Interview: Lisa Mayock and Jeff Halmos of MONOGRAM

Monogram interview Lisa Mayock Jeff Halmos

Wet t-shirt, MONOGRAM

It seems very simple. The basic, casual, comfortable, familiar t-shirt. But when you choose to shop mindfully for the right tee, it gets complicated. Because I think it is in the most elementary of clothing pieces that quality does show. Not only do you want it to look and feel good, but you want it to look like it belongs to you too from the moment you first put it on. Like a trusted friend you’ve been known for a lifetime who gets only the best out of you. Lisa Mayock (formerly co-founder of Vena Cava) and Jeff Halmos (formerly of Trovata and Shipley & Halmos) created their brand MONOGRAM envisioning that very perfect tee, “that vintage t-shirt you’ve had in your closet for years – it’s delicate to the touch after years of wear”. A classic, clean cut that meets an art-based design sensibility. I believe therein lies the beauty of MONOGRAM. You know it is your personality that makes a statement, first and foremost, but it feels nothing short of liberating to have this great and simple wardrobe item that can back it up.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the CFDA award-winning designers on what sparked the concept and the name of their newly launched line, on the creative styling power of their t-shirts and sweatshirts, and on starting a fashion business as husband and wife.
Interview Monogram Lisa Mayock Jeff Halmos

Deep Red sleeveless top, MONOGRAM

Lisa, Jeff, why t-shirts? Why not something else? Why is MONOGRAM different than all the t-shirt brands on the market?
Lisa Mayock: There’s really nothing else like it out there! MONOGRAM was born out of our shared love of vintage, and a huge gap we noticed in the market. A perfect vintage t-shirt can be hard to come by (and often pricey), and when we started looking around and doing research we noticed it was really difficult to find shirts that were new but still hit that same vintage sensibility – we couldn’t find anything original or artfully-inspired. So we decided to create our own!

What are the core tenets on which the idea behind MONOGRAM is based?
Jeff Halmos: We started MONOGRAM as a destination for well-designed, art-based graphic t-shirts and sweatshirts in the vein of your favorite vintage pieces.

What makes a perfect t-shirt? Why is it so daunting to find that perfect-fitting tee? How are you addressing this at MONOGRAM?
Lisa: Every one has a different idea of their perfect t-shirt, but for us, we envision that vintage t-shirt you’ve had in your closet for years – it’s delicate to the touch after years of wear. We spent a lot of time perfecting the fabric and washes so every MONOGRAM t-shirt for extremely soft and loved without looking overly thrashed.
Monogram Interview Lisa Mayock Jeff Halmos

Tunnel Vision t-shirt, MONOGRAM

Why and how should one shop mindfully when it comes to t-shirts? What details prove that your t-shirts are well crafted and what are the factors one should always consider?
Jeff: For us, we lead with the fabric and the right wash, as Lisa mentioned above.

A symbol of timeless, effortless American style and California cool, is the t-shirt one of the essential pieces every woman should own, and why?
Lisa: Just as you would have a different wardrobe of shoes or jackets, I think having a wardrobe of t-shirts is just as important, especially when styled in a way that feels like a foil to an outfit that might be too precious otherwise.

Who do you design for?
Jeff: MONOGRAM’s original graphics are meant to make a personal statement. They’re witty, colorful, subversive, upbeat and fun. We design for every woman (for now!) and hope our graphics inspire wearers to let their individuality and personality shine through.
Monogram t-shirts Lisa Mayock Jeff Halmos

left: Torn Paper Eye t-shirt / right: Painted Eye sleeveless top, MONOGRAM

I like how style-driven your brand is. I couldn’t help but noticing the styling in the lookbook. I don’t think you have used a pair of jeans even once. It felt refreshing (and this comes from someone who loves jeans, and t-shirts, both apart and together). Your t-shirts simply stand apart. Was it intentional?
Lisa: Yes, we had a lot of fun styling our t-shirts! While we think that a customer is going to look great wearing these t-shirts with jeans, there are a lot of other really unique, nontraditional ways to style t-shirts and sweatshirts. That was really important for us to capture the way of dressing that we see out on the street that really didn’t see anywhere at retail.

How did you choose the name of the brand? And how do you decide the graphics and slogans that go on your t-shirts?
Jeff: What we love about MONOGRAM is that it feels like the company could be in publishing, advertising, fashion, or music. It’s easily identifiable yet somewhat vague in nature at the same time.

What drew you to the fashion business in the first place?
Lisa: It’s been my dream since I was really little, like 5 years old. I remember getting up early and watching Style with Elsa Klensch. It’s what I looked forward to for the entire week.

Interview Monogram Lisa Mayock Jeff Halmos

Lisa Mayock and Jeff Halmos, co-founders of MONOGRAM

You are married and have two children. What made you want to also work together and start a business?
Jeff: We actually resisted the idea of working together, at first. But the more time we spent on researching the market and talking about the idea, we both felt super excited and jumped right in!

How difficult is it to make a fashion business partnership work? What is the secret to a good partnership?
Lisa: Making sure that you both have the same work ethic is key. Also, understanding what you both bring to the table, and that you both respect each other’s skill set is extremely important.

How much talent, how much hard work and how much luck would you say that is involved in a successful fashion brand?
Lisa: I’d say that it’s 70% luck (including good timing), 20% hard work, and 10% talent.

Your products are manufactured locally in Los Angeles and you sell straight to consumers. Do you see your company as socially conscious? What are the perks and challenges of a socially conscious brand?
Jeff: What we like about the direct-to-consumer model is that it personalizes the experience – we’re excited to directly connect with our customers. We both have backgrounds in wholesale through previous brands and felt like we were constantly playing a game of telephone with the stores to find out what the customer liked or didn’t like. We wanted to sell direct-to-consumers with MONOGRAM in order to receive direct feedback and inspiration from the community.
Monogram Lisa Mayock Jeff Halmos

Solid Tan t-shirt, MONOGRAM

Do you collect clothes?
Lisa: I think the room serving as a closet filled with all of my clothes and accessories would point to yes. I may have a problem!

The best piece of advice you have been given, career-wise.
Lisa: Dress for the job you want, not necessarily the one you have.

What does style mean to you?
Jeff: Wearing clothes that are true to yourself and not trying to be someone you’re not.

You feel your best dressed in:
Lisa: A graphic t-shirt paired with something dressy, like this 80s Jaeger pinstripe suit I just got on Etsy.
Monogram t-shirt Lisa Mayock

Solid Washed Grey t-shirt, MONOGRAM

Where would we find you when not working?
Jeff: On vacation somewhere tropical.

One thing you can’t start your day without:
Lisa: Kisses from my kids.

What is your one favourite thing to do in New York City and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
Jeff: If we were to leave NYC, it would likely be for LA, which is where we do all of our production (and where Lisa grew up). I wouldn’t miss the freezing cold winter days, that’s for sure, but I would definitely miss the ability to walk to so many great bars, restaurants, and parks. It’s one of my favorite things about NYC – just being out and about in the neighbourhood.

The latest film you’ve seen.
Lisa: Straight Outta Compton.

What makes you happy at the end of the day?
Jeff: Sitting on the couch watching basketball or football. It’s my way of zoning out.
Monogram t-shirt Lisa Mayock

Solid White t-shirt, MONOGRAM

photos: courtesy of MONOGRAM Studio

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Shirt Stories: Charlotte Rampling

Charlotte Rampling 

You always notice the person wearing a great shirt. A classic that, for me, holds just as much appeal as a perfect pair of jeans. Shirt Stories is about others who feel the same, women and men, and who wear it well.

In cuffed shirt and flared jeans, classic watch, looking content and at ease, with a cool tomboy attitude – this is style all right. This is Charlotte Rampling, after all, a woman who has true gifts in the style area. One who doesn’t like to show off, but who, nevertheless, draws the best kind of attention through subdued elegance. This could very easily be her summer uniform. She could undoubtedly make it work anywhere. “There is something anonymous about a uniform,” she was saying in an interview some years ago. I think a uniform also gives you the freedom of being yourself.

