By Breanna Benz
Designer Robert Stock has spent most of his life in the fashion industry, earning prestigious accolades through his collection Country Roads by Robert Stock and collaborating with Ralph Lauren on the iconic American brand Chaps. Stock was named “Leading American Menswear Designer” by the Cutty Sark Menswear Awards, the Oscars of men’s fashion, and became a Coty Award-winner for “Best American Sportswear Designer” in 1979. After sensing a void in menswear of sophisticated, eclectic colors and details in the early 2000s, Stock was inspired in 2002 to found the global luxury brand Robert Graham. Its unique offerings have become wildly successful throughout more than 1,200 retail locations such as Fred Segal and Saks Fifth Avenue and have expanded to include knitwear, shorts and pants, jackets and a women’s line.
In December 2012, Stock partnered with Revolution Eyewear to create a Robert Graham eyewear and sunwear collection sourced from premium materials and embellished with etched ruler markings and Robert Graham pink-threaded buttons.
Here Stock discusses the debut of the Robert Graham eyewear collection with 20/20 and the excitement of ushering the uncommon offerings of Robert Graham finery to a wider audience through an industry uniquely equipped to appreciate small details, bright colors and daring patterns, his professional evolution and why eyewear is the natural next step for his distinct brand of passion and surprise detailing.
Where are you coming from, in the fashion industry?
I actually started, really, as a kid in high school in the fashion business. Primarily working in different men’s stores in the Bronx, where I grew up, as a stock boy. One Saturday morning, this guy pulled up in a yellow Morgan, wearing a shearling flight suit with an aviator’s hat on and earmuffs and goggles. He got out of the car with this suitcase, introduced himself and said, “Hi, I’m Ralph Lauren and I have an appointment with the owner of the store.” I said, “Well, Murray’s not here, would you like to work with me?” He said sure and took out these ties from Rivets Tie Company. By the end of the conversation he said to me, “You know, I’m thinking of going out on my own.” He started his own company, Polo, about six months or a year later.
One day Ralph called me up and said, “My company is growing. I see what you’re doing at Country Britches, and I’d like to do a pant collection and clothing like that,” and Ralph and I became partners on Chaps. In those days we were so raw; we didn’t know anything about the mechanics or the financial end of the business. We just kind of understood fashion—we had a feel for it. But we didn’t really know how to run a business. It was weird, I went from designing to then being the head of a company and I said to myself, “Really what I want to do is design under my own name. There’s no point in having two designers here, I’m going to try to do this on my own.” So I left Chaps and went with a company that did a collection for me called Country Roads by Robert Stock, and that’s when we won the Coty Award for “Best American Sportswear Designer.”
In 2002, I decided that I just wasn’t happy. I really wanted to do something that made a statement. I wanted to do high-end luxury fashion. People were making blue oxford button-down shirts and Bengal stripes, not so different than what’s been going on in menswear for the last 10 years, very plane Jane—very simple, very clean. We felt there was a market for color; we felt there was a market for details. There wasn’t anyone in men’s fashion at the time that was doing anything like that. What we did was really special; we put every possible detail into every garment we made.
Do you feel like your eyewear meshes well with other aspects from your collection?
We are a full-bodied collection. We not only do shirts, but neckwear, dress shirts, socks, sport coats, socks, formal wear, jeans—you name it, across the board. Going into the optical arena is a natural extension of our lifestyle brand. Anything we do flows back to the brand because we are seriously, personally involved. Our mantra is to make sure that everything has the touch and little details that are special to people. That’s what makes us different. People sometimes say it’s like Where’s Waldo?... what else can I find that’s kind of different that nobody else has done? I think in that respect that’s what we hit on with the optical.
What did you think of eyewear before you started designing it?
I always viewed it as a very cool accessory, but even more so than other accessories. It’s right in front of you, so it’s something that either catches your attention or fades into the face. To me, being around designers and a lot of fashionable people, I’m always kind of checking out what they’re wearing, subtly. There’s always been, in my eyes (he smiles at and notes his optical play on words), some very cool statements in eyewear, because again, it’s the first thing you see, on someone’s eyes, when you look at them.
How do you view designing now that you work with eyewear? Has it changed the way you look at things?
I’d say I pay a lot more attention. Now I study it, whereas in the past I really didn’t study it. Now I’m a student. I watch it; I look to see who’s doing what and make sure we’re not doing exactly what they’re doing. I look to see what sells, what doesn’t sell and spend time with it. To me holding, touching and feeling is very important. If I see something online, I can sort of get the buzz, but I like to feel it, look at it and wear it. I spend a lot of time visiting different types of stores all over the world as we pick up new categories. I’m spending a lot of time in Italy. I’m looking in every optical store. I’m in it.
How did you find Revolution?
Michael Buckley, our CEO had worked with Revolution at True Religion and spoke highly of them. He said these guys will really work with you and they will have the same passion that you have. That’s kind of the bottom line with us—passion. To do what we do… we’re a pain in the ass company, honestly. We take our time, we spend a lot of energy in developing the products and hopefully they do well, it’s been proven pretty good. People just want more Robert Graham product.
We’re smart enough hopefully that we have good-looking fashion basics and a little bit of a limited edition-type feel, and as we progress we’ll get into more and more funky-type things and keep the surprises coming. We want to always have some dramatic pieces and surprises, but I think what we nailed here was an amazing base. I think what Gary Martin and Revolution have done is really hit the DNA well—right on the money. The fact that we’re fabricating rather than printing, and we’re using accents from our DNA like rulers and little buttons and these special things we’re all about. People are crazy about our buttons, they freak out over the buttons. I think we’ve come up with some really unique details and touches; the materials we’re using are wonderful. As you get to know us from collection to collection, we’ll never let you down. ■