Posted by steven yatsko | May 25th, 2018

How designer Matthew Adams Dolan is emerging as a new American talent

Matthew Adams Dolan sits outside of a Lower East Side restaurant with his terrier, Maisie. It’s not yet late enough for a cocktail, but close enough. He weighs the merits of a margarita and orders black coffee in a mug instead–The LVMH Young Designer Prize finalist is only taking a break from fixing his sewing machine that’s waiting for him at his South Seaport studio. His praise as a designer lies in his ability to operate finely on the line between pragmatism and the unexpected, doing so without compromise. So, he is, much like his order, a professional, sensible tailor, that sometimes is lured to pleasurable diversion (when it comes to generously cut silhouettes and cocktails). His third collection, Fall 2018, has matured into arguably the most wearable, work-ready yet. The Parsons graduate’s designs, that harness and rethink the heritage and familiarity of American staples like denim, khaki, suiting and button downs, were first made popular worn by the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga. That’s great for catching buzz, but, also, fans of his can rest assured Dolan is more concerned with shelf-life than operating dubiously in the hype-machine. The young designer spoke to Models.com about finding inspiration from Jackie Kennedy, building a business and the role of emerging designers today.

Photographer : Steven Yatsko for Models.com
Stylist : Mark Jen Hsu
Make up : Ai Yokomizo
Hair Stylist: Shinya Nakagawa

Model: Sophia Young at DNA Models (New York)

Interview by Steven Yatsko for Models.com

Steven: I’m just curious, is your kitchen clean or is it messy?
Matthew: It’s quite clean because I don’t really use it that much.

You live in your studio?
That’s why it has to be clean.

What is your day-to-day like?
I wake up and usually I read the news for like 40 minutes. Then I like to do emails for an hour, catching up on whatever’s happened in the night from Europe, or other places that come in before the U.S. emails start to come in. Then the rest of the day …I do a lot of different things.

Are you a workaholic? Is there anything predictable in your schedule?
Yeah. Email. There would be a lot of email. You get 20 emails a day that are all urgent.

Fashion news or political news?
No, just general everything news. I don’t really read anything fashion news.

Is there any news from the fashion industry recently that has caught your attention? There’s a lot of stuff going on right now. Today, Interview folded.
Sometimes I get a bit stressed out reading about fashion. I would rather get stressed out about other things that don’t have to do with fashion, because there’s enough stuff to deal with.

Is there any anecdote you could remember from your childhood that foreshadows where you are now, what you’ve become?

My family is from the States, but I grew up mostly in Australia. We would come visit my grandparents almost every year and that is where my sister and I would get all our clothes from. Either my grandparents would send them to us or we would buy them when we were here. Then all I wanted to do was buy surf clothes from Sydney or the skater clothes that everyone in Sydney was wearing. I didn’t want to wear those very American clothes and that ended up being what I was really obsessed with.

At what point did it switch over?
I think when I started college. The college that I went to had a big theory background behind it, which I think is different to a lot of schools, especially Parson’s. Once I read about all of this stuff I became obsessed with American style and that world.

It’s always rooted in this idea of a democracy. That affords it to be straddling so many different areas of society.

Nature versus nurture, which one is most applicable to you, do you think?
I don’t know. I think a bit of both. My mom is a pharmacist by trade. My dad also, so they both came from science backgrounds, but at the same time my mom has been sewing since she was a little girl. It was something I was always surrounded by and I was always interested in that kind of thing. Then, at the same time, I always loved school and I think I always loved learning and researching. I guess, it sort of makes it both. Maybe a mix.

Would you ever be based out of anywhere else with your brand?
No, I don’t think so.

What’s the most truly unrelated thing that has inspired you or left impression on your work?
I’m always interested in a weird dichotomy, especially in the things I’m interested in and the things I look at: American style, or American fashion, or the sports world. It’s always rooted in this idea of a democracy. That affords it to be straddling so many different areas of society. I’m always interested in that mix of things. In terms of a specific thing, I don’t know.

Has your interest in American culture and that high-low, what you’re talking about, the juxtaposition, led you deeper into discovering new things?
Yeah, because you always want to find something interesting or a parallel. At the end of the day, no one needs to know about it, but it’s something that can lead you a certain way.

