BEHIND THE SEAMS: Menagerie
Everyday we are inundated with emerging talent - everyone from inspirational musicians, innovative artists, and one of our favorite mediums of expression, up-and-coming designers. Coming across Roman Sipe and his collection of men’s lingerie [check out our Valentine’s Day shoot featuring the brand here], we found the answer to our prayers in the form of masculine lace. Sipe has created his own market and a product that no one knew we needed, but that is steadily changing as the self proclaimed “fashion boy” charges the industry and social media with his unique collection and impeccable style.
As fashion continues to inspire and our society becomes more accepting of the various forms of self expression and sexuality, Menagerie is on the forefront, empowering men to take control of their style and sexual prowess. But don’t worry ladies; Sipe assures us that we can get in on the fun too. We got a chance to chat with him about the creation of his line and the experiences that lead to Menagerie.
Labeling Men: Tell us about yourself?
Roman Sipe: I’m from York, Pennsylvania, I moved to NYC when I was 17, lived there for five years, went to school, got my Bachelors in finance but worked in fashion the entire time. I worked at a fashion PR company, modeling agency, and I did visuals at HM. I was in all different aspects of the fashion world, I was also styling and I had a cute website called Roman’s Closet, which was deconstructed vintage; I was doing everything. I was basically running around NYC being a fashion boy and once I graduated college I decided to move and came to LA. I love LA. I mean, nothing compares to New York, but I’m glad I get to go back and forth enough that I get my NY fix. In LA I’ve been styling the whole time and last year I was on a styling competition show and I won.
Labeling Men: Oh wow! That’s so cool!
Roman Sipe: And that’s when I decided to start Menagerie. Besides that, I’m an all around fashion boy; all I do is fashion and my friends and my family and eat a lot. That’s my thing outside of fashion. I’m trying to find another hobby…
Labeling Men: [laughs] Aside from eating?
Roman Sipe: Exactly. I’m trying to find something completely outside the fashion world so I can step away for a moment, but that hasn’t happened yet. So my hobbies right now are food and friends.
Labeling Men: Well that is not so bad! I’m sure you get this question all the time, but why men’s lingerie?
Roman Sipe: Honestly, I’ve always wanted to design, so just being in fashion and in New York and figuring out all the different jobs in the fashion world - I didn’t even know styling was an actual profession until I moved to New York. So that was one of the first things I got into and I was always around amazing designers the whole time. I never knew what to design because I felt like everything is being done by my favorite designers or was like… corny. I would see so many people and I would be like, “Why are you investing so much time in that?” It was like everyone was doing it and I didn’t see any growth. So after I won the competition I was like, I need to design right now, while I can, while I have the connections. So my mind was just going, going, going, and I wanted to think of something very unique. I started thinking of things that I was missing, and I only wear Calvin Klein underwear and that has been most of my life, and even up until now on a normal day. So I thought if I wasn’t wearing this and I wanted to be sexy, what would I wear? Lace underwear! I started Googling “lace underwear” and everything was disgusting; I would never wear any of it, it was like full frontal and everything that I could find I just wouldn’t wear. In my mind, I needed a more masculine fit and style for me to wear it and I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I was like, “Okay, it’s lingerie.” So after that I just started designing the collection. Everything has to have a very masculine fit because I’m using such feminine fabrics and lace in general. So I came up with a three pack of underwear and it’s every fit that a guy would want - a brief, a boxer brief and a cycle short. Every guy wears one of these and then a regular short. Once I did that, I was like, “Alright, this is it,” so I put it into production and November of last year it started selling and just went off. I mean, for one, it being lace and on hot guy, that’s enough.
Labeling Men: Instagram alone must have flipped out!
Roman Sipe: [laughs] You get enough attention on social media whether people love it or hate it. But then Sam Smith reached out and he posted it on his Instagram and then a bunch of blogs reached out out and magazines like OUT, and V Magazine reached out. It just happened so fast; it was crazy. Rewinding back, after I started this collection, it took me about four months to come up with a name. Everything either sounded corny or like, I was just trying to make up too many plays on words, to try to get it together. I was working in San Francisco, styling dancers for the Sacramento Kings game, and I was in my hotel room watching Aladdin. The Genie comes on and sings, “It’s a world class menagerie”… and that was the first time I heard it. So I looked it up and was like, “Oh my God, this is it.” The definition of menagerie is “a collection of glass animals for the viewing pleasure of others,” so I was like, “That is so genius,” and literally came back and trademarked the name.
