So much for the sturdy, workwear-influenced collections that solemnly marched down the runways the past several years. The new guard of menswear designers is going old school. Ian Velardi and Ariel and Shimon Ovadia of Ovadia & Sons are among the young guns creating refined and rakish looks, harkening back to an era when men dressed like gentlemen and the denim, chambray Cool Hand Luke look was strictly for guys working on actual chain gangs. (It’s no wonder, then, that the Ovadia brothers were tapped by preppy mainstay J. Press to work on the brand’s new line J. Press York Street.)
The fitted suits, soft, chunky cardigans, and dashing fedoras in these designers’ lines are clearly crafted by and for guys who believe that dressing well should be fun. And somehow, their houndstooth- and herringbone-accented collections feel just as appropriate in our edgy, uncertain times as they would have during the heyday of Clark Gable and Cary Grant.
All of 30 years old, Velardi and the Ovadia twins—who recently created a capsule collection for Gap—are too young to remember that golden age of American men’s dressing, but they’ve definitely done their homework. Velardi got his start at the storied American suit brand Hickey Freeman and knows his way around a tailored garment, while the Ovadias, who grew up in Brooklyn, spent their early years trolling vintage shops when they weren’t unloading trucks for their father’s children’s clothing business.
The elegant Ovadia look is the result of “a lot of digging,” says Ariel. “Shimon and I have closets of all the clothing we’ve been collecting.” Even on family trips to Europe as teenagers, the brothers would plot out the right vintage spots they wanted to hit. “Friends would say, ‘Why are you taking me to aused clothing store on vacation,’ ” he recalls.
Velardi, who grew up in New Jersey, got his first taste of fashion by hopping on a bus to Manhattan every chance he got during his teen years. “I would spend all my time in Soho, just wandering the streets,” he recalls. “Going to the Polo store, Stüssy, Phat Farm and Union… just getting immersed in this world of street culture.” That may sound like an unlikely breeding ground for a designer who has developed a cult following for his perfectly tailored double-breasted blazers and supple suede bombers—all made by top factories in Italy—but Velardi’s street influence is “more about an attitude than an aesthetic,” he says. You can see it in, say, the way he pairs a wide-lapelled dinner jacket with a plaid flannel shirt in his fall look book.
It’s also there in Velardi’s no-nonsense perspective. “No one needs the stuff I’m making,” he says with a laugh. “You don’t need it—it’s a luxury. It’s a way for someone to express themselves. If you can come up with a better word, I’m all ears, but to me, that’s fashion.”