"I love tapping into things that are familiar to people—not retro, not vintage—just plain familiar," says Dana Lee, designer of A-Z, a menswear label that made its debut this year. And by "familiar," Lee means that "rugby shirt that's been sitting in your bottom drawer for 10 years since you quit soccer," or "a rain poncho that hangs in the family mudroom, worn exclusively over the last five years for walking the dog." In other words, L.L. Bean-type classics like chinos, dress shirts, and long underwear that probably left your fashion repertoire when you pitched that decades-old catalog out with the recycling.
Now, if the word "chino" yields some discomfort, fear not. The A-Z interpretations have restructured, retextured, and altogether resurrected the best of Northen-Hempishere-cloudy-weather-casual with cool basics that reflect Lee's history as a Vancouver B.C. teenager who styled clothing from dead-stock menswear, a young adult who studied design in Helsinki, and now, a NYC designer with select fall pieces in bi-coastal stores, and a more fleshed-out collection due in spring '08.
Highlights from both seasons include the pocketed Wool Capes, a geometric pin collection, luxe merino wool long underwear, and the color-blocked tanks and polos—simple pieces made special by subtle contrast detailing, careful fabric consideration, color used as punctuation, and a hands-on approach to production. And if you're still uncertain about bringing back those once shunned favorites, consider Lee's wise parting words: "I'm wary of saying 'I'll never make or wear that,' because you just never know what will feel refreshing down the road. Any style or look has the potential to be great if it's well-executed and placed in the right context." And yes, that includes chinos.
A-Z is available in New York at Bblessing, 181 Orchard Street; 212-378-8005, and in Los Angeles at Scout, 7920 West 3rd Street; 323-658-8684. For spring, A-Z will also be sold in Opening Ceremony's New York and Los Angeles locations.
A-Z sheds new light on rainy day classics.