BEHIND THE SEAMS: Crow Philosophy
We discovered menswear brand Crow Philosophy by happenstance while looking for items to pull for our photo shoots. We were further excited when we heard they were opening up a store in the heart of the Meatpacking District in NYC. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we went to visit the space in its raw form, then went next door to sit down with the founder and creator of the brand, Tom Puls. We discussed everything from philosophy, the current state of fashion, and even some blunt New York City dating advice.
Labeling Men: How did the idea of Crow Philosophy come about?
Tom Puls: I've been in the fashion business for about 25 years. I started with a women's company back in the ‘80s who is very successful and what I've noticed over the years was a sort of commoditization of fashion. The product started to become more and more similar when you look around. There is a certain benefit to commodity, but you don't need 50 brands of coal or whatever. So we sold the company and I finished my contract and I wanted to do something that was more unique, more artistic, more aesthetic. I still love fashion - always been involved in fashion as a young man. I decided I was going into menswear contemporary/designer. I felt like there was room in between many of these great brands that we love - Theory, Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone. They all have their niche and I felt like I could bring something to this market. The obvious question is "What is it?" What I'm doing is, I'm designing a line of menswear collection. It’s a lifestyle brand; the store is going to show things besides the brand. The brand itself will have a little bit more detailing than you're used to seeing than on mass contemporary brands. I'm an American, I've lived in New York for all these years, but the brand itself will have a little bit more internationalism, a more international appeal to it. It will be embellished, a little covertly embellished. I'll take some self-fabric and use that same fabric to overlay with the fabric. This is a Rag & Bone sweater [that I’m wearing] and they do the same thing. They took the self-fabric jargon and they just switched the grain. It gives you a subtle variation; it doesn't jump out at you. I think this is missing from the market: cool sophisticated clothing for men who want to send a message that they are a little different, they have a sophisticated, affordable luxury design at a contemporary price point.
L.M: We know you explained the name "Crow Philosophy" to us before. [Editor’s Note, from the brand’s website: “The label takes its name from the strong graphic image of the CROW, known for intelligence, adaptability and a highly developed social community. The concept of PHILOSOPHY in the brand is anchored by the fundamental issues of reality, existence, knowledge, values, mind and language. Together they form a powerful conceptual and visual image.] Do you have any favorite philosophers?
T.P: Yes! It’s this area of philosophy, which is exemplified by the likes of Viktor Frankl, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus. It’s basically a philosophy of how you really control the way you feel, the way you're thinking. You can control that; you really can't control much else in life when you think about it. So you should really do what makes you the most happy, without infringing on the right of others obviously, and you should pursue your ideas with big and with fearlessness. It’s easy to say that, but very hard to do. That’s one of the under-linings of Crow Philosophy. This is an obvious product, but I'm going to try and pursue this idea in a way that’s fearless and brings something forward to this area, and mixing in other products that I appreciate like art, beautiful objects, and some are unconventional. The artist Joseph Perez, he has these stacks of felt with metal plates on top. At first glance you're like, "What is this?,” then as you understand it a little bit more, it becomes more meaningful.
L.M: Are you going to have pieces from either your favorite artists or even philosophers?
T.P: Yes! I mean the philosophy part is more of an overriding idea, there is a circa, a trend these days in fashion where there is inspirational fashion messages like "Life Is Great" and you're a little like...
L.M: Roll your eyes corny!
T.P: I'm probably not going to be as overt as that, but certainly. Right now there is a video artist, his name is Kevin McCarthy, he has an incredible video that he made, which basically involves an upright piano that he took to a mountain top in Vermont in the middle of winter and started it on fire. You see this video progress, when you describe it, it sounds stupid. But it’s extremely beautiful and powerful. That’s probably going to be the first artist that we are going to feature sometime in October. I tend to go through the gambit of various beautiful, creative things that people might enjoy in addition to being in the store. It’s not going to be so crass; it’s just something that I like. Not taking anything away from my competitors, but when you walk into many men’s retailers are you extremely stimulated by what you see?
L.M: No! We are bored!
T.P: Even one of my favorite designers, Jil Sander...come on! You have this sanctuary, you could do so much. Maybe they tried it and it was a distraction or too expensive, but I don't see it.
L.M: How would you label the guy that would be coming into your store?
T.P: My belief is that he is very self-assured, very confident. He's healthy, athletic to a degree that he enjoys whatever sport or activity he does. He is thoughtful, he notices things. He would most likely be involved in the arts, art direction, digital media, entrepreneur, that wants a certain look. To break it down, “a cool guy.” He wouldn't be like "a cute guy.” A little understated sort of edginess; this guy knows what he's doing and he doesn't need to "look cute.” Words to describe him would be handsome, sophisticated, creative. So that would be how I see this guy. He'd probably be in his 30s to 50s, could range to any, but it is a contemporary price point. A jacket is $500-$600, a leather jacket is $1,400...
