Our first encounter with fashion designer Raz Keren began with us admiring his shirt at a party. When we asked who made it, he laughed and said it was one of his own designs. Keren, who also teaches and mentors fashion design students at Parsons The New School for Design, went on to tell us that he custom makes menswear couture pieces. After finding all of this out, we knew we had to learn more! We ended up getting more than we had bargained for: a glimpse into the mind of a fashion designer, and some amazing advice that only his students would usually be lucky enough to receive!
Labeling Men: What are you wearing today?
Raz Keren: A Uniqlo shirt and Levi’s jeans…I wear a lot of jeans.
L.M: So your go-to item is jeans?
R.K: I like Levi's 511s. I actually have five pairs of them so I can wear the same jeans all the time. Sometimes I also love to also wear jeans with some of the nicer shirts that I make or blazers.
L.M: How would you describe your brand?
R.K: I would say it’s "Funny Preppy.” It’s classic, but I definitely like to put some humor into the clothes. There is always some humor in it, something to make it special. I would say it’s modern tailored with a twist.
L.M: What is the inspiration behind your work?
R.K: Because of the way fashion works right now, I decided to change the module of my business. I don't do a collection, per say, it is more item oriented. I don't necessarily design a group with one theme, but I could say it would always have the brand identity. And again, because it is item oriented and doesn't have a season, you can wear it next year and two years from now without it being too trendy. I like to play a little with uniform or clergy. I've done some things that look like a priest but it’s not. I like to make people stop and take notice. That is more important to me than a particular inspiration; I put all the effort into the shirt rather than trying to match it to a certain theme. Of course, it’s something I would always like to wear, which gives me the indication of what I want to design.
L.M: We know that you teach at Parsons, is there any one piece of advice you give your students?
R.K: What I would say is that I try to help them with how their brain works as a designer. So I work differently with different students. I try to bring out their strength because different designers work differently. I try to bring out their strength and vision. Designing doesn't need to be difficult; you need to find out what you're the best at and then try to get better. You don't necessarily need to push yourself to do something that you have no clue about. Try to find what you're good at and excel at it. Most students initially don't; they think they can do a lot of things and it can be a difficult process. Once you find your own voice as a designer, what you're best at, it becomes a lot easier.
L.M: You're from Israel and you travel a lot. Do you notice the way people dress differently and does your design aesthetic change when you're in a certain country?
R.K: Absolutely. I think if you travel somewhere, the way people dress is different. The way people in New York City think is common would not be in a different city. I think it’s a cultural thing, depends on society. The European market is much different than the American market. I've been accused in the past as a designer as much more "European" than "American,” If we are talking about Italy, they have such history of culture and when you design you have to have your references. America would have a completely different feel if you go back to the culture and history.
L.M: And with Israel?
R.K: It’s really interesting, because Israelis are very fashionable. I think one thing that makes it more difficult is the weather. All you want to wear is shorts and tank tops, but there is a market for that too. There is a different perception in America as to what business attire is. It’s getting better, more fashionable, more creative. But in Israel and in Europe, people aren't afraid to be more creative with what they are wearing.
L.M: Any one item that you would recommend from your line that you would suggest a guy to wear on a first date?
R.K: Off the top of my head, I would say this white shirt. You could wear this shirt with a nice pair of jeans and nice date wear. I'm a little casual, a little dressy and it’s very sharp looking. We live in a culture where first impression is extremely important; when you're dating the very first meetings are crucial as to how the other person perceives you. You need to pay attention to what you wear. If you feel good about what you're wearing, you're more positive and a happier person. I know whenever my clients wear something that is made for them, they are happier; it affects everything that they do.
L.M: Any NYC dating horror stories?
R.K: This one time this guy asked me out. He saw me at a party and asked for my phone number and wanted us to go out on a date. He made all this effort to meet and then we met at a sushi place and the whole time it felt like he was not interested. Then he said, "Oh, I just got a call from my boss and I have to be up really early tomorrow." I said, "Okay, so am I going to see you again?" And he said, “Ummm, I don't know.” So I said, "It doesn't look like you're interested.” I think dating is difficult. Whether you’re gay or straight, people in New York are always looking for the next best thing. They’re not willing to even invest the time to get to know a person, whether it’s for dating or as a friend. What can you do; it is what it is!
To check out Raz Keren’s limited edition, custom made menswear line visit www.razkeren.com