Labeling Men: Looking at it, I always thought it was just “men’s lingerie.” I guess I knew menagerie was a word but I didn’t realize the actual meaning!
Roman Sipe: So it was perfect and once I had the name I was like, “I have to do this.” So I built the collection and beyond it being lingerie for men, I think we are in a time where the adornment of men is growing, with like men’s skincare lines, men’s fragrances, and the fact that there are more guys that aren’t labeled gay or straight or anything. There is a more fashion push with a lot of guys and they are more open to accepting it because we are now more open to accepting fashionable guys without calling them gay or just associating them with a certain lifestyle. With that being said, it was just the perfect time, there were people who said there wasn’t a market, but whether there is a market or not, I’m still going to do it because I know I can sell it and make it happen. But on top of that I can just build a market. So, I just went with it. It was a fresh idea, I always wanted to design and it just was perfect. And this is just me. The type of music I listen to, like FKA Twigs, Banks, is very dark, sultry, romantic, sexual, and then I also listen to all the pop stars, like Ariana Grande. But it’s romantic and all black, and I wear all black all the time.
Labeling Men: [Laughs] Us too!
Roman Sipe: It’s just very, very, very much the aesthetic that I love. When I first moved to LA I knew I wanted this to be my aesthetic and this just falls right in there.
Labeling Men: That is amazing. Well, so how would you label the guy who wears your line?
Roman Sipe: This took me time to really pinpoint the guy because it’s so many guys that like, everything I was saying was contradicting. So I came up with this little, not a phrase, but something that sort of embodies everything I want to say about the Menagerie Man: “The Menagerie Man exhibits the best quality of fashion and self expression. He embodies fashion’s true nature of freedom, style and individuality. He is a bit untouchable and therefore irresistible, always applying his charm to get his way and lure the viewer/lover into his life. Pure Seduction.” Basically in my mind, it’s any guy that is confident, embraces his sexuality, because sexuality is a big part of everyday life. But it’s also the guy that is fun, frisky, and an exhibitionist at heart. I mean, it is an underwear brand, but it is also romantic, it’s not too flamboyant or too boring, it is for the guy who is willing to push it. Even just a little bit and that is the Menagerie Man.
Labeling Men: Very adventurous…
Roman Sipe: Very adventurous and very fun and free. Free to be whatever they want to be, especially in the bedroom [laughs].
Labeling Men: We love that. Like you said, there wasn’t really a market for it and if you are thinking, “I want this,” someone else definitely is.
Roman Sipe: Definitely, and one of the biggest things for me is the fact that a lot of women are taking the brand in.
Labeling Men: That was my next question! I was wondering if you were going to incorporate any women’s [lingerie]?
Roman Sipe: I’m not. I’m going to try to stay in the men’s lingerie category because I feel that is my niche. But as you can see, I created a few pieces in the same lace as the underwear just for editorial purposes. But I’m not going to get into women’s. I like to align myself with Agent Provocateur. So I feel like Menagerie is the men’s version. Agent Provocateur is making everything for women that I would think of. But women take to the brand really, really well. I’m doing direct to consumer right now, selling directly through the website and most of my marketing is via social media. For one, it’s mainly women who comment on Instagram and Facebook and they tag guys. That is all that is in my feed, girls that are tagging guys that they want to wear it, their husbands or boyfriends, or their gay best friends. Guys don’t really comment that much, they like everything but they don’t comment.. On top of that, when I collect our data from sales, a lot of times I can tell if it’s their boyfriend or I’ll find that they tag their friend in it and they buy it for them. It’s really interesting the way that women are taking it in and I’m excited because when I first started, I know the gay community is going to take faster to it than the straight male, but I completely forgot about the women! A lot of women have guys that will wear whatever they buy them or tell them to wear and I didn’t even think of that. I’ve been trying to think of how to get the heterosexual guy into them and I needed to be focused on the women! But now that I know that, I’ve been doing a lot of marketing and strategizing towards women because they are buying it. But it was just really interesting to see that.
Labeling Men: We see that a lot as well just with our own website. We have a men’s fashion website but a majority of our viewers are women, because they like to just look at hot guys!
