Sam Linder and Kirk Millar have only known each other since 2012, but when they first crossed paths in a New York boutique, they felt an immediate connection. Four years later, they're joint partners in a store of their own on Thompson Street, which is named after Linder and carries both their own line as well as lesser-known menswear brands like Hed Mayner from Israel, Middle Eastern-inspired Qasimi, and Solovière from France.
Even today, Linder and Millar claim they're still learning about one another, and continue to bring together under the brand's umbrella people, places, and things, that have never met.
"We're tapping into weird places and have an excitement for the strange," said Millar. "Maybe a little darker; the unfamiliar."
A few days before Monday afternoon, when they showed their first official collection as part of New York Fashion Week Men's, the two designers studied the looks for their Spring 2017 collection in Linder's stunning Gramercy townhouse. Even the space reflected their aesthetic — unvarnished wood and white walls made it look unfinished, yet you could sense a deep history rooted in New York luxury. "This collection more than any other embodies the idea of bringing together things that are opposite," said Linder, who wore house slippers, jeans, and a t-shirt. Millar, the younger of the two, wore Gucci loafers and a necklace made out of a silver binder clip.
The collection this season includes asymmetrical pant hems, illusions of where waistlines begin and end, and exaggerated lines like 3D piping on track shorts. And while their details may be untraditional, one thing that Linder and Millar have in common is that they are both country boys at heart — Linder is from a farm in Vermont and Millar from a small town in Arizona. "I think you can tell we're American," said Millar. The collection also includes jeans with slits up the back, which when you take a step back, resemble Cowboy chaps. Plus shoes of their own design that are a cross between Common Projects and Timberlands.
When asked to describe each other's creative processes, Linder explained that their differences are demonstrated as early as the sketching process. "For me, a sketch is a way to communicate an idea. It's just a guide," he said. "Kirk will put pen to paper without an idea and just let his feelings flow. It's more abstract. One of us is conceptual and the other is more grounded."
Linder comes from a video and photography background, while Millar has a deep knowledge and love of fashion and its history. "Sam is less referential," added Millar. "He doesn't want to look back; he wants to find what's new. He's helped me look for the unfamiliar and what's truly individual."
There's a romance to both the duo's evolving creative process and their combined aesthetic that comes through in the clothes. "I think there's a new way for men to own a way of dressing that's a little more expressive," said Millar. "You can feel sexy."
At their runway show on Monday, which took place inside the Dixon Place theater on the Lower East Side, models walked slowly and sensually in knit short shorts, socks with zippers, and "wife beaters" turned into corsets. It was Peter Pan meets Peter Berlin and the clothes highlighted the male form, for a change.
For the Linder customer, the thrill lies in entering both a new relationship with these designers, and also with menswear as a whole. "Everything has been a surprise," said Linder of the final looks. "The result never looks fully like either one of us."