A little further down this page, well into my conversation with Todd Snyder, you’ll read him remark that Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren are among the last of the great American designers. I’m not quite sure that’s true, though, because Snyder himself is a great American designer, and it’s not hard to picture his vital, of-the-moment menswear line helping to birth future generations of great American designers.
Snyder—who cut his teeth designing for Lauren and J.Crew before launching his eponymous label in 2011—specializes in classic Americana. His clothes could’ve been worn by Brando in the ’50s or Redford in the ’70s, which means they’ll look incredible on you in 2019. To help bring an air of authenticity to his vintage-tinged aesthetic, the Iowa native often collaborates with the brands he grew up wearing: Red Wing, Champion, Golden Bear, and especially Timex. The latter company’s watches are probably as relevant now as they’ve ever been, thanks in no small part to Snyder’s shrewd reissues of timepieces he’s found deep in their archives.
To mark the Todd Snyder x Timex collection’s launch in Canada via Hudson’s Bay, we caught up with the designer during a recent visit to Toronto.
TITLE: Your relationship with Timex stretches back to your days at J.Crew. Why Timex?
SNYDER: Well, because they’re the best. When I think of a storied brand, there’s nobody that has a longer history in watches. Ever since I was growing up, I always remembered Timex as “the” watch. My dad wore it, my grandfather wore it. I can’t remember the actual watch, but I can remember the elasticated wristband. It’s always been the timepiece I consider most iconic for America. They make everything from a $20 wristwatch, all the way up to some $200 ones and above. But what I really like about Timex is the heritage. As I started digging through the archives, there were just so many great designs. My philosophy has always been that great design does not need to be expensive. I think they’re a great value compared to what’s out there in that price point.
Why is making affordable products so important to you?
It’s part of my brand ethos. I don’t think great design needs to be expensive, which is probably why I got into doing my own collection. I felt like there was white space in between. I was working at J Crew, I was working at Ralph Lauren. I’d go to stores and I’d see designer oxford shirts for $400, $500 and sweaters for $300 or $1,000. I’d see suits for $2,000, $3,000 and I know what goes into it. There’s reasons for everything and there’s always a customer for that. But I felt like there was nobody servicing this middle ground, where you can do something beautiful, use great fabric, but make it in a place that’s more affordable. It’s the same thing with watches. I have everything from a Rolex to Omegas to Breitlings, which I love. But there’s something about Timex that you have to be a little bit more savvy to know the history. Once you start digging through and you hear the story, you start to hear how long they’ve been around, the fact that they’re an American company. Timex has always stayed pretty steadfast in who and what they are.
It feels like American sportswear is about to become a big thing again.
I actually think prep is going to be right behind it. I remember in the early ’90s there was a whole hip-hop influence that happened, and it was brands like Mitchell & Ness, kind of these big oversized jerseys, that really took over. You saw everyone from brands like Sean John, Rocawear and Ecko. They really kind of dominated that trend. Now you’re seeing Thom Browne as a cool brand that LeBron James wears. There’s something there. So I look at a lot of those indicators and start to map out to see where it’s going to go. But I do think you’re right, it’s going to go into this sportswear place.
What was the inspiration for the show?
This one was almost like going back to my roots. We loosely called it the “state fair” collection. So it was kind of a play on Americana and sport. [GQ creative director at large] Jim Moore helped me style the collection this year. He’s from Minnesota and I’m from Iowa. We were kind of kicking around the idea and he’s like, “Let’s just do it. I love the state fair, you love the state fair.” We served popcorn and we had beers in cozies. We had all this kind of normal stuff you’d see in the midwest. Jim’s idea was to create a logo that became the banner of what we were doing. It was a Snyder’s logo and it almost looked like an old, old diner or convenience store logo. It was just a cool moment where we could have more fun and be a little more tongue-in-cheek and less serious. I was also getting a little tired seeing all these European brands ripping off American fashion and calling it their own. Whether it’s Vetements and those sort of ironic fashion brands—I kind of find that annoying. It’s like, they’ve been doing it for how long now? I figured, let’s show them how a real American brand would do it.
Michael Kors bought Versace and became Capri Holdings. What does that mean for American fashion?
I don’t know. Hopefully he buys me out. [Laughs.] I think his group is very intelligent. I mean he’s obviously a great designer and when he was on Project Runway, he really made a name for himself. He’s kind of the last of the great American designers. Ralph’s still around, but there’s not a lot of other designers at his level. I think what Michael has done is pretty remarkable, to go public and to be able to sustain that. He’s also acquired Jimmy Choo, which I thought was a really smart acquisition. I think they’re just taking the way they do business and trying to apply that to other brands. I think Versace is interesting. Versace is very hot right now. The glitz and glam is very much the name of the game and I think it’ll be that way for the next five to ten years.
You’ve collaborated with a few brands like Champion, Red Wing and PF Flyers. Is there another brand you want to start a project with?
Yeah. Apple. [Laughs.] I would do anything Apple. If they wanted me to do a sleeve, I would do it. Apple, to me, is amazing. I mean, I love design, so I try not to hold myself into any box. I’ve been talking to a lot of different brands and trying to figure out what is going to be the next one. We just launched Red Wing a couple of weeks ago and it’s been doing really well. We’re still talking to a few people and trying to figure it out. I don’t want to do a ton of them but I just wanted to make sure every quarter I have a “drop.” [Laughs.] I think it’s really important to show newness. We also have a New Era hat. We started that about a year ago and its been really successful. I’m just trying to figure out new mediums for things to play with.
Would you be into new products like grooming or skincare?
Potentially. The barriers of entry, meaning the set-up costs to do that is really expensive. You have to have a lot of distribution to do it, not to get all business on you. Unless you have a 1,000 doors at your end, meaning all the Hudson’s Bays and all the Bloomingdales and Macy’s—it’s hard to get that many doors to pick it up. I’m not in a 1,000 doors. I’m in my own store and I’m in my own website. We’re still relatively small. But someday, yes. That’s where every brand goes to make a lot of money because the margins are so high. To get to that you’ve got to buy tens of thousands of units. That would be like a 10-year supply for me. [Laughs.]
Why did you go into the Timex archives instead of doing an all-new collection?
I love vintage. To me, there was something really interesting about this watch that came from the ’70s and I thought, “Wow, this is so today.” I wanted to be able to help tell the story about Timex and why it’s so special. A lot of times I talk to customers and they don’t even know. I mean, they know Timex as a watch company, but they don’t know all the history. What’s important to my customer and millennials is that background story and that history. It’s helped sell the watch in a different way. I’m much more of a historian and a vintage nut. Even with my own collection I’m digging through old archives, going through old movies, going through old books.
For me, fashion has always gone hand-in-hand with cars and music. How about you? What are your intersections?
Music has always been a touchpoint. Automobiles, interiors, food, travel and design in general. When I work with a brand like Timex, going through their process and discovering how they do what they do is inspiring. It kind of gives me new tools to get my thoughts going. Their head of design, Giorgio [Galli], is an amazing person. He has a design studio in Milan that designs great watches and he knows everything about them. The way he goes through it and the way he processes his design collections gives me insight. When I travel, I’m always watching people. When I go to Japan and see somebody that has a completely different take on fashion, it just blows your mind. It gives you a new point of view and for me that’s important. Getting new points of view and learning to look at something differently. That’s what I see as the intersection. Travel is probably the biggest one.