A few weeks ago I came across the name General Knot, and my curiosity got the best of me. So after a quick Google search, I found them. General Knot & Co. is about two guys of like-mind who happened to meet while waiting for a train to New York City. One of us was a design director in the Fashion District and the other a software architect in the technology center in the Flatiron District. Even with totally different career paths, our conversation quickly revealed a shared adoration for great colors and patterns, all things vintage, and an unyielding desire to create enduring products. I got the opportunity to talk with Andrew Payne, this is one of my favorite interviews to date. Hope you all enjoy.
How was your childhood? Could you tell that being a designer is something you wanted to do from an early age?
I owe a great deal to my mother, who always had me painting and drawing from an early age. She has always been quite artistic herself- painting, designing and making jewelry, knitting (she does beautiful work). So, after high school, I first followed the fatherly path of going to North Carolina to business school studying economics and chemistry, but while down South (in the heart of the now-gone textile industry), I became wildly interested in fabric and color. After two years of North Carolina I transferred to Parsons School of Design in NYC where I could wholeheartedly follow my passions of clothing design. While in school, I interned at Perry Ellis (just after he passed away) and had the great opportunity of working for both Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford. Actually Tom (a very excellent guy, to say the least) used to help me with my Parsons homework.
How was it working for people like Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and Tommy?
I have to say that working with designers like Tommy and Ralph has it’s own kind of thrills. Having one on one conversation with people who have built empires with their ideas and concepts always opens your mind to new avenues of thought. They just don’t think like the rest of us. The great ones are so clear in their direction that you start to see the how they form the building blocks of brand identification. And that to me is the key to it all- in any industry. These people (like a Paul Smith) know how to incorporate trends and their customer’s evolution into their brand without loosing the brand’s identity (its DNA). A tough trick for anyone without a strong conviction for what they are doing.
What do you mean by DNA of a brand? I ask this because the use of the term lifestyle brand and its not a clothing line it’s a lifestyle is thrown around alot. What does that really mean or at least mean to you?DNA is a term that we throw around now, but it really pertains to proper “branding”. DNA, just like in humans, is the thing (or group of things) that make a company or person unique. What differentiates one from another- the personality traits. These are the things (tangible and intangible) that make it possible to recognize a brand without seeing the label. I’m not talking about logos or corporate color combinations, but rather a style in which something is designed or detailed. Knowing your design DNA keeps a designer on track and connected to their core customer. As they say, you can’t be everything to every one. Designers like Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith are masters at sticking to their DNA, and yet evolving their collections to be relevant and at the same time not alienating their customers. Tommy Hilfiger on the other hand has changed its personality and gone off track so many times over the years that most people would have differing opinions of the Hilfiger DNA.
Not to belabor this point, but it truly stands at the center of every great or failed company. The question that every designer should ask themselves at every turn is “is this exactly correct for my brand”? This should be asked in regards to the product, advertising, the art on the front door, the front door, the language used in correspondence with vendors and customers, etc… It’s all so crucial.
Why ties? There so many things to dive into in the realm of fashion?
Personally, I love ties. Always have. Actually, my first boss, Brian Bubb, who owned a great men’s furnishings company used to pay me in ties while I was in school. He was just starting out and his cash flow didn’t leave much to pay any help, but his beautiful ties were enough pay for me!
As far as choosing between other products to design, I’ve designed a lot of different products- sweaters, outerwear, graphics, knitwear, and shirts too, but fabrics and color have always been my love and the tie just lends to them so well. With ties, I get to focus on the perfect mixing of patterns, textures and colors in a concise shape and composition. Not to mention the fun of designing the often one focal point of a guy’s wardrobe. Guys love to have an interesting tie as an accent atop their denim, solid shirts, jackets, etc… I know I do. And for guys who wear suits, it’s absolutely the standout piece of the whole look.
Paid in ties it reminds me of that gum commercial, but that is so awesome! Have you made some of the ties yourself?
I did study tailoring and still do some sewing around the house for my wife and kids, but as far as my ties go, I love to design them but would rather leave the actually constructing of them to the real professionals. I’m a lucky person to have found the shops in which I place my ties- that’s for sure.
