There’s a new cult men’s fashion brand in town. It’s called ISAORA, which is sideways Spanglish for “ora si,” a rallying cry meaning, “now, yes.” The two founders were spending a rare indoor morning at the W hotel as part of an epic Seattle-to-San Diego inspiration trip. As winners of the Council on Fashion Designers’ (CFDA) Incubator, “designed to support the next generation of fashion designers in New York City,” they were on an epic customer facing- collaborating-camping-snowboarding-giant sequoia-seeing road trip. Eight people, one van, lots of product, and the promise of a comfy bed in a W hotel at regular intervals. Their assignment? Photographing, blogging, filming, learning, collecting inspiration for Spring, 2014, now in design phase. Is late winter along the lost coast the best time for a road trip? Now, yes.
These are modern clothes for modern men. The designers, Ricky Hendry and Marc Daniels, are committed to using some of the most up-to-the-minute fabrications, fasteners, and manufacturing techniques, full of highly functional details, hidden pockets, revelatory zippers. A butter-soft cotton flannel is a “nanofiber” infused at the molecular level with water repellence; a down jacket is lined with stretch fabric to provide more comfortable movement and closer fit. Some of the details are so sensible it’s a wonder they haven’t been copied everywhere, such as the v-shaped quilting pattern on a vest for a more slimming posterior silhouette; others are design tropes, like the charming down jacket with an opaque outer shell that reveals the ombre effect of down that is mainly dark feathers on top, fading to the lightest feathers at the bottom. The effect is charming, playful, and quite original.
We shared a latte with Ricky and Marc over decadent donuts at the W Hotel San Francisco.
SFW: How do you like wearing your clothes in San Francisco?
Marc: This is one of our very best markets. We are now carried in Bloomingdale’s and at Acrimony Boutique in Hayes Valley, but we have always had a very strong Silicon Valley customer base on the web. After New York, it’s our best market.
Ricky: Our clothes are perfect for San Francisco; many of them are lightweight, but with a slim down or technical fabric lining that makes them warm. San Francisco is a town where you always have t have another layer handy. Our button-‘down’ shirt, a traditional Oxford shape made of a very slim insulated down layer, has been the most popular item of our road trip. All eight of us seem to be wearing a version of it at some point in the day.
Marc: Our products are very versatile. The aesthetic is understated, including what is necessary for use but not overembellished. Our pieces are not ostentatious or showy, so they play well here, especially with the tech folks.
SFW: What have been some of the highlights of your trip?
Ricky: When we were in Portland, we toured the Nike campus and made it into the Nike employee store ten minutes before it closed. It was like one of those old shopping shows where you are beating the clock to fill your cart. We have such reverence for Nike. You look at what appears to be a running shoe, and then you realize it has no seams on it, so many integrated product features. Their designs have an ability to resonate.
SFW: Do you design clothes like Nike’s?
Marc: We take something that is practical and make it attractive, not fussy. Our button-down shirt is waterproof, insulated, lightweight, but not that engineered. Sometimes you stumble across a product, and then each season you evolve and improve it until it becomes a signature piece.
SFW: Which other designers do you admire?
Ricky: I’ve worked with Calvin, Ralph, Theory, LVMH – there are things to admire about them all. The concepts of Margiela, Rei Kawakubo – I admire what they have done, their clarity of vision.
I am most enamored of technical designers like Tomas Meierhoffer.
Marc: I love Japanese design, that aesthetic. They pay attention to things no one expects or cares to notice. They are overtly simple. Our brand is strong in Japan, we go over once or twice a year. When you see the chaos of Tokyo and how calm the people are, that translates to their products and clothes. I love that they change displays with the seasons.
Ricky: The Japanese have the ability to have fun with their clothes and still be practical. Clothes with technical material do not have to be sterile and clinical. Having a little personality without being over the top.
SFW: When did you start ISAORA?
Ricky: In 2009. It was a difficult time, with the economy falling off the cliff and stores not taking new brands on. It forced us to make sure what we were doing was relevant, in a new space that did not exist, that had soul. It seemed tough but forced us to have cohesive brand DNA. It made the usefulness of the product clearly critical.
SFW: You have a lot of technical fabrics. Where do you source and manufacture?
Marc: All over, but focused mainly on New York and Europe. We try to manufacture as much as we can in the US. We find fabrics everywhere there is innovation.
SFW: What has been best about this trip?
Marc: The new discoveries, the amazing visuals. We stopped to fill up with gas in Humboldt County and stumbled upon what we thought would be a greasy spoon called The Lighthouse. It turned out to be all locally grown produce, amazing Dungeness crab…fabulous. Here in SF, I had breakfast with my sister-in-law at The Mill, over in NOPA. It was the best coffee I’ve ever had.
SFW: Where would you go if you weren’t travelling for work?
Ricky: Tulum, for a yoga retreat for a month.
Marc: Down to Patagonia in Argentina. I’d spend a month in the mountains snowboarding and join the country.
SFW: Sounds as if you are opposites in your point of view.
Marc: We don’t actually have a lot of conflicts. Ricky is the main designer, and he knows how to do that really well. We are cohesive and have a similar vision for where we want this brand to go, and how to get there. We both want to get done what needs to get done.
Ricky: If we have a conflict, we let one person run with it and trust to that. We really see things very similarly and we don’t have to think about it.
SFW: What’s in store for you after this trip is over?
Ricky: Well, my wife’s expecting a baby in six weeks so this is my last adventure for a bit. If it wasn’t technically for work I don’t think I’d have been able to go.
Marc: My wife is four and a half months pregnant, so this is the last road trip either of us will be on for a while. We’re working on the next collection, talking about some collaborations. Doing some research.
Each season makes a little bit more sense. We tend to bite off a lot each season. We know what we need to do. It’s work, but we have to keep it relevant to have clothing people can enjoy. It’s that simple.