Basic Training

How L.A. designers Mike & Chris found a muse in the hoodie. By
Dena Smolek
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Bailey hoodie dress and Franklin jacket both from the holiday '06 collection
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Husband-and-wife design team Michael Gonzales and Christine Park-Gonzales have taken the basic hoodie where few have dared to tread. The hoodie as a fashion item just seems over-thought, over-done. But in the hands of these two designers, a fundamentally sacred shape and structure is realized in a smart and utterly sexy, refreshing line of jackets, knits, accessories, a new men's collection, and, yes, hoodies, too.
Mike and Christine describe the refined line of fleece, canvas, and leather pieces as "downtown, laid-back chic," befitting their Southern California headquarters, but the thoughtful lines and exquisite details of each piece seem to stretch beyond their own description. Starting with just a small collection of women's hoodies, the line has enjoyed great growth in a short time. But the organic evolution is something the pair doesn't take for granted. "It's been amazing," says Christine. "We try to perfect each category before we ever introduce a new one," says Mike.
Despite the natural evolution, the pair continues to carry a soft spot for their original muse, which the entire multifaceted line sprung from. Fans of Helmut Lang, Rick Owens, and maybe even vintage Jil Sander will appreciate the clean but conceptual flourishes as well as the muted palette of earthy colors. As the name of the line would suggest, there is an inherent balance of masculine and feminine in every piece, whether it's the full pleated Bailey hoodie dress (read: if Audrey Hepburn had been in a punk band) or the Napolean-vibed fleece cropped Murray jacket.
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Lafayette jacket and North Main bag and Bond jacket and Virgil bag all from the spring/summer '07 collection
"I do the bulk of the design, and then Christine and I go over it together, between storybook time with our son Mateo," says Mike. "It's great because we only work together on the creative, so it always feels fresh and untarnished by the routine of day-to-day."
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For fall/winter and holiday '06, the Niko and Noah fleece hoodies offer irreverent everyday basics for women, and then there's the must-have coat of the season, the canvas Franklin with oversized military-style pockets and a wide figure-flattering waistband. Fall also marked the launch of the T-shirt collection with lightweight styles that feel as if they've been loved and lived in for years. As for the handbags, Christine says there is definitely a bestseller. "The Austin for sure. It's easy to carry and large enough to hold everything you need."
Spring '07 introduces an array of covetable pieces for both sexes. For women, highlights include the Sidney fleece pullover with a multi-stitched belted collar and kangaroo pocket, and the Jasper lambskin hoodie. For guys, the standouts are the Echo Park canvas hoodie and the Layfayette distressed leather hoodie.
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Hunter and Kennedy jackets both from the spring/summer '07 collection
With such a finely edited selection of distinct pieces, the Mike & Chris label is due to draw even more devoted followers. "We just try to be us and produce a line that is true to our aesthetic," says Mike. "And every time we see someone wearing one of our pieces, we still get freaked out."
Mike & Chris is available in New York at Barneys New York, www.barneys.com, and in Los Angeles at Diavolina,156 South Robertson Boulevard; (310) 550-1341. For more information, go to www.mikeandchris.com
How L.A. designers Mike & Chris found a muse in the hoodie.
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