In October, Los Angeles-based clothing designer Manuel Rappard launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $20,000 to create a jacket. The hook? Not only would it be made in the U.S. from top-quality materials, it would also be guaranteed to last 25 years. And all for the very reasonable price of $159, with delivery in time for the holidays.
Rappard, a German-born former Google analyst, based the design on a 1940s navy deck coat, a staple of traditional American men's wear prized for its functional cut and ageless aesthetic. Made from sturdy cotton duck with military-grade hardware and reinforced stitching, this coat would, Rappart assured his backers, not only still be in one piece in 2040, it would still be stylish, too. "My mother taught me from a young age that quality matters," he says, citing an old-world model for his apparel business. "If you make things yourself then you should make them right and make them to last. That was always the motto both in my family and the culture I grew up in."
His campaign was funded in a single day. By mid-November Rappart had almost $300,000 in orders for his Quarter Century Jacket. A well-constructed piece of clothing with a timeless design at a good price? Sign me up. The fashion world is often inscrutable, but this made perfect sense.
There are two kinds of things in my wardrobe. The first are the things that pass through from year to year, wearing out or falling out of fashion, cast away, donated, forgotten, usually for good reason (those coral-coloured trousers that I thought looked so fetching three summers ago, for example, or the polkadotted socks in pink and brown that were, apparently, at some point, a thing). The second are the pieces that remain.
These tend to be bought with more consideration and at greater cost, the product of much research, price comparison and, occasionally, a Pinterest board. In general they're weightier in construction and more muted in tone – navies, blacks and shades of brown – all clean lines and functional simplicity.
By its nature, fashion must constantly evolve, and that's one of the things I like most about it. With every pair of ridiculous trousers I add to the "donate" pile, however, I can't help but wonder if there's a way to avoid this step altogether – one that does not involve wearing coral-coloured pants. There's something inherently satisfying about owning a piece of clothing for many years and watching it age gracefully, and the pieces in my wardrobe that have stood the test of time illustrate this beautifully. Manuel Rappard realized this and tapped into something very powerful: the stylish man's desire to invest in quality. As it turns out, he's not the only one.
"It's in our best interest to make the best possible product we can make," says Ric Cabot, whose Vermontbased Darn Tough backs all of their locally made socks with an unconditional lifetime warranty. The idea of socks that never wear out is one that seems almost magical, like a tube of toothpaste that never runs out or a phone that never needs charging. I am far more excited about this than I should probably admit, but I'm also somebody who enjoys getting socks for Christmas (hint, hint). Cabot understands this feeling completely. "If people are honest in what they make and what they sell, you feel good about the whole process," he says. "People feel good about knowing that they've purchased the best." In the U.K., Dr. Martens has a similar idea: their For Life line of classic shoes and boots are guaranteed, with a few small caveats, to last as long as you do. Considering that Docs look as good now as they did when Pete Townshend wore them on stage with The Who, this is an investment I'd happily get behind, too.
It was at home in Toronto, however, that I met the real maharishi of "built-to-last," a true guru of quality, timeless men's wear. "I don't generally wear items made past the 1980s," says David Himel, owner of Himel Brothers Leather and an evangelist for old-school quality. "That's about the time when garments shifted from being high-quality and ethically manufactured to being made offshore for as cheaply as possible."
A former vintage clothing dealer and a fanatical collector (his personal stash of leather jackets is thousands deep), he has an intimate familiarity with what makes clothing last. Himel's vintageinspired leather jackets are made in Canada from firstworld– sourced hides and designed to outlast their buyers, actually looking better as they age. At $1,500 and up, they are not a casual purchase but, as Himel sees it, you're paying for much more than a piece of clothing. "I'm committed to building a culture of skilled craftspeople, rather than a culture of whatever's cheapest," he says. "Once you lose that ability to make things, you're really losing your ability to take care of yourself as a culture. If you don't know how to grow food or make clothing or fix things, how are you going to run your society?"
If I needed another reason to hold off on purchasing another pair of statement trousers, there it was. I need to start saving for my new leather jacket, anyhow.