I think it’s such an important part of how Americans dress and not even just in the U.S., but all over the world. It’s very Western, but it’s also hip-hop, it’s also punk…It embodies so many different things.

What’s the last thing that piqued your interest that you found?
Last season I was reading about Jackie Kennedy and also obsessed with when she became First Lady. Even though she had always had this interest in fashion they wouldn’t let her wear these European designers because it was not a good look for her as the First Lady. I was obsessed with finding all of these pictures…She would basically give them a picture [of a design] and they would completely remake it in the U.S., but it was the same extra dress from these Europeans.

Are you making clothes for Jackie Kennedy?
No. I don’t think so.

Who are your clothes for?
I like the idea of it being quite true to that spirit of democracy and not being pigeon holed to one particular idea. I think what I’m so obsessed about, a pair of jeans, or a jean jacket, or something that it’s so universal and it’s something that everyone is familiar with. That really lends itself to be open for interpretation.

Do you still love denim as much?
I do. Yeah. I think it’s such an important part of how Americans dress and not even just in the U.S., but all over the world. It’s very western, but it’s also hip-hop, it’s also punk…It embodies so many different things.

What do you think of street wear and the whole obsession with it?
I was talking to someone about it. What I’m obsessed with is the idea of American sportswear which is very different to actual street wear. It’s chinos, it’s that kind of way of dressing as a middle class person that can be in a wardrobe for you to wear as your normal clothes. I think, also, especially as a young designer, there’s not really a lot of attention on that kind of idea rather than something that’s a hoodie with a logo on it or sneakers. Also, it’s nice to offer something as a contrast to that. For the past few seasons I’ve been interested in tailoring. Offering a new point of view on how a young American can dress that is not sportswear.

For the past few seasons I’ve been interested in tailoring. Offering a new point of view on how a young American can dress that is not sportswear.

Do you ever plan on offering a shoe? Would you do a tennis shoe or a dressier shoe?
In the future maybe, yes, and I don’t know. See, I used to never wear sneakers. Now, I’m obviously wearing sneakers.

Once you put on a tennis shoe and start walking around you’re kind of like, “God damn, it’s so easy.”
It’s definitely something that I would be interested in doing, because I want to have that ability to get a message across throughout a whole world. Obviously, it’s a question of scale, and team, and money. In the future, yeah. I would hope so.

You mentioned it, tailoring, but what techniques define you as a clothing maker? Even more specific than just great tailoring? Is there one thing that you find defines you?
Part of it also is just because of necessity: How big my team is, how to make patterns, I sew samples myself. I’m very involved in the process and the construction of the clothes. It’s all something that I’m always thinking about because I have to do it myself, basically. I was just fixing my sewing machine before I came here because I have to go and finish sewing the samples. The first time I made a suit in school I did a tailoring class and I was horrible at it. We spent a whole semester doing one half of a jacket completely by hand. That’s not the suits that I’m making now, so I’m not saying I’m a master tailor by any means.

But that’s what people notice first off.
Yeah.

Do you feel restricted by the way people cover your collections…Like “Master Tailor: Mathew Adams”. Does that haunt you at night?
I think so. As much as you don’t want it to effect, it, of course, does.

Obviously, you started from a very strong, strong denim place. You have been introducing a bunch of new stuff. Now people are like, “Oh, well, where’s the denim?”
I think it’s quite interesting to get comments like that because it’s just like, “Well, at the same time I’m trying to grow a business.” I think, also, a lot of the times people make these comments because they see what they want the brand to be in a certain way, but then when you look at the reality of the business, what people are buying is not that. They want the shirts, and they want the sweaters, so then that makes up the bulk of the business. It’s also not something that is forgotten, but also I don’t want to be a jeans label. The collection needs to be reactive to what the buyer has bought in the past and that kind of thing. It’s going to evolve and it’s going to change, but I don’t think it’s changing the core of what the brand is about.

Yeah, of course.
I think, also, a lot of people see what I do based on where I started, which was very small and as a student.