L.M: Somebody who can actually afford it!
T.P: He has to have the income. There is so much fashion out there. It’s like artists. Too much art, too few art buyers. Not enough galleries, most store galleries won't even look at, it’s too much! The successful artists and fashion designers - not to define if you are good - but people who have seem to break through have a certain combined ideology. They have a theme behind it. They have an image, they should show it. That's, again, what I felt like was missing. Some odd years ago, you could start a company with five little dresses, go to a bunch of buyers, they'd go "oh that's cute" and order. Well those days are over! The world doesn't work like that anymore. I felt like starting my own store, showing the brand in its entirety, making to be the most pure, the most true to the idea, that has an element of risk that you might get if you try to sell five pairs of jeans. But does the world really need five more pairs of jeans? As fashion people, do you really need another Henley?
L.M: Nooooo! [Note: our interviewer was wearing a Henley]
T.P: You buy it because you see it and you just buy it. So that’s the way true fashion is, and it’s inspiring to just buy it because it’s aesthetically pleasing, and if you don't want to spend the money at the time, you pass and move on.
L.M: If you had your choice of any celebrity to wear your line, who would it be?
T.P: I didn't think a lot of about this. I think one entertainer that kind of exemplifies the "Crow Philosophy Man" is Bruno Mars.
L.M: Cool stuff!
T.P: He is an incredible entertainer, he's moving around and he's also singing.
L.M: Actually singing…
T.P: [laughs] Yes, I mean I don't have a string of people, but he dresses cool. It’s not overly designer, it’s not costumey, it’s minimalistic in a way but has got detail, a very dynamic personality.
L.M: Tell us what you're wearing today; we know you said your shirt is Rag & Bone.
T.P: Shirt is Rag & Bone, Uniqlo underwear! Camo print, the longer brief, they're great! Uniqlo skinny jeans, which feel great. Rag & Bone grownup sneaks! Rolex watch with a personalized monogram, an inspirational message on the back. It’s very hard to do because Rolex doesn't want you to modify their product, so you have to get it done specially. This was a gift to myself on my 50th birthday and it says "Living Life Everyday."
L.M: What is your go-to item you build your outfit on?
T.P: Professionally or personally?
L.M: Both please!
T.P: I usually like to build off my pants. Like today I wanted to feel sleek yet grounded. I'm moving around a lot today so I know I wanted to wear these pants. Also, I wanted to wear layers because I knew it was a not hot/ not cold type of weather.
L.M: It’s Fall weather…
T.P: Yup! Then pick my shoes; usually layer it with some type of t-shirt. Could be Theory, could be Uniqlo, sometimes Jil Sander. I definitely believe in mixing up fashion with the high and the low. Once we get into a little bit of fall and winter, I love layered jackets. When you see the collection, that most of my jackets aren't outerwear, they may look like jackets, like motorcycle jackets, you could wear them almost as a blazer.
L.M: We love all of your stuff so far!
T.P: Thank you, and the samples I've given to you [for photo shoots] weren't even fitted.
L.M: Lastly, we always tie in fashion with dating; any words of wisdom you can share with us? We really could use it!
T.P: My belief is that New Yorkers are very competitive, fashion people especially. They aren't here to sort of leisurely be around. A drink costs $15 anywhere in Meatpacking, it could be $15 to $18. You have to be successful in your career. What they end up doing, it seems like that they transfer some of these same ideas over to people they might be interested in dating or being involved with. What they really should do is the exact opposite. They should be open; they are evaluating people way too early. "Oh, she's three years older than me" or “I have this job and is her career going to align with mine..." “She had a child at an early age, and although she's a very successful 27-year-old woman, she has a 5-year-old child.” Its like, “Hey, you're overthinking it.” You should go for a quality person and the quality experience and then if the signals keep coming that it’s appropriate, then figure out how to solve any issues. Don't solve the issues before knowing if you enjoy being with the person. Be a little vulnerable; don't always try to protect yourself. Tell people some things that are a little uncomfortable. They are using too much of their business daytime radar and they should switch it off. Qualitative things, not quantitative things. So that’s my short answer on things.
One other thing! People always complain that it’s so hard to meet people in NYC. I think many times people carry with them this sort of tension, this sort of edginess that repels people and if you have this "I'm making my way through the world with all the answers,” have the mentality of "I'm going to be open and free, honest and true.” All of a sudden, people start to recognize this and like a magnet, they just come to you. You're now dynamic and very desirable to them!
For more information about Crow Philosophy and the opening of their Flagship store visit their website at CrowPhilosophy.com
Interview by Nisim Frank
Photos by Rachel Vasvari