Oct 5, 2016
Dressing the Part: UNIFORME Is Classic Menswear, Re-imagined
“I have always treated fashion like a costume,” Alice Wang tells me over the phone, recently. “Early on, I wanted to feel feminine and pretty and sort of fulfill old ideas of what being a girl was. I had immigrant parents from Taiwan, and felt like an outsider wanting to fit in.”
Oddly enough, then—or, not oddly at all, because life works in mysterious ways—Wang recently debuted UNIFORME, a line of rudimentary and seasonless garments based on classic outlines and, yes, menswear. And in an age where basic and well-tailored garments are often the most expensive, UNIFORME T-shirts, shorts, skirts, pants, and wraps are sold directly to the consumer, and therefore priced well below standard retail costs.
“Men typically tend to shop focusing on finding
a silhouette that works,
and investing in quality in those pieces.”
Last month, in Williamsburg, Wang completed a UNIFORME pop-up, showing people in real life the allure of the minimal, interchangeable, low-maintainance, and long-lasting wardrobe—the kind of timeless looks achieved by visionaries such as Joan Didion and Steve Jobs—their uniforms.
“I didn’t want to have the problem of ‘so many clothes and nothing to wear,’” Wang explained. “I wanted to feel like every piece I have, has its use.”
Her own style awakening came from the movies—well, a VHS tape, to be specific, when she was 13 years old. She’d been swimming in that feeling of not quite fitting in when she met the main character of Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse, another middle school misfit. “There is a scene at the very beginning, in the bathroom, where she is being bullied by another female bully,” Wang recounts. “She asks, ‘Why do you hate me?’ and the bully says, ‘because you’re ugly.’” The scene left an impression. “It was a dark comedy, but a really cringeworthy kind of experience.”
The film might have made her painfully aware of one’s looks, but, on the VHS cover, she recognized beauty. “I got my hands on the film because of its colors and it had cool cut-out magazine letters for the title, like a ransom note,” Wang recounted. “The girl had a bright colored outfit, and it looked like dollhouse miniatures,” which she loved. Instinctually she knew, “I wanna see this movie.”
It was the first time she’d seen an independent film—something that didn’t look like everything and everybody else in suburbia. “That film made me want to find an identify for myself.”
With this in mind, she began imagining characters she wanted to be, and noticing brands she aspired to. She loved Comme de Garçon; she called the first look she envisioned for herself “Angry Ghost.” “I wanted to feel powerful, and command attention in a way that I didn’t feel,” said Wang. “It was a safer way to keep a distance and still be visually noticed.”
And then, Wang got a job working as the assistant to the famous New York hotel developer, Ian Schrager, also of Studio 54 fame. “The whole idea of the lobby bar scene in the city,”—places we are very familiar with today through boutique hotels like The Wythe and The Ace—“before him, it wouldn’t have been cool to have a cultural center based around it.” But Schrager brought these social hubs into their full, modern-day swing with interiors that looked like movie sets, and at places like The Mondrian and The Gramercy Hotel.
Immersed in that world, Wang daydreamed about dressing like “a powerful business woman.” “I wanted to learn to be a mogul, and start a company,” she said. Yet, conversely, “Everyone was interested in jeans and T-shirts.” Perhaps, she thought, it was better to tone things down.
With that in mind, she turned to menswear. Online forums like Ask Andy About Clothes took a deep dive into traditionally masculine suiting, denim, streetwear, and shirting, and Wang read it religiously. “It covered the shape of a collar, and stitches per inch, and ticking, and fabric,” said Wang. “That really got me into the idea of investing in all of the details. I had an urge to do something creative, but also on the business side.”
With a goal of creating pared-down and fastidiously tailored garments, she did some market research. Where could she find a high-quality, basic T-shirt, or button-down that didn’t cost much more than $200? The answer was: nowhere, really. If something cost less, the design was motivated by novelty or trend. Wang, on the other hand, wanted her clothes to last a decade, to mature and evolve with washes. To make that possible—namely, affordable—Wang realized she needed to cut out the middle man. Direct-to-consumer was the way to go.
“I didn’t want to have the problem of
‘so many clothes and nothing to wear.’”
While many labels come out with as many as four collections per year, Wang operates outside of the fashion calendar, and launched this year with “an interpretation” of the classic white shirt, shorts, and pants. In September, she introduced a new colorway, and soon will debut a gorgeous high-waisted skirt; she’s also “testing the waters” with a cashmere throw, and, eventually, will add dresses.
So, the girl who first dreamed of fulfilling the normcore feminine ideal has come a long and exciting way. “Men typically tend to shop focusing on finding a silhouette that works, and investing in quality in those pieces,” Wang explained—like, for example, that forthcoming high-waisted skirt, which I spotted online. Immediately, I was imagining all the ways I could dress it up or down. “The dream is to build a brand that is a complete work of simple, versatile pieces, that are high-quality, and rely on finding gorgeous fabrics and the highest-quality of material and construction,” Wang summarized.
Given that she just turned 30 the Monday following our conversation—and how far she’s already come—she’s got nothing but time to make that happen. ♦
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