Now this is a question I have gone back and forth on with designers. Most would consider the price point of your product high. Why do you think your product calls for that price point?
The price was definitely a consideration and my goal has always been to offer very special pieces without gouging the customer. Firstly, all of my ties are handmade in small tailoring shops in the USA that take the time to produce a top quality product. Some of these shops have been in business making ties for more than 50 years and produce for designers with price points much higher than mine (Thom Browne, etc…). Each collection’s fabrics are collected and cultivated through a well-honed network of vintage fabric resources and friends from across the country. Each fabric is long out of production and what remains is rare, in very short supply, and often costs a premium. By using rare and special fabrics in very limited runs, and making designs that are a bit beyond the straight forward offerings of most designers, I feel my customers are getting something that they I can enjoy knowing is a unique piece that will not be seen on every other guy on the street.
From the very positive reaction we’ve received so far, I can say that we are very fortunate to have customers who really understand and appreciate what they are buying
You have single handedly given me the best answer about this topic. Most people don’t relate rariety when it come to clothing, and with that rariety there comes a bit of a price. I think the US consumer is starting to think value and investment with each purchase intstead of just cost. Were getting there slowly but surely.
The whole menswear movement….. trend? or here to stay?
I think the menswear movement is cyclical, like all things in fashion, but elements of this particular movement will stick around and morph into our everyday personalities. And really, a lot of elements have never gone away- like a solid well made shoe, fine tailoring and a great tie (!).
Why do you think all of a sudden a man dressing up is becoming more acceptable in America? Places like Italy and Britain In my opinion have been dressing up for years and have more appreciation for it. It seems that America is just catching on.
True, that European countries are often ahead of the “style” curve. It’s certainly a part of the social culture in the countries that you mentioned. In comparison to them, the U.S. is a very young country and is just now beginning to gain its own confidence in the fashion world. No longer are Milan or Paris the only epicenters of fashion. New York is clearly on the map and the American people are feeling this confidence. And it’s not just current fashion on the runway of which I’m speaking. We have a great and varied history from which to draw. Our American history is a wonderfully deep well of inspiration because it has been created through the heritages of all the people who came/come here from the rest of the world.
I should say as well that I think this confidence and pride in how we Americans present ourselves to the world is being very successfully established by influential bloggers, such as my friend Michael Williams at A Continuous Lean. Journalists like Michael do a wonderful job in bringing to our attention not only our historical value but all of the fantastic companies and individuals/designers who are out there creating quality products with strong American style as well.
After all these years, if you could go back and tell a young naive Andrew anything, what would you say to yourself?
Of course everyone looks back and wishes that you knew then what you do now, but life is a learning experience that one has to live through to get the real value out of it. In any case, I’d give myself the advice to not wait, but rather to get out and make my mark earlier on. With that said, I am a very fortunate person to have had such great experiences in my career up to this point, but I have never been happier than I am right now, making decisions about the direction in which I am taking my company and my life.
What is creativity to you?
Creativity? That’s a tough one. I guess I would say that creativity is being able to think beyond what is in front of you or beyond what has been done before- the ability to also take what is given to you and make something great out of it. Certainly, a skill that goes beyond the arts. My accountant has mentioned to me that she doesn’t think of herself as being creative, yet she uses all of her experience and well-honed skills to come up with new (and legal) ways to save me from paying too many taxes. That kind of creativity goes way beyond my skills!
Do you work for General Knot full time? Or are you moon lighting like most of us?
At the moment, General Knot & Co. is occupying most of my time, but is still in its start-up stage. So, to keep a roof over my head (and fabric for the ties coming in!), I sporadically freelance for various design companies, some of which I’ve worked for full time in the past. Over the last year, I’ve even created graphics for the new t-Mobile phones while working for a media company in NYC. Actually, stepping out from the fashion business to work on other types of product was a great learning experience.
What’s next on the horizon for General Knot?
Next on the horizon for General Knot & Co. would be all the wonderful options of how to expand the line to include a wider range of products. We are currently discussing a design collaboration with a New York based shirt maker as well as designing our own line of bags and belts. We are also conceptualizing with an amazing Massachusetts based videographer about a film. All in all, General Knot & Co. is at a very exciting stage in its development!