I recently got a chance to sit down with Mike Hare and Julian Cerruti of men's neckwear line Natural Born Elegance, to discuss their new collection of jackets, their philosophies regarding design and production, and, well, life in general. While the company is headquartered in Portland, they use textiles created by Lanificio Cerruti, an innovative Italian mill that has been run by Cerruti's family since 1881. Fittingly, emphasis on great fabric is at the core of the company's vision, as is a staunch rejection of mass production. While the textile mill's clients include some major global fashion houses, they are not interested in what Cerruti refers to as "grandeurized mass market" (basically selling a bunch of homoginized shit produced in China and marking it up 500% because it has a fancy designer label). For each model of tie or bowtie the company designs, only upward of twenty copies are produced, and each piece has individualized details such as the lining and the band, making it one-of-a-kind.
The jackets, which are handcrafted with exquisite attention to detail, mark the company's first foray into wholesale (the neckwear is sold exclusively on their website). While this makes it virtually impossible to make each jacket one-of-a-kind, they are produced in small batches, with each of the five models coming in a range of fabrics and colors. The sillhouettes, which range from casual to formal, are pared down and classic, but include innovative surface design elements, like a totally rad crocodile print on cashmere, that make the jackets feel very modern and fashion-forward. Fibers such as wool, hemp, cotton and cashmere are often blended to make textiles that are durable and warm, but insanely light and breathable (I got to try a couple of the jackets on and did not want to give them back). Details like hand-sanded ridges in the sleeves give each jacket a bespoke quality.
Cerruti and Hare love Portland because of the emphasis here on the value of handcrafted goods, independant design and small scale production. Cerruti notes that in major fashion capitals like New York and Paris, it is becoming increasingly necessesary to have broad commercial appeal just to survive. As he points out, "In some of these cities, unless you sell 20,000 jackets they're not interested." This creates a dynamic in which fashion houses strive to become giant lifestyle brands that churn out as many different products as possible to meet the demand of a ridiculously accelerated fashion cycle. Natural Born Elegance, on the other hand, would rather make the very best of a small range of products, and produce them based on how people actually buy clothes, not the fashion calendar. As Cerutti puts it, "We're going back to real values; tangible values, sustainable values."
Check out some of the jackets: