I got a little taste of that real college experience during my trip to NYC. It’s also quite fitting that it involved menswear!
I first saw Rowing Blazers on my instagram about a year ago. I assumed it was some targeted ad thing, as many brands use those bots in order to build a following extremely quickly. While I did like some of the stuff, I didn’t dive in too deeply.
In theory, this entire thing shouldn’t work. A brand built entirely on prep-ivy-university style? Bringing back rowing blazers, complete with piping and regatta stripes? Nah. J. Crew has already struggled to rebrand itself. The era of Gatsby (boating blazers and white pants) is long over, pushed to live only on Dapper Day and the Jazz Age Lawn Party.
But none of that stopped Jack Carlson when he made Rowing Blazers. And I’m glad he made it, because not only is it pretty cool, but it’s a great case-study in marketing/branding.
Interestingly, it started as a book. Rowing Blazers is a coffee table book written and researched by Dr. Jack Carlson, who is an accomplished university and world class rower, among being a archaeologist and (later) a designer. As you can see from that non-affiliate Amazon link, it goes into different universities’ blazers as well as the history of their rowing team and club houses. In short, the original blazers were made of flannel and were brightly colored/designed so you could spot the team way out in the water during a race. Each college began doing their own version and even other sports as well. Team members would wear them not only to races, but around campus since they were pretty practical; in terms of design, they were pretty much like other sportcoats of their era: notch lapels, patch pockets, unlined, and vent-less.
If you read this interview he did with the Chap, you’ll learn that Carlson actually found vintage rowing blazers and decided to design ones that were similar, since no one was doing it. At first their jackets were sold online or at pop-ups, touting their made in New York (a great feat) jacketing which is actually pretty cool. Eventually they moved on to carry rugby shirts (think a thicker long sleeve polo), tees, and caps.
The most interesting thing is how they market themselves. Rowing Blazers doesn’t have that J. Crew-Americana appeal. Instead, it has a sort of neo-‘Lo Head-esque vibe. Think a literal combination of classic menswear and 90’s streetwear. It probably helps that the brand and their store is based in NYC, where styles often mingle. To me, it’s a cooler, more grounded and inclusive (i.e, cooler) version of what you’d imagine a bunch of lame white frat guys would be into. The RB moodboard isn’t all old pictures of 20’s collegiates; you’ll find everything from Wes Anderson to Andre 3000. If the Bloke is about looking at the ivy-mod scene through an American eye, then RB looks at collegiate history through a younger, more modern lens.
Rowing Blazers also seems to play into the streetwear business model. They relase new product as “drops”, which allows people to get hyped accordingly. Some of the drops are collaborations with other brands or are based around a theme, like the Wall Street one that we happened to come across during our NYC trip. They also try to have events every Thursday, which definitely helps bring people in. It’s almost like Supreme of this new menswear generation, just without the god-awful overbranding. I think that’s genius. Carlson and his team have worked really hard to make sure that the brand means much more than the name.
As I stated in my trip recap, we stumbled into the RB Soho store on our first afternoon. It’s a pretty big space, appearing like what I imagine a rowing club house would be. Apparel can be found everywhere, located next to fun art, university memorabilia, and a pingpong and foosball table. It’s really worth a look if you’re in the area. The staff is nice, though I have a feeling that shy college Ethan wouldn’t have been in the same social circle. Luckily we have something in common now!
While I’m not a huge fan of rugby shirts (too thick for me), I really liked their checked summer jackets, especially this blackwatch one. The fit is a bit snug, but it has 3-roll-2 stance, triple patch pockets, and isn’t lined. Pretty damn good apart from the slightly short body. I almost walked out with it!
Before we left the store that Monday, John made sure to invite us to their latest Thursday evening event which was Wall Street/American Psycho themed. Intrigued, we made sure to add it to our itinerary! However, as many of you know, I’m a pretty introverted guy even with menswear events; I ended up bringing a few friends (and asked the Drake’s dude) to make sure it wasn’t just sober me and a bunch of other people I didn’t know.
Prior to this, my only experience with menswear events (or shindigs at a menswear store) was the Bloke opening party and a handful of Gooch Collectives. Now those were more open, so the people there weren’t necessarily in the industry. Additionally, I basically only had Spencer to hang out with.
This time it was different! We brought along a mini squad so that we wouldn’t feel left out. There was free wine, a DJ, and an extremely friendly photographer to make the night interesting. Other menswear guys we knew also made an appearance near the end! Like I said in the opening, it felt like everything I didn’t get from college: a club house, music, friends, and a bit of drinks.
Definitely not a boba night, but fun nonetheless!
The fashion was extremely varied, which I really liked. I could make out a few streetwear guys (who might have just come from outside), though I’m always intrigued to see people incorporate products from the shop into their outfit. The biggest one was the “FINANCE” cap, which is a part of this latest drop. It’s a bit tacky in a cool suit-bro way; I almost bought one.
Like most menswear shops today, there was an “annex” part of the store that was housing a trunkshow/collaboration. If you went to the Bloke today for example, you’d find a collection of records for sale, curated by Groove Merchants. For Rowing Blazers, they had Tracksmith. While I am in no way an athletic person (I try to go to the gym 3x a week to keep up my hamburger/boba diet), I really liked the attire. The shorts were short, as most athletic clothing had been until the 1980s. The diagonal stripe is a great throwback to vintage collegiate uniforms, like what Tom wore in Gatsby.
$70 for a workout shirt is a bit much for me, but I can’t deny how damn good it looks. You could even wear this with tailoring if you felt so inclined. It actually didn’t look half bad on me!
Rowing Blazers is a really cool brand that’s doing something completely different. For a while, menswear used to be either at the mall, at Brooks, or on Saville Row. Then the atelier started to come out (thanks largely to the Armoury) bringing in a variety of different brands and the occasional trunk show. Now Jack Carlson has brought a different spin, marketing drops like they’re the next Supreme capsule and having fun events every Thursday. It really is a new generation of neo-prep.
The event itself was pretty fun, though I am glad I brought my friends. I tend to retreat during events like this, but it helps that menswear sorta ties everything together! So many different people were there, from classic menswear guys to street wear aficionados, to the occasional rando. Getting to hang with everyone apart from a store vsit, was really fun, as I never get to do that in LA (considering the industry isn’t present). It may not be exactly what university is like, but it’ll take it. Having the events though is pretty genius, since I can’t think of a better way to make a rugby shirt or a madras jacket look appealing to young people. They’ve really done a great job!
As I release this article, RB is already doing another event, this time to promote the launch of their official Fall-Winter 2018 collection. Shot by F.E Castleberry, it’s a pretty cool insight into the vibes of the brand, if you haven’t seen their stuff already. Like I said, it’s a good case study in fashion marketing.
Always a pleasure,
Street x Sprezza
Photography by Ethan W. and Trung M.