But what really makes this photo above is the little one, Charlotte Rampling’s son – in his swimming shorts, with ice cream in hand, that great hair cut (that resembles my son’s pretty well – he has a lot of hair for his age) and that air of “this summer I do what I please” – and the contrast with his mother’s buttoned-down, but still effortless (she could very well be wearing heels and stills appear relaxed), look. Don’t they both look rebellious?
Related entries Shirt Stories: Francisca Mattéoli (interview) / Heidi Merrick / Chloe Lonsdale / Clare Waight Keller

photos: AGIP – Rue des Archives/The Granger Collection, 1976

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The Two Faces of Summer

Christina Han 
As much as I favour the American look over others (even over the sometimes much too overrated French style), I realise that, at least as far as the Californian way of dressing is concerned, I may have my own version of it, which could be best described as elevated. Well, first of all, my version would never include flip-flops, regardless of how synonymous with living by the beach they may be. And my interpretation involves, almost without exception, a pair of blue jeans, instead of a dress – so what if the Californians are blessed with such enviable climate year-round? Just wear your sunglasses! Yes, let’s talk about sunglasses. I have written about the style in The Two Faces of January over and over again. I love a contemporary movie that gives me so many reasons to talk about its costumes (and just as many style inspirations I can genuinely use right now and right as they are), especially that pair of sunglasses in this case. I have recently found my own version of them, yellow-framed and all, from a favourite brand, Polaroid, and I am ready to take on the second part of summer in a brighter shade of pale.

To conclude my theory on the elevated side of Californian style, here is someone who is the perfect exemplification of the L.A. style, my way: Christina Han of Violet Grey – “I wear jeans a lot more than I ever did in NYC, and the jeans now have holes”, she says. My style inspiration thrives on imagining many more who go by the same idea of cool, relaxed L.A. look – yes, this is more basic city life functionality than seaside living (both aspects are very much part of the West Coast lifestyle). But I really can not think of a more timeless and cooler outfit for work, dinner date, attending an event that doesn’t call for a specific dress code, and even a walk on the beach after ditching the heels.
Looking for the shade

photos: 1,2-Clément Pascal for J. Crew / 3-by me

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Too Late for Tears

Too Late for Tears 1949 
I have watched too many films noir. This dawned on me one evening last week when my husband and I were talking about weekend escapes. He advanced the idea of going to a Bruce Springsteen concert (The Boss is touring Europe and we have both been longing to go to one of his concerts for too long now, although I am afraid we might have missed the boat again). I said I wanted to go fishing. My husband looked incredulously at me, with a “no, really, get serious” mimic (not because I have never gone camping, not at all – I have, and I loved it – but because you have to be practical when you have a toddler, and we both know that comfort with capital C is of the utmost importance, so any trips involving sleeping in a tent are out of the question for the time being). “No, no”, I said, “I have my very own idea of going fishing”, and I went on to describe this ideal setting, of a secluded chalet by the lake. My husband replied very casually: “You mean something like in Leave Her to Heaven.” Well, yes, that is exactly what I had in mind, without having consciously realised where my idea had originated from. So, yes, I think we both have seen too many noirs. But went on to watch yet another one right away.

Too Late for Tears (1949), directed by Byron Haskin, is one of the best films noir, and one of most overlooked, too. One reason for this may be the fact that until its recent restoration by UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Noir Foundation, the film had been previously available in very poor condition. All I can say is that the restored version does it the justice it deserves, especially to the beautiful cinematography of William C. Mellor.

