Athleisure. I loathe that word, and even more the “tailored” sweatpants and fleece tops that it’s used to describe. Yes, I live in Southern California and spend most of my time in shorts and t-shirts, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’m dressed appropriately for the workplace or a dinner out.
And it must be said that when I do want to dress it up a bit in the heritage wear we all know and love, I can be put off by stiff twills, unyielding denim and thick leathers that comprise so many of our beloved staples. (Yeah they break in beautifully, but you know what I mean.)
So as the standards have relaxed over the years, I’m always on the lookout for wardrobe pieces that can live in that sweet spot: evocative of the classic style I love, dressy enough to meet people whom I don’t want thinking me President of the Jeff Spicoli Fan Club, and at the same time conforming to the relaxed silhouettes that have become the new normal for “grown up clothes” (at least here in Venice, CA).
As I usually only find pieces that fit that bill (and me–I’m lanky) here and there when the gods choose to smile on me, I was thrilled when I walked into Stag, my favorite local cool clothes outpost, to find racks of the stuff, all bearing the Grayers label.
I figured it was finally time to reach out for the full story on the brand, and was excited to find that founders/husband and wife Peter Georgiou and Joanna Corsaro were eager to tell their tale, and also kind enough to send along a few new pieces for me to put through their paces. Two months later, here we are.
Heddels (John Bobey): How long have you wanted to launch Grayers, and when did you actually take the plunge?
Peter Georgiou: We launched in stores about five years ago. I had the brand on my mind for a while after spending 12 years at Ralph Lauren, and then having my own sourcing and product development business. There was a big gap in the market for what I call the, “Forgotten Middle,” and I was determined to fill it.
Guys were looking for that next phase of classic, but with more of an artisanal feeling, and stellar quality at a value. And no one was doing it quite like we wanted to. The time was right. Menswear was having a moment. Influencers from the social media world meant there was now a rapid fire of clothing input for guys. The demise of formal wear had also triggered a boom in men’s sportswear. The workplace had gone from casual Fridays to casual every day. More and more industries were shedding the conformities of suits, forcing guys to figure out a replacement.
H: On the Grayers web site, you talk about some of your influences…Lord Cardigan, Lord Raglan, and students at Cambridge and Oxford (who swapped their three-piece suits for gray flannel trousers, known as,” Grayers”). Where else do and your team draw inspiration?
PG: I’m a history buff, so provenance is relevant. In our store on Bleecker Street the artist Scott Hill hand painted a mural of Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan. So yes, they are a great inspiration! I’m fascinated by how we can modernize and interpret things in a witty, accessible way.
We comb through everything from European vintage shops to clothing archives reinventing unique fabric finds into handsome, classic garments. One of our best-selling flannels was inspired by a pair of vintage 1950s wool plaid pants from my father-in-law. He loved that!
H: Is it a challenge striking a balance between historical reference points, comfort, and marketability?
PG: It’s not necessarily a challenge, but more of a balancing act. First, you want to represent enough archival essence of the product that inspired you, but at the same time make it relevant to today’s guy and tastes. And second, be at a price point that’s a rare value. So everything we do is that balancing act.
H: Your co-founder (and wife) Joanna told me how important it is to Grayers that you actually produce all your own textiles – that’s a big piece of the process to take on for a brand—why do it?
PG: Yes, it’s rare for a brand in Grayers category to develop and weave all of their own fabric. We do it because we have a passion for textiles, and to be relevant. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job. It’s all about the product. If there’s no originality, and you can find it everywhere else, it’s not relevant.
There’s an artisanal movement in small Brooklyn studios and design houses in Oklahoma (which by the way, we think is great), but they are inaccessibly priced. So we’re creating our version of artisanal – well-crafted with stand-out quality, fine details, the softest fabrics, offbeat colors – all rooted in the classics – at a rare value. To achieve this, we weave all of our own fabric. We design our own prints and plaids. Everything is original. Nothing is off the shelf. We want to deliver something special to consumers, and give back as much as possible to them.
H: What is it about a textile that is perfect for Grayers that makes it less-than-great for others (and thus not available unless you guys weave it)?
PG: The fun part of developing the line is using fabrics in somewhat unconventional ways. That level of experimentation and creative direction leads us to make interesting items. One of our bestsellers was the Albermarle knit blazer made of a special French terry fabric. That fabric was knitted with special heather yarns into a herringbone print – not your everyday ordinary fleece.
Our goal is to up the ante, bring new ideas to the collection, and to market them to create an artisanal collection. The case in point is the Albermarle blazer. We couldn’t make enough to satisfy the demand and the demand was there because it was original, creative, practical, affordable, timeless, great quality. What else is there?
H: Perhaps the thing that drew me to your brand more than anything else was how comfortable everything is. At times, there’s a sense that for heritage and workwear-inspired clothing, it should be…unyielding, rigid, hard to break-in materials being the price of admission for eventually wearing them to the point where they get crazy comfy. Your stuff is that way on day one. How important is that kind of “wearability” to you?
PG: There are two ways to interpret heritage looks. One is the literal interpretation of great heritage product, to the point you highlight that rigid twill or flannel that harks to the period. Our goal is not to bring the past to the present. We’re not interested in the rigid literal interpretation of a 1930s rugged twill. Product development and technology have moved along in the past years to create comfortable, soft, special fabrics. So we’re going in that direction. Yes, the crazy comfortable direction, and it’s working for us. Our customers don’t call our double cloth shirts “Shirt Nirvana” for nothing!
H: You spent 11 years working for Ralph Lauren. Without telling tales, what’s one approach to style, business, etc. that you couldn’t wait to try with Grayers that a big brand would never have given a shot?
