While other young brands may draw their inspiration from city streets or club scenes, Ernest W. Baker, a new men’s wear label, takes its name — and some aesthetic guidance — from an unlikely place: the designer Reid Baker’s 91-year-old grandfather. A former Detroit ad man, Ernest W. Baker is the brand’s muse — and Reid and his co-designer, Ines Amorim, create clever riffs on the kind of classic American suiting found in his wardrobe. Recently, they even studied his journals from the ’70s and ’80s, for inspiration.
Founded in 2016, the brand is an amalgamation of western American influences and Old-World European style, drawn from the founders’ heritage: Baker grew up in Utah and Amorim in a small town outside of Porto, Portugal. The result is off-kilter tailoring that feels simultaneously nostalgic and contemporary. The designers reinterpret traditional men’s wear fabrics — tweed, velvet and cotton shirting — with surprising, often cropped, silhouettes.
The designers begin each collection with a cast of characters inspired by their cinematic interests. These are especially visible in the brand’s fall/winter 2018 offering, which recently won the brand a place on the shortlist for the LVMH Prize. The pieces include a sharply cut brown leather trench coat, chunky mustard-yellow knitwear and a purple velvet suit with kick-flare pants. “The overall design is simple,” says Amorim, “but we want the looks to be memorable. We think of small details from the ‘70s and ‘80s and put them into the pieces, to give them an old feel.”
“We kind of let our inspirations come naturally,” adds Baker. This most recent collection, for example, started with the designers’ immersion in the world of David Lynch. “We watched ‘Blue Velvet’ and then the whole ‘Twin Peaks’ series, which brought in that Western element.”
Amorim and Baker met at the Domus Academy in Milan, where they studied fashion design and fashion marketing, respectively. “We randomly got the same internship with a small Italian designer and got closer,” Baker explains. After graduation, Amorim moved to London and Baker to Paris. Having gained experience at a list of different fashion houses — Haider Ackermann and Yang Li among them — they founded Ernest W. Baker and unveiled the brand’s first collection for fall/winter 2017 with look-book images shot in the couple’s Milan apartment. The brand’s website displays a selection of the designers’ family photos and cultural references: cowboy hats stacked up in a Reno gas station, American middle school billboards, the cheesy interiors of Italian hair salons.
“The character we both keep referring to is this classic Milanese guy with the blazer, the vest, the shirt and the ascot,” says Baker. “Just the beautiful simplicity of a 90-year-old guy walking down the street who is totally overlooked by the majority of the population, but for us it’s perfection.”
Currently, the pair lives in Antwerp, though the brand’s showroom is in Paris, where the fall/winter 2018 collection — the first that they’ve presented commercially — caught the attention of the LVMH judges. “We had no intention to sell our first two collections,” says Baker of the brand’s early offerings: a fall/winter 2017 collection of slouchy tailoring with frayed edges, and a spring/summer 2018 collection informed by the colour scheme of Martin Scorsese’s “Casino.” “They were designed with the intention of building our identity,” says Baker. “That was our strategy from the beginning — only when we are ready to do something commercially, then buyers can see it and also see a bit of a history.”
“The fact that we’re a small brand is a bit intentional,” he adds. But the attention brought by the LVMH Prize nomination is, Baker and Amorim agree, “great exposure for us and will allow us to continue to do what we do.” Whatever happens, they want to remain focused on their creative process. “We have a refined identity, which is quite powerful,” says Baker. “We’re not really afraid of anything — we have nothing to lose.”
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