Roman Sipe: Exactly, because a lot of guys just don’t really care, but if they meet a girl who does care, then they are like, “Well, I don’t have to clean up or take care of myself because I don’t care, but if she likes it then I’ll do it.” Which is just great [laughs].
Labeling Men: I know, it’s so funny how that works! So what would you say has been your most exciting experience since creating the line?
Roman Sipe: Honestly, there are so many and I get excited easily [laughs]. I get excited when I get a new sample! Literally for everything. But there have been a lot of like high points. Sam Smith on Instagram, and he didn’t even tag me or anything, but I started getting all of these followers and people tagging me in his post, so I was like I need to get in contact with him…reached out to him directly and then a week later he invited us to his show here in a LA and I got to meet him and gift him underwear. But every time I get featured anywhere is fun. There is this really cool blog I follow called Those Pieri Twins, and they are just like two fashionable guys in Europe and I follow them just being a fashion boy myself and when they did an introduction to my brand I was really excited about that. Then OUT Magazine did a feature on men’s lingerie, but I was the best one on there. Recently I did a shoot with a photographer and he was like, “I’m going to pitch this shoot to OUT,” and then they did a whole spread on me and this Speedo, which was so exciting. Even opening my design studio, once I was finally able to move my collection in I was so excited. Now when I meet like actors out I can have them come to my space and take picture or whatever. But everything about it excites me. My first presentation was in NY before I was even selling. I just booked a hotel room, cast six models and was like, “Let’s do it.” I collaborated with a men’s grooming line and they got their PR involved and some really cool magazines came and did photos and there were bloggers and it turned into something so much bigger. Then the hotel was like, we have all of these people downstairs and you can’t have that many people, so we had to do just five people at a time.
Labeling Men: Which makes it so much more exclusive!
Roman Sipe: It was cute. It was so much bigger than I even imagined, and everyone loved it. I had champagne and cupcakes and guys on the bed and out the window. So you just see guys in really normal situations, so it was just perfect and it opened my eyes to the possibilities to what it could become. So coming from NY back to LA I was really inspired to just get everything done.
Labeling Men: Amazing! So do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
Roman Sipe: Definitely! I was telling my cousin who just moved out here, who is an aspiring designer, pick something unique to do, because there are so many designers in the world, so many amazing designers in the world. But to be noticed is one of the biggest things. A lot of designers are great, but they are put on because of their connections. For me, I had a lot of great connections, but I also wanted to produce something that was really unique. Everyone can make a t-shirt or sweat suit, but you don’t have to do a full collection in my mind. I started with three pair of underwear, just three. Really simple, but really unique. So I would say, pick something that is unique, different, and if you don’t think a lot of people will love it but you love it and you think someone else like you out there will love it, then do it! Rather than do something to please everyone and that everyone is doing. I went to school for finance, I have a fashion background, but I don’t have a design background; I’m learning as I’m going. Intern for a fashion house; get some in depth training underneath someone. The whole production process has been such a learning experience for me. There are so many outlets to learn besides going to a classroom. I know that learning first hand is the best way to learn. So be unique and… know everything [laughs]. Screw if you don’t think there’s a market or if you don’t of anyone else doing it. Just do it and maybe that will be what differentiates you from everyone else.
Labeling Men: So what’s next?
Roman Sipe: So much. I’m still completing my collection. There are so many things I want to add, more editorial things. There will be a few more styles out before the end of the year and re-launching my website. Everything is amazing and on the level of everyone that I want to be with. Then I am going to be in a few editorials the next couple of months. Looking for brand ambassadors, someone who really embodies the brand. I’m growing and learning every day and I feel like in the next year, I want to open a boutique. Probably off of Melrose, but I feel like to have a store just makes it more real. It’s hard for people to order online and people really want to see everything in person. So a store by the end of 2016 would be ideal and I really feel like it’s going to happen, because it has to [laughs]. Everything else is going to be a surprise to you and to me [laughs]. It’s hard to forecast because you never know what is going to happen and who is going to come across you today, so the possibilities are endless.
Labeling Men: Yes, they are!
Check out the recently relaunched website at bymenagerie.com, and follow Menagerie on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @bymenagerie + @theboyworelace, and follow Roman Sipe on Instagram @poorlittlefashionboy
By Mischa Teichgraeber