• Wooden Sleepers

    Top Drawer | Store Profiles | Prep Essentials  

    The Red Hook neighborhood, sitting on the eastern edge of the East River, feels like a beach town that wakes up on sunny summer weekends. Every shop is locally owned, lobster rolls from Red Hook Lobster Pound are right down the street, and hole in the wall bars dot Van Brunt Street. The neighborhood is a sort of destination. Add “obsessively curated vintage men’s shop” to that lineup and a weekend in Red Hook becomes a New York summer must. Brian Davis recently set up shop to house his vintage clothing collection compulsion under the moniker Wooden Sleepers.

    The name was a gift. Its provenance can be traced back to Davis' then girlfriend/now wife. The two met while both playing shows in the Long Island punk/indie scene (he currently plays drums in two different bands). "We’re always coming up with names for things," Davis jokes. This mutual affinity often leads to them playing a game in which they brainstorm names for would-be bands, restaurants, and concepts...just for kicks. Former names include, but are not limited to, Wolf Pit, Eternal Pleasure, and Cultural Anthropology. Interesting way to the pass time—try it with your significant other and see how long it takes before they physically remove themselves from your personal space. Wait—they're still around? Congratulations, you found someone who's interesting and weird—lock that down! Ok, sorry for the tangent.

    Wooden Sleepers was born out of one of these sessions. It's slang for a railroad tie, the rectangular wooden support for the rails in railroad tracks. Growing up on a peninsula in the Peconic Bay called Nassau Point, in the town of Cutchogue, it resonated with Davis. He and his buddies would often walk the lone railroad track as a shortcut to the next town...like a scene out of Stand by Me, but with less train-dodging and leeches.

    From the moment I walk in (first of all, the window displays are reminiscent of Boy’s Life back issues), I'm taken aback. I’m excited…surprised. I'm a tornado of emotions. What I'm looking at is that good. I want to buy everything (a blatant tell of a rich product offering and even better merchandising). During my time at Rugby, I'm not sure we did it better at our haberdashery shop on Bleecker Street. Davis’ merchandising is on that level. What required a team of five Ralph Lauren visual merchandisers, Davis has done with a team of one. Him.

    Right now, the shop feels like the best summer ever. Vintage short sleeve oxfords from Brook Brothers and Gant hang in a dusty pastel palette, a ROY G BIV gradient of meticulously curated tees and sweatshirts beg to be thumbed through, and 50 shades of blue denim trucker jackets by Polo Country, Lee, and Levi's hang on nonagenarian rounders Davis laboriously acquired. Remember those mobiles that would twirl above your crib and play nursery rhymes as a baby (trick question!—technically you can’t since we all have what Freud first called "childhood amnesia”)? That’s happening in another corner of the shop but with M65 field jackets and early Beach Boys (pre-Pet Sounds). A feast of wingtips, loafers, and bluchers line the center table, sun-faded maritime signal flags hang haphazardly, and a patchwork of threadbare rugs pulled from dissolved New England estates blanket the floor. The whole boutique is essentially a 500 square foot impassioned homage to the tip of Nassau Point.

    While Davis’ passion is certainly vintage menswear, he’s intentionally picked his spots to carry new goods. “I wanted to focus on an array of vintage military chinos but offer new quality denim for those guys in the neighborhood.” So he carries a modest selection of 3sixteen raw selvedge (New York) as well as a small leather goods collaboration with Louise Goods (Brooklyn), and necklaces in sterling silver and brass designed by his wife (Brooklyn). While new, all of these items are designed to age with you, eventually developing the same patina you find in his vintage offerings.

    Sure, the Red Hook neighborhood is a destination—at least you don’t have to dodge any trains to shop a slice of quintessential New England at its best. Just remember to grab a lobster roll before you drop by the shop, you’ll be there awhile.

    Jun 23, 2015 | Permalink (0) View/Leave Comments

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  • Thornwillow Press

    Prep Essentials  

    In the age of the Internet, where the intangible ephemera of emails, evites, iMessages, ebooks, and apps litter our landfill in the cloud, there is a magic that remains in the palpability of paper. Especially paper with words on it. These things serve to memorialize a moment, a meeting, a milestone…a simple act of kindness.

    Luke Ives Pontifell believes in that magic. He cultivates this craft in a day and age where it is certainly fading into a lost art. On machines born in an industrial age all but forgotten, these marvels of steel and ink produce a canvas for the human touch, a record of human thought meant to be experienced between the prints of one’s fingers. The medium captured Pontifell’s imagination at an early age. In 1985, he acquired his first machine at the age of 16. After a course in letterpress printing at The Center for Book Arts in New York, he undertook a summer project each year, printing books spanning William Shirer’s dropping of the atom bomb, historian Arthur Schlesinger’s bio of Kennedy's assassination, and Walter Cronkite's broadcast of the moon landing among others.

    What began as merely a hobby grew into an obsession by his senior year at Harvard College. He had found his thing. For Pontifell, this was about craft, typography, and art. This was about living and working with things that were here long before he was and will be here long after he's gone—a notion subconsciously cultivated during his parents’ loving restoration of an18th century western Massachusetts farm house called Thornwillow.

    Thornwillow Press sits in the sleepy town of Newburgh in upstate New York. Perched on the banks of the Hudson River, it’s quiet up here, the only sound the rhythmic hum of Heidelberg Cylinder letterpresses kissing ink to paper. It’s the kind of sleepy colonial town that conjures up images of George Washington felling a cherry tree. My ride informs me that the founding father did indeed set up headquarters here during the Revolution. The modest stone house sits within earshot from the Thornwillow factory, forever preserved as a historic site, a behavior Newburgh has no intention of growing out of anytime soon.

    Thornwillow’s philosophy is anchored in making objects that last…that embody identities and ideas that matter. A fellow in the bindery rose through the ranks each year at his craft from folding to sewing to cloth binding to leather binding to gilding and is now making books that sit in the permanent collection of the White House in The Morgan Library. They will outlive their maker. It's the belief that the craftsmanship through which an object enters the world is the soul within the object. It’s this philosophy that fuels my 60 mile jaunt upstate. My pursuit of paper made from conviction, old-fashioned means, and American grit leads me to Mr. Pontifell’s opus in Newburgh, NY.

    “Ultimately, what we do is a simple thing. It’s black ink on white paper. From that simply combination, one can open up visions of the universe.”

    “Some people collect cars…I collect these presses.”

    Pontifell is not only a master of the printing craft but an avid collector of the machines which make it possible. He holds onto things he values. The handful of holes in his sweater are a tell. His oldest press is a Civil War era etching press from the 1860s. With a childlike cackle, he jokingly admits it’s a sickness. Thirty two operational presses dot the factory floor (many of them turn of the century) while another 30 sit hamstrung in a neighboring building conjoined by an underground tunnel. “Each of these machines has its own unique story to tell, much like the books that we publish.”

    That first press is still with him in the factory today, churning out the books, stationery, thank you notes, identity cards, and broadsides that make this world a little more beautiful each time they change hands. Not only do they not “make ‘em like they used to,” no one makes these presses at all anymore. They are a marvel of a bygone era, and Pontifell, their custodian. They’re his 18th century farm house…they’re his Thornwillow.

    Jun 17, 2015 | Permalink (0) View/Leave Comments

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  • Summer 2015 Playlist

    Music & Books  


    Listen on Spotify

    Jun 15, 2015 | Permalink (0) View/Leave Comments

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  • A Brief Moment

    Miscellany  

    My friends at ONA dropped by the other morning to see how I use their new leather Kingston briefcase between designing, client fittings, and trips to The Garment District. I like to keep things light when running around the city—13” Macbook, pencils, iPhone, a handful of the current season’s swatches, measuring tapes—and ONA’s briefcase encourages that while feeling, and looking, really great in my hands.

    Jun 11, 2015 | Permalink (0) View/Leave Comments

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  • Hamptons Packing List

    Style | Prep Essentials  

    May 27, 2015 | Permalink (0) View/Leave Comments

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