And not very long ago, also. How many seasons now?
I think three years? Yeah. I think it’s important to grow, because otherwise what are you going to do, just jeans every collection?

On that then, do you ever dream of adding anything to your repertoire or your signature that just will never happen because it’s so not the brand?
That’s a hard question. Also those questions are so tough because at this stage where it’s a small business and there’s a very limited team what I’m able to do with my resources is … Obviously, I would love to make something like this or that, but I can’t do it because it’s just not a possibility at this stage.

What are some high points in your design career?
The first show, even though it was very stressful. I guess, every fashion show is stressful. Until you’re a multi-billion dollar company and you don’t need to worry about all the stress. It was just very stressful.

Were you confident going in that…
No. No way. I think just accomplishing a first show is a good thing. That’s definitely was a big moment.

How did you feel about all the positive press you started receiving?
A show was also never something that I had thought of really doing, but I think it was the timing with all of these people leaving New York. As a reaction to that, the press started being interested. I think ever since I’ve started there’s been this new encouragement of younger designers. Especially with the first show you, all of a sudden, have a lot more eyes on you because it’s something for people to talk about.

There is a lot of focus on new designers and new everybody almost, new models, new photographers. Do you find that can also backfire because people aren’t championing brands and people as long than they normally would? They’re just always in it for the newest? Have you experienced any of that?
I think it’s drilled into you from school that there’s going to be another 10 people graduating the year after you’re done. I’ve been working with a lot of the same people since the very beginning in terms of stylists and photographers. Not only with my brand, but just in terms of people that have been photographing it or shooting it. Of course, it’s something that you always think about especially in fashion which is so about newness. You are conscious of it, but at the same time I don’t think you can get hung up on it. You just got to keep going tomorrow, next day, next day.

You get that boost of being new, the buzz, and then you’ve got to translate that to, what you’ve already talked about in a very pragmatic way, which is the buyer and actually making something people are buying beyond just buzz.
I think it’s about keeping that same energy from the beginning, especially when you’re working with the restrictions of being a small business, it’s important to keep that energy going.

You want to take risks but you need to take the right risks.

How big would you want your business to be?
Even one more person I’d be happy. I didn’t just start a business for fun, sort of thing. It’s like I made this choice to do this, so it’s being responsible in what I’m doing and the choices I make. It isn’t an art project. It is about making a business. Especially now as we have more buyers, more accounts, it’s really about the responsibilities of making clothes and it is so hard. All the different moving pieces that are there. I’m still learning so much about that.

Did it start off as an art project?
At school, yeah.

If you won the LVMH Young Designer Prize money, what would you do with it?
I’m sure every one of the people that are nominated will say the same thing about building a team, about growing the company in a way that is sustainable and relevant. Obviously, they’re different in terms of what their niche is. I think, for sure, it’s about using that money to create more opportunity to expand the business by building a team or investing into eCommerce or just that kind of thing.

What is the most difficult thing about being a brand of your size?
People. It’s expensive to hire someone. Yeah, that’s definitely the hardest.

What is the role of an emerging designer in the current state of industry? Maybe that’s a question you’ve asked yourself in the beginning or never asked yourself before, but do you feel tasked with anything?
Yeah, for sure, people look to young designers to do something that is new; whereas, what I’m interested in is not a new idea. In a way, it’s like I’m interested in that evolution of what American style is. It’s something that is old and it’s looking at past references or that kind of thing. I think as a young company, you do have a lot of responsibilities to be reflective of the society that you’re from so that’s something that I’ve always been conscious of. Since I started we’ve used American denim and then moving forward being conscious of working with mills that are sustainably creating the fabric. Being aware of that kind of thing is important, because I think if not companies can’t really operate, and not just in fashion, but in every aspect of society. There’s a responsibility that you need to have in place.

Do you think that thing can influence risk taking? Being overly conscious?
I think it’s always a line similar to what I was saying before, but you want to take risks but you need to take the right risks. You don’t want to alienate people.

Do you ever feel like you’re taking risks?
When you’re a creative person you second guess a lot of what you’re doing. Then, at the same time, just because the speed of how fast things move you don’t always get that much time to think about those decisions. You have a week to buy fabric so you get that and that’s what your fabric is.

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