What makes this noir different is that it is a femme fatale noir. Even though the femme fatale character is present in most movies of the genre, rarely do we see and live the story from their point of view. This is what makes Too Late for Tears so interesting. I had some doubts about Lizabeth Scott’s performance at first. I had the impression she was trying, unsuccessfully, to imitate Lauren Bacall (even her checked coat-tilted beret outfit at some point was referencing too well Bacall’s iconic costumes in The Big Sleep and Dark Passage – however, that is not to say that Lizabeth’s wardrobe is not worth mentioning on its own, quite the contrary) and little was my surprise when I found out that Scott was originally molded by studio executive Hal B. Wallis to be the new Lauren Bacall, but eventually had to settle for B pictures – the way noir films were usually categorised. But, in the end, I liked what she brought to her character, Jane Palmer. As a housewife whose dreams seem they will never come true, Scott portrays disappointment only too well. She may turn out to be a cold blooded murderer, but it is with her, nevertheless, you get to identify with, more than with any other character, man or woman, good or bad – you don’t even get to sympathize with her husband, not even when he becomes her victim; instead you are thinking: “That’s how badly she wants something to change in her life”. And that’s what her impact as a femme fatale is among the long lasting ones.

And there is, of course, the lack of any trace of sentimentality (“too late for tears”) – one of the reasons why this is my favourite genre. One such movie does not force or does not mislead you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending. Interesting how, taking this into consideration, noir film remains the most American of movie genres.

photo: United Artists

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In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir

In the name of Gucci A Memoir 
I believe that luxury fashion brands have lost part of their core meaning today. And I think that is because luxury has become too attainable, starting to lose its cultural capital. It is mainly because of digital exposure, which may increase brand awareness, but, in the long run, it can turn into a trap, leading to consumer fatigue, instead of creating higher value. Luxury products are suddenly everywhere. They are not exclusive anymore (a sine qua non of luxury). Nor the retail experience that a discerning luxury customer seeks for. This is a customer who doesn’t remain indifferent if they see an iconic Gucci Bamboo bag on every high-heeled girl posing to have her photo taken for her personal blog or street style photography websites. This is someone who wants to feel like an insider, like they’ve been told a secret that nobody knows. Simply put, you first see the class and understated style with which this kind of customer owns such product, not that they have the money to own it.

I was thinking about all this while I was reading In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir, by Patricia Gucci, the daughter of Aldo Gucci. As the eldest son of Guccio Gucci, the founder of what started as a Florence-based luggage manufacturing company, he was the visionary mind who heralded the “Made in Italy” tagline along with the rise and fulminant success of one of the most prestigious Italian brands – his father always had an aversion towards his son’s plans of growing fast, and would say: “You have to remain small in order to remain great.” (And I would add, isn’t this something that is, by nature, associated with luxury? You have to remain exclusive, in order to remain great).

Patricia Gucci delivers a straightforward, in-depth, unassuming look into the previously untold love story of her parents, Bruna and Aldo, and their secretive and controversial life together (he was married, with three children, in an Italy that prohibited divorce and that held it as illegal to have illegitimate children), into her isolated childhood, and charts the tumultuous history of the label Gucci and of the man, the father and the businessman that was Aldo Gucci. I appreciate learning new things, from a close (both literally and figuratively) member of the family, about such an important figure in the fashion world, but also in entrepreneurship. Personal details of the kind always add a new, complex dimension to the image the public has already formed about a personality.

But I must admit I often found myself looking for paragraphs that described Aldo Gucci’s business side, and the brand, its invention and evolution, all the hard work, determination, time, passion and risk-taking that went into it. Patricia beautifully interweaves the two sides together, giving special, small insights on the business drive, flair, and ethics of her father, keeping the interest up beyond the family drama. That, I truly value. Like the episode when her father spotted a fake Gucci bag on a woman (she didn’t know it was a fake) seated in front of him on a transatlantic flight and, handing her his business card, on which, singing it with his name, he wrote a 30% discount, pleaded for her to use it to purchase an original Gucci handbag. And when Grace Kelly went in to buy a silk scarf in a store when the brand wasn’t yet making scarves, and the manager assured her that exactly what she was looking for was already in production and that she would be the first one to have it – and so they did, Gucci made one especially for her. Or the one when Aldo Gucci opened the Beverly Hills store and allowed access to Frank Sinatra before anyone else, because Sinatra loved Gucci products and wanted the exclusivity. This is the type of customer and luxury retail experience I was talking about above.

photo by me

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