Tim Hamilton: An American Tailor

Fashion is a rags to riches business. American menswear, in particular, without an established tradition and overshadowed by its European counterpart, requires equal parts alchemy and grit. After all, Halston, who had both, was born in Des Moines, Iowa.

Menswear designer Tim Hamilton is the youngest of seven children. The family grew up in Iowa, where Tim's father, a World War II veteran, worked as a construction worker. They divorced when Tim was young: His mother, who traveled and danced before settling as a housewife, raised him alone.

Tim Hamilton himself describes his upbringing with a certain distance: "It's the classic Midwestern story -- going to the Big Apple, trying to make it big," he summarized. But a circumspect sense of history is the luxury of those who have moved forward. After launching a menswear line in 2006, Hamilton was nominated for the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Swarovski Award for Menswear in 2007.

"Boy, you're getting personal, aren't you?" Hamilton asks at mention of his upbringing. It's a history palpable in the clothing. It also gives Hamilton, and his clothing, a sense of craftsmanship. Speaking of his time working as part of the design team at Ralph Lauren, Hamilton is appreciative, but the process was more conceptual, and "less nitty gritty" than is his preference. With his line, he and a small team of interns put together everything in the designer's Chelsea apartment.

In only his third season, Hamilton has created a sensible, very American line. Hamilton speaks of colors and fabrics, and touches the collection as it hangs in his room. Bomber and motorcycle jackets are reversible in cobalt and metallic prints. Hamilton looks to revive the soft, woven fabric chambray, typically used for work clothing. Shorts come in two lengths: shorter, with a five-inch seam, in candy colors; a longer, in a classic Bermuda with a slick silhouette. The dress trousers are slightly tapered, in a shiny herringbone print. Hamilton offers an almost knee-length cardigan, in 18 gauge knit, with black buttons. For shirts, there's a variety of collars and cuffs, ranging in dress style and collar. Hamilton tops it off by squaring off the tie.

Alex Gartenfeld: Why have you chosen to do a presentation, rather than show?

Tim Hamilton: I don't think I'm big enough for a show. And besides, shows don't make as much sense for me as a men's setup. This is more low-key, and also a bit more intimate, because we are presenting in a studio space. I like the idea that people can stare at the clothes, and talk to each other or talk to me. And we're looking to get alcohol. Get everyone really wasted, and then they'll love the clothes.

AG: Do you do everything here yourself, in this apartment?

TH: We're not having anyone sponsor us -- because we're foolish. We don't have a PR person. I think there's something a bit more humble about it. We do everything. We do the sales and stuff. I like that in the beginning, to meet and greet people; really tell people the way I see it.

AG: How are you managing without a sponsor?

TH: It's more work than we thought. The models are doing it in exchange for clothes. So are the stylists, for clothes, and casting. Or the agencies like what I'm doing and they've chosen to support an independent designer. We have to pay for the platforms and set-up, and the invites, and then as far as mailing the invites, people from Victor Glemaud have helped me.

AG: Do you begin the season with a theme?

TH: I really don't go too deep into a concept because I think that can feel a bit contrived. But I take inspiration from photos, although it's not really a specific era or moment. I like the idea of "I use this fabric because I love it: what can it fall into, how can I use it?"

Color, and then fabric, is first for me. Then I was looking at a number of old French photos. There's a photograph of a boy, taken from behind, facing a mirror. I don't think it's attributed to a single photographer, but I've been thinking about it. He just wears woven shorts rolled up, and stripes.

AG: What's your education?

TH: I enrolled at the University of Iowa, and then I went Miami. I decided I needed to leave Iowa and took off. Someone invited me down there, because I used to call these famous fashion photographers. I was only going for a week there, but I stayed a year. It was going to be a week in Miami and then New York. But I was sort of very independent at the time and I was over the Iowa thing. Miami was something… I'd never seen the ocean, and when I got there I was blown away by how many New Yorkers were there and all the attention, and I was like, "Wow look how fun."

AG: When did you come to New York?

TH: So New York... New York has been the thing for me. I got a job working at Ralph Lauren in the store, and the designers would come in. They always liked how I dressed. Ralph got me an internship in design, and I was hired three months after that. And then I got an internship and took classes at Parsons on the side and self-taught myself as much as I could. I wished I could have gone full time because I really wanted to learn.

AG: Do you ever go back to Iowa?

TH: My parents died. I don't go back there. My family is all there though. My first niece actually went to college. She's going to William and Mary. She's breaking the chain. It's kind of nice to see that. But my sister is handling all of my shipping and receiving.

AG: You keep a lot of the work in-house: Do you see the line as a family business?

TH: It isn't yet -- I would like it to be though. Once they see this could be a fun thing, maybe they'd all chip in some capacity. If it is successful...

AG: Why did you start the line?

TH: For a number of reasons. I hit a wall where I was working [At Maidglow, opening stores in New York under the J. Crew umbrella]. I broke up with my ex of seven years. All of those things sort of came to a head, so I said, "fuck it... And if I fail..." and I had a driven attitude about it. I didn't care about money. Checks are bouncing and this is my ex's apartment and I can't get out of it. You just keep going.

AG: What's next?

TH: I haven't taken a vacation since I started this, and I don't plan on taking one.

Tim Hamilton's presentation took place on September 9th. Products available at IF Boutique, Bergdorf Goodman and Jeffrey in New York, and Maxfield in LA.

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