By Victoria Garcia

The coveted American dream is an idea that most people are drawn to. In order to achieve this type of success, a person must be hardworking, dedicated, driven and passionate. Rag & bone founder and CEO Marcus Wainwright is the epitome of these characteristics. The American dream may not be something that was exactly sought after by the designer, but it’s certainly something he emulated throughout his ongoing career and accomplishments with the brand.

Founded in New York in 2002, rag & bone was named after the English rag and bone man who collects unwanted household items and sells them to merchants. Wainwright along with Nathan Bogle and David Neville, created the label with no fashion training but a love for bespoke and English tailoring. Bogle eventually left the company in 2006, around the same time Neville stepped in as co-director of the brand. Both from Britain, Neville and Wainwright met as teenagers at boarding school. Throughout the company’s uprising, the two were considered a sort of dynamic duo, with Wainwright handling the design and creative side of the brand while Neville focused on the business and financial side. The two even shared an office in their Meatpacking District warehouse in New York City with desks in very close proximity to each other. The fashion world was shocked when Neville decided to leave the company in 2016 to pursue other ventures. Although Neville still retains his shares of the company and seat on the board, Wainwright is now the sole CEO and creative director of the brand.

From the beginning, the concept of rag & bone was to create men’s jeans that were comfortable and accessible. Wainwright became obsessed with designing denim that was wearable yet unique, training himself the craft with help from manufacturer Kentucky Apparel. It was important to him that the brand’s clothes be produced in U.S. factories with the best quality and materials offered. After a few years of wholehearted attempts, Wainwright finally produced a product fitting the bill. With a backpack full of jeans and T-shirts, he walked into a small boutique in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and sold his merchandise, subtly starting the revolution that is rag & bone today. Since then, the brand has become a force to be reckoned with. The original rag & bone store opened in New York City on Christopher Street in 2008. The brand now operates 27 retail shops around the world in locations such as Los Angeles, Japan, Dubai and London. The brand can also be found in department stores and boutiques in over 50 different countries and online retailers as well.

Although its original designs were created for men, the brand now offers men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections, as well as growing ventures in denim, footwear and accessories. The idea of designing apparel that focuses on perfecting the basics and expert craftsmanship is one of the main reasons rag & bone has become such a success story. Wainwright is not afraid to go against the crowd and has successfully found a way to create clothes and accessories that are fashionable yet classic. Recently, he’s been straying away from the norm of the fashion community and doing things on his own terms. He’s focusing on the brand’s designs on a monthly basis rather than the traditional seasonal collections and has opted to sit out from future runway shows. His creative vision emphasizes the importance of the rag & bone message of quality and authenticity. Recently celebrating its 15-year anniversary, the brand has ventured into two new sectors, fragrance and eyewear, bringing along its core values and commitment to excellence and innovation.

Although rag & bone has created sunwear in the past, this is the first licensed collection from the brand. “We’ve been making sunglasses for a long time in a very small way ourselves,” says Wainwright. “We’ve never done a license before, and you need the expertise and sourcing to do that really properly. We felt like we had such a broad perspective as a brand, and there’s so much we can draw on.” The brand has teamed up with Safilo to design and distribute optical and sunwear collections for both men and women. The collection will be sold on the brand’s website, in rag & bone stores, select department stores and boutiques as well as high-end optical stores. “The quality is very important to us, and it’s been an interesting process,” says Wainwright. “It’s a different business that we don’t know much about. Safilo is a fantastic partner, and they have so much history and a massive archive that you can reference.”

Before Safilo was in the picture, rag & bone designed a small line of sunglasses made in Japan but didn’t expand much on the collection. Wainwright himself is a fan of sunglasses and searches for frames that are timeless, authentic and well made, three characteristics that can be seen throughout the new rag & bone styles. The initial collection consists of 31 styles, including eight women’s and nine men’s sunglasses, and seven optical frames for men and women that include a mix of reinvented classic styles. Four design codes are present throughout the collection: Sport, Military, Americana and British, greatly displaying the combination of modern New York and British heritage. “Obviously it follows color palettes and seasonal trends a bit, but I think the focus for the eyewear was to build the line from the ground up based on the rag & bone brand as opposed to specific aesthetics. We wanted it to be authentic and very well made with a focus on the craftsmanship side of things.” Frames have subtle branding and feature the brand’s iconic five daggers motif, which can be found on temples, hinges, core wires, endpieces and temple tip rivets. Since craftsmanship and functionality are what rag & bone creations are known for, select styles feature an intricate proprietary hinge system. All optical frames and a few sunglass styles feature a TORX six-point screwhead hinge system, making frames easier to adjust to a customized fit while protecting the hinges and acetate. Generally this type of hinge system is used in the automotive, electronics and construction industries, but with the eyewear it is the main design element throughout the collection. “We wanted to have an identifying hinge as the main focus, so most of the design part, from my perspective, was spent on the hinges and how they felt.”

Although the brand has somewhat of a worshipped following, the eyewear is meant for anyone who is interested in a well-designed product that is traditional yet fashionable at an accessible price point. “I think it’s for people who appreciate great eyewear who aren’t necessarily looking only for seasonal trending pieces,” says Wainwright. “There are definitely some awesome seasonal of-the-moment pieces but there’s also a big part of the line that is fairly timeless. I think people who understand rag & bone will get that, and I think people who have never heard of rag & bone will see that.”  

The campaign images for the new eyewear collection are a bit unconventional in a distinctive rag & bone way. The brand utilizes a marketing technique that somewhat flips the roles of model, photographer and subject. The DIY project has models taking their own photographs in rag & bone clothing with little to no hair and makeup styling and no photo altering. “We have something called the DIY project that we’ve done for years where we give the creative control to people that we admire or who are incredibly talented.” Actress Kate Bosworth and her husband Michael Polish were the main focus for the eyewear campaign and photographed each other using Wainwright and Polish’s Leica cameras, while wearing styles from the new collections. Shot over two weeks, the couple took images throughout the state of California, both at home and on the road, where they alternated between modeling and photographing one another. “The idea was that we sent them the glasses, and they could do whatever they wanted, and that’s what we do for a lot of things. They are obviously a very cool couple and big rag & bone fans.” The images expertly represent the cool and calm demeanor of not only the brand, but also Wainwright himself. This attitude and celebration of authenticity has caught the attention of celebrities, artists and photographers who all flock to the brand and what it represents. Past campaigns and other DIY projects include the likes of Winona Ryder, Jaimie Alexander, Wiz Khalifa, Emily Ratajkowski and Carmelo Anthony.

Walking into any rag & bone store, the decor, apparel and atmosphere all seamlessly flow together. With exquisite attention to detail, unparalleled organization and a can’t miss industrial feel, the rag & bone vision is apparent everywhere you turn, and these clean cut details are perfectly executed and planned. The same goes for the Meatpacking District office with exposed brick and steel, visible piping and an old-school freight elevator. Here is where Wainwright is at the forefront, tackling and designing what’s next for rag & bone.

With the eyewear collection officially launching last month, the brand is definitely bound to find some new fans. “It’s a fun process,” says Wainwright. “When you are doing clothes all day or shoes or bags, it’s fun to do something completely different.” Even though the brand has been around for almost two decades, it seems there is a new horizon in store for rag & bone. The American dream for this brand might just be getting started. ■