PG: With Grayers I wanted to be experimental. We can try new fits, new base cloths, unconventional fabrics and washes. Consumer tastes are changing and guys are looking for modern classics. Plus, the way guys shop is changing. We’re a family business so we can be reactive and nimble.
H: On the other side of the coin, what’s a lesson you learned from Ralph that has served you best once you broke out on your own?
PG: To be a jack of all trades and a master of all, as well.
H: What’s your secret to staying competitive – the price point for most of Grayers is downright affordable.
PG: Continuing to deliver that value of beautiful, creative product with an artisanal flare without breaking the bank.
H: You run the business a good chunk of the year from Hong Kong – is that a lifestyle choice…concession to your manufacturing process…what’s appealing about running a business as an ex-pat?
PG: We spend about half our time in the U.S. It’s a balancing act of being close to mills – from wet processing to new fabric development – and also being close to our customers and marketing. It’s challenging to be in both places at the same time, so you just have to work a little harder.
H: You’ve recently opened a Grayers brick and mortar store on New York’s Bleecker St. If memory serves, your old boss has a couple stores on that street as well?
PG: Yes, it’s a great street. A timeless street of culture, history, and design.
H: Why was it important to have a retail location? So many brands look to avoid that, especially in, “The rent is how much!” neighborhoods like Bleecker St. in the West Village.
PG: Fashion remains a touchy feely business. And while you can see the entire collection online, it’s great to see the world of Grayers in one location. Bleecker is an iconic street that resonates with Grayers. About the time Bleecker Street saw the rise of bohemian New York and the offbeat and unscripted ways of that generation, the young gentlemen at Oxford and Cambridge were ditching their outdated three-piece flannel suits for gray flannel trousers – or Grayers – which was considered radical at the time.
H: What evolutions are you most anticipating with the Grayers brand, and what will you make sure never, ever changes?
G: Eventually expanding into new product categories – children’s wear and women’s wear down the road. Our mantra around rewriting the classics with a modern, artisanal feel, with great quality, will never change.
As Peter said, one of his huge influences was the students at Oxford in the 1960s, but he surely also has a deep appreciation for the Ivy Style here in America from about the same time. That’s what the pieces I tried got me to thinking about, especially the Eastvale 3 Button Blazer (XL, $175).
- Unlined and three-button closure
- Center Vent
- Functioning sleeve button through
- Trimmed with chambray under the collar and pocket bags
- 100% Cotton
The Eastvale is unstructured, soft shouldered, and evokes the vibe of sack suit jackets I love. The fabric is lightweight, perfect for summer without being seersucker, which too often has you looking in search of a summer wedding or Derby Day.
I wore this on my birthday (with rolled sleeves, showing off the working buttons), and at dinner my friend greeted me not with well wishes, but a demand for a link where he could get the jacket I was wearing. And I rarely wear a pocket square, but Joanna was kind enough to include one of their Bandanas ($24), and the palm tree and coconut motif makes for a classy but beachy touch.
Cabana Shawl Cardigan
The most versatile piece I tried was the Cabana Shawl Cardigan in Light Charcoal (XL, $145).
- Knitted with twisted charcoal marl yarns from a special uneven “budding” cotton
- Sporty kangaroo pockets, a unique spin redefines classic sport-inspired sweaters
- Trimmed with elbow patches,
- Ribbed hem and cuffs
- Accented with cover stitching
- 100% Cotton
I’ve been wearing this thing everywhere…over a t-shirt with shorts for cool evenings, and dressed up over an oxford in lieu of a jacket. I love the versatility of the charcoal marl coloring, and it drapes beautifully (unlike too many cotton sweaters that either get stiff or stretched out after washing). This piece bumps up against the “sweater out of sweatshirt material” idea, but just barely.
Newport Canvas Stretch Pants
Chinos to me these days means Dickies 874 work pants, so the Newport Canvas Stretch Pants (34×34, $88), in Grisaille Blue (la di da), have been a nice upgrade, and not just because the “stretch” makes for happier gorging on Happy Hour Nachos.
- Clean finished
- Self waistband
- Flat front tapered straight leg
- Zip-fly with button closure at waist
- On-seam front pockets with besom coin pocket
- Two back flap button through pockets
- 9 1/8″ rise 15 1/2″ leg opening (approximately)
- 98% Cotton/2% Spandex
These Newports are a good weight for SoCal climates, and the refined details will make sure that no one thinks me and my chinos just came from the skatepark…because I haven’t been on a skateboard since I was 7.
Hartford Double Cloth Shirt
Perhaps my favorite Grayers item of all is the Hartford Double Cloth Shirt in Charcoal Heather (XL, $98). The Double Cloths are a Grayers greatest hit, and have earned a devoted following (there are many styles to choose from, plaids and solids alike). What I like so much is that fabric lacks all the stiffness of a dress shirt, yet manages to look plenty spiffy with a tie under a jacket.
- An extra soft hand
- Engineered with light blue heather yarns into a double layer of lightweight fabric which is woven as one
- Finished with a patch flap chest pocket and fisheye buttons
- 100% Cotton
Grayers – The Final Say
It’s always exciting to connect with a new brand, especially one that seemed to have had you in mind throughout their design process. Plus, I can be a tough fit, and miraculously Grayers’s cuts work especially well for me.
But I think if you have a chance to give them a try, you’ll find there is a universality to their appeal. Because we all want to look good, and be comfortable while doing so. I’m not giving up my heavyweight denim or twills anytime soon, but lately they have been enjoying a well-deserved break. And the best thing about Grayers? Not a hint of Athleisure anywhere in sight.