There are only so many times a designer can say his look is "laid-back" before it starts to seem like the opposite is true. But California natives Joshua Willis, 33, and Anthony "Ant" Franco, 32, of Second/Layer, are the living embodiment of the style. On Thursday afternoon at New York Fashion Week Men's, the design duo presented an authentic Spring 2017 collection that included impeccably tailored drawstring trousers, luxuriously soft basics, and romantic hand-drawn graphics. It takes a lot of effort to make garment look and feel truly effortless, and they pulled it off.
"Our inspiration has always been our friends, the street, and the culture around surfing and skating," said Willis at the Capsule menswear event in New York last week. "Growing up in Los Angeles in neighborhoods that were predominately Mexican, we took styling inspiration from the playboys and suavecitos — they're always put together, hangin', talking to the ladies. And they have that gangster undertone. We want that undertone of a laid-back lifestyle."
Launched in 2013, the Second/Layer operation is a family affair. Willis serves as creative director while his brother Jacob keeps things running as president. Franco acts as art director and one of their former interns, Nathaniel Dam, models. Willis and Franco met in 2002 as teenagers while hanging around their mentor, Tak Kato's store in Orange County. When Franco moved away to Paris in 2011, Willis convinced him to return to Los Angeles with the promise of starting a label and creative agency together. "We'll do exactly what we want," he said. Franco flew back and they proceeded to empty their respective bank accounts.
Like the collection, the name Second/Layer doesn't ask for gimmicky explanation. "It's an extension of yourself," said Franco. And rather than offering a mood board each season or a theme, they just design for themselves. "If we wouldn't wear it, then what's the point?" added Willis. It's this personal connection to the clothes that has gained them a loyal following in the menswear community, with supporters like stylist Eugene Tong and Los Angeles store-owner Josh Peskowitz.
Currently based in Venice Beach, it helps that Willis and Franco grew up surfing and skating, unlike many creatives at the moment who seem to be blindly co-opting the culture. But to say that they're simply a "cool" California skate brand would sell them short. Their sophisticated eye and attention to detail sets them apart.
"The styling is what I think brings it all together and makes it ours," said Willis. For example, behind-the-scnes at a photo shoot, they put a sock in a model's pant belt to ensure a cropped hem hit his ankles exactly right, and they toiled over Vans versus Converse. (In the end, Franco lent his own shoes and socks.) At the presentation on Thursday, female models wore sweatshirts as skirts, slipping their slender waists through the top. Even Second/Layer's graphic tee's are elevated — Franco takes time to do all the illustrations himself.
In addition to Mexican suavecito styling influences like baggy chinos, matching sets, and tank tops, romantic suaveness is also a running theme of the collection. "It's the story of the beginning of a relationship through to its end," explained Franco. His graphics have included phrases like "small talk," "time goes by so slow when I'm with you babe," and "she's only with you when she's with you." Plus, a number of references to tears. In sum: "laid-back lover."
Down the line, Willis and Franco hope to add more women's looks to the collection as well as accessories. But for now, they're taking this whirlwind one day at a time.
"We don't rush things, as you can probably tell," said Willis with a laugh. Earlier that day, Franco tried to do this interview while playing a game of ping pong. But their show on Thursday was anything but chill.
The line to get in was one of the longest for any presentation at Skylight Clarkson all week. Second/Layer could have really used an extra dose of their signature sangfroid.