SPECIAL THANKS TO EDUARDO MORALES AT OMEN PR
The brains and creativity behind menswear label Highland come from Mike Franks, Lizzie Owens, and Cramer Tolboe. From its inaugural Fall 2010 collection, Highland has gone from strength to strength with completely cool, easy-wear designs born out of the trio’s love of function and dynamic details, and inspired by the freedom of the American West.
Rich Aybar is the stylist to world-renowned designer Rick Owens. His other clients include Givenchy, MGMT, and Highland.
RICH AYBAR—Let’s get the creation myth out of the way – what was your impetus for starting Highland?
HIGHLAND—We were all raised in Utah and shared a love for the outdoors. By the summer of 2009, having all worked in various parts of the fashion industry both in LA and NY, we reconnected and realized there was a real absence of grown-up, sophisticated sportswear in the contemporary menswear market. We knew we had a fresh cool take on what would feel familiar to a lot of guys, a new perspective to add, and a past to legitimize it.
RA—How do you see Highland growing?
H—We keep perfecting styles every season, but we’ve got a clear idea of our message and how that translates aesthetically. Now, it is all about reaching those guys that truly get what we’re all about. A big first step will be our first New York Fashion Week presentation. After that, what is most important to us is communicating a clear message, expanding our vision to our customer, and growing organically based on that.
RA—What are some of the challenges that you’re currently facing?
H—Honestly, I’m tired of thinking in terms of challenges; I’m ready to replace that word with “opportunities.”
RA—What are some of the aesthetic touchstones or values that keep recurring in Highland?
H—I find it’s impossible to ignore your upbringing so why not let it lead? The early days of Patagonia and The North Face captured the lifestyle that we grew up around in the mountains of Utah during the eighties and nineties. That, and a strong nostalgia for seventies, eighties, and nineties West Coast Americana is imagery we constantly refer to.
RA—Will the Highland man ever grow up and get a job?
H—[Laughs] That’s a good question! I believe our man, or rather our boy, thinks outside the whole “growing up to be…” mentality. He’s mature while young at heart, responsible but not tied down.
RA—What are some technological advancements that make you excited?
H—Man, those Nike Flyknits have really brought knitting into a whole new realm. They fully utilize the advantages of knitting. If you look closely, they’re seamless; one continuous piece of yarn crochets for open mesh and then tightens for structure, moving to ribs for stretch support, and holding (a knitting term, commonly seen in the heel of a sock) through the arch to contour the shoe without introducing any seaming. If I had access to the computerized machines that makes those shoes, I could revolutionize the sweater.
RA—What’s your favorite material to work with?
H—As you can tell, I love knitwear. I love the challenge of starting with only a piece of yarn and conceiving the fabric and silhouette simultaneously.
RA—Who do you think is getting it right with menswear?
H—Raf Simons and Yohji Yamamoto most immediately come to mind, but they’re old pros. “Getting it right” makes me think of a designer who is still refining their message… in which case I’d say J.W. Anderson’s lack of boundaries is very refreshing and inspiring to the world of menswear.
RA—What’s your favorite quality in a man?
H—A man void of fear and insecurity, prideful but not egotistical, trusted, trusting, and full of love.
RA—What about dressing interests you the most?
H—The way I see it, dressing is the act of reflecting a mood and/or a personality to anyone and everyone, a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the plans leading up to getting dressed, like when you pack for a trip to a place you’ve never been or when you buy something for an occasion that doesn’t yet exist, you’re dressing your future self, manifesting your destiny.
RA—When you [Lizzie] were studying at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] did you have any idea then that you would end up in fashion?
H—When I decided to attend RISD I thought I was going to be a painter.
RA—What were some of the academic explorations that interested you at that point?
H—I loved everything art school had to offer: drawing, art history, painting, ceramics, welding, graphics, film, glass blowing, furniture design, architecture, textiles, and fashion.
RA—What is your relationship with the fashion industry?
H—It’s funny because RISD didn’t even use the word “fashion” to describe the study, instead they called it “apparel design,” which I think explains a little as to why I was so surprised to find out the fashion industry was about so much more than just clothing design. The hierarchal exclusivity, fleeting popularity, luxury as a status symbol, and glamour as a lifestyle really rubbed me the wrong way. I had to find a place within fashion where I could do what I love most – design and make wearable clothes. I think menswear has been the perfect safe space for me to get my bearings, to strengthen my voice as a designer while keeping an eye on the big picture.
RA—You worked for a bit under Tess Giberson at TSE; would you work for another fashion house?
H—What I miss most about working at a fashion house is having endless resources and a community of talented designer friends. Running my own line, I’m a bit of an island, but ideally that will change. Highland will grow and I can have all the parts of working for a bigger company I like, without all the parts I don’t.
RA—Tell me about your most positive shopping experience?
H—It’s only happened a handful of times, but it involves discovering under-the-radar, European and Japanese designer consignment shops that aren’t self aware and therefore very reasonably priced. I’ll never forget wandering into what looked to be a kooky handmade hat shop on Ludlow Street back in 2006 and discovering it was run by a very stylish Japanese woman who sold mostly her own amazing collection of Comme des Garçons from the eighties and nineties. She was selling runway collection pieces for under $200 – the same garments I had just handled with white gloves at the FIT costume library. I was selfish and kept it a secret. The shop closed a year later.There was also this other time I was in the Hamptons in the middle of winter with a friend who convinced me I could find a swimsuit for my upcoming trip to Mexico. So we wandered into Scoop where we found four huge racks of Miu Miu and Dries Van Noten at 90 per cent off! I think they were a new store at the time and still finding their customer? I didn’t ask any questions and I forgot about buying a swimsuit.
RA—Where do you go when you need a mental vacation?
H—Conveniently, there’s a beautiful yoga studio right next to Highland’s headquarters where I can go and breathe through those impossible days.
RA—What do you listen to when you’re in the studio?
H—Lately I can’t get enough rap and R&B. I finally took a break from Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE. Now it alternates between Kendrick Lamar and ASAP Rocky. If we’re hosting a meeting I might turn on Enya.
RA—What’s your power drink?
H—Bottled Yerba Mate, preferably mint flavored.