had worked with the Massachusetts-based sneaker company for a few years before discovering the model in the archives. The Grounder was originally designed following World War II and featured a rugged rubber outsole suitable for playing football beneath a traditional high-top upper from a basketball sneaker. To reinterpret the Grounder, Snyder used heavy-duty military canvas in olive and black and added leather details for a more dressed-up look.
Sitting in Snyder’s showroom in Manhattan, we talked about how he approaches collaborations, the new sneaker, and what he’d rescue if his house was burning.
What made you want to work with PF Flyers and on this model in particular?
I’ve been working with PF for about three years now. I’m a huge collector of vintage and PF is something you always see. You always see Levi’s, old western shirts, PF Flyers in the mix any place you go because they were really the originator of high tops. They have this authentic look that you really can’t achieve anywhere else. We’d been doing our Rambler, which is our basic PF Flyers sneaker that we’ve modernized. Then I was up at their offices about two years ago and Chris [Tobias of PF Flyers] pulls out this shoe, the Grounder. I was like, “That is the coolest shoe ever.” Then Chris took me through all these catalogs from the 40s and 50s and that’s where I really got excited, it was like getting into the belly of the brand.
What did you want to do on this shoe that you hadn’t done in your previous sneaker collaborations?
The biggest thing was keeping its roots and authenticity but adding in the leather interior and leather trim on the back. The waxed flat laces make it seem less vintage and a little bit more modern. That was really important. The other big thing was color choice. We first saw the one in olive [from the archive] that I fell in love with. So I thought a great colorway would be black to make it a little more sophisticated, a little more downtown. It works really well with my collection. I’ve always been inspired by vintage military. My whole fall collection was about mixing tailored and military so it was the perfect blend of what I was doing for the season.
What is your approach when you go start a new collaboration?
Just work with great brands and great people. I don’t go in with the intention of, ‘Let’s find this great shoe’. You start by getting to know [a brand], then they get to trust you and start to open up more. Sometimes because they’re so close to it, they don’t know what they have. They have a treasure trove of amazing things and I’m like “Oh my God, I want all of it.” That’s what happened with PF. Classic styles that you see other brands do, they’ve been making well before from basketball sneakers to boat shoes. I love telling that story. I think that’s why I get along so well with so many brands is they like how I tell the story. I’m not just going to regurgitate what they did 50 years ago. I’m going to reinterpret it.
While a lot of fashion brands do one-off collaborations, you have a number of partners you’ve worked with for years. What are the benefits of doing things that way?
It comes down to credibility. With brands like PF and Timex, these iconic American brands, they get to know me over time. It’s an evolution. It just keeps building. We started off with one shoe, the Rambler, and we’ve extended from there to when they open the kimono. When brands trust you enough, you definitely feel it.
Menswear has gone through a lot of life cycles of late. How would you describe the current state of things?
Things have gotten more casual. The whole sneaker thing is going to be a trend that is hard to shake. Being a guy, we are all about comfort. Women are the only people that will actually make their feet bleed for fashion. I don’t think guys will do that. Do you remember when square-toe shoes came in? Guys are still wearing them. They’re awful, but guys still wear them because of the comfort. And sneakers are probably the most comfortable thing. Thankfully they’re very well rooted in tradition. James Dean and every cool dude wore sneakers.
And outside of footwear?
Ties are a thing of the past. You’re starting to see a lot more guys mix up athletic wear with sportswear. I think that will continue. You’re definitely seeing a shift from the way guys used to dress 5 to 10 years ago when it was kind of the J.Crew look of a sport coat with jeans and a tie or something a little more dressy. Now I think it’s moving more sporty and figuring out how to incorporate that into a guy’s wardrobe is the challenge.
When you see trends change how does that affect your creative process?
I get so inspired by watching people everywhere. Having a constant visual on what people are wearing is important. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s interesting to see trends come and go. But there’s this interesting thing that happens with brands like Zara and H&M where they can develop trends very quickly and put them in the store very quickly. I think they become trend killers in a way because they shorten the life of a trend. You see everybody and their brother doing an athletic brand right now. All that means to me is that it evolves and the rules will change even more, which is really exciting. It’s almost like getting a new set of crayons to play with. The new color comes out and you’re like, “Sweet.” You get to play in a different way.
When you are figuring out what to wear in the morning, what drives your look?
I love figuring out what makes people wear what they wear. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what makes me wear what I wear. A lot of it is dependent on weather. If it’s super hot out I try not wear a jacket. But it really does start more with the bottom for me, whether it’s a jean or a trouser. That starts it because that’s the thing I rotate the most. A shirt to me is much more of an accessory. [After picking the pants] I think through what I’ve been wearing or what feels right for the day or what meetings I have or if I’m going out after work. You stick all those things in your head. If I have a business meeting I need to look a certain way. If I have a dinner date I do this.
What’s your morning routine like?
It’s pretty quick. Like most guys, it only takes me 15 to 20 minutes to get ready. If I have to iron my shirt then I’m screwed because I do all my own ironing.
Do you have one piece that you would rescue if your home was burning down?
I’d probably say my vintage watches would be the first thing because they have the most value. I probably would cry pretty hard if my house ever burned down because I wouldn’t be able to get everything out.
What’s your favorite sneaker of all time?
I would say it’s probably the Rambler. I love the Grounder but I can’t wear them all year round. The Rambler from the very first season is still my favorite.We did this high-end leather in black and brown. I still wear them. I bought an extra pair because I knew I was going to need them. I still have a pair of clean black ones in my closet. I wear the black ones pretty religiously and I wear the brown one depending on the right outfit. Those are my favorites because you can dress them up or down. To me, they’re the ultimate sneaker.