“People are gravitating toward a brand like ours right now in this political environment because this is the time to stand up and to have a voice.”
Smack bang in the middle of one of the most commercial swathes of Manhattan—across the street from Bryant Park, eight floors above sidewalks clogged with impatient locals and dawdling tourists, and surrounded by just about every mainstream retail giant you can think of—is the unlikely showroom of Moose Knuckles, a Canadian outerwear brand that prides itself on rebellion, provocation, and a brash, in-your-face aesthetic. (This is the brand that did a collaboration with PornHub, after all.)
It’s a Thursday afternoon and the space is buzzing. The marble, glass and burnished gold showroom is home for the day to the brand’s fall/winter 2018 collection preview, and the invitees and drop-ins include some of the buzziest names in music, art and media, parading around in front of the mirror in the brand’s new oversized shearling coats, parkas trimmed with psychedelic multi-coloured fur, and tie-dye fur bombers. The previous day, I met with Tu Ly, the brand’s design director, and Steph Hoff, creative director, both outfitted in monochrome Comme des Garcons, to walk through the collection and get an up-close look at the Mary Katrantzou coat collaboration I first saw back in February on the runway at London Fashion Week. Over the course of our hour-long conversation, we touched upon everything from the brand’s commitment to its Canadian roots, to cultivating their niche in the crowded outerwear market, to how rebellious art and fashion is thriving in response to the regressive politics of this Trumpian era.
On the F/W 2018 collection…
Tu Ly: Our core has always been this hardy, workwear-oriented fabrication, and our design is all about being streamlined—it’s not about overt flourishes. It’s utilitarian, there’s a real function to everything. But we’re not just a coat brand, there’s a real fashion aspect to it. The collection is really about being brash and bold.
Steph Hoff: Even though we’re very fashion, there is a bit of that blue-collar, rebellious, working class in everything we do.
On the Mary Katrantzou collab…
TL: Mary and I have this real love for fashion and it was so easy. She’s done collabs with Moncler and Adidas and there was a real synergy and chill vibe working on this. She looked at six of our signature coats and we re-rendered them in her fabric. I think our pride and joy are these tufted leather jackets, like you would find on upholstery. It was a challenge and we definitely put our factory to work but in the end what we got out of it was something quite special. You can’t do this by machine, it’s all hand-folded, hand-tufted.
On holding their own amidst an outerwear boom…
SH: I feel like Moose Knuckles really owns this white space that is built around fun and lifestyle. We’re kind of creating this counterculture community. Maybe on this side, fashion is very precious and very serious, and on this side it’s very technical, and we’re right here [in the middle], we’re kind of taking the piss out of that market, it’s a bit ridiculous. Also, we’re not so serious about fashion. We have a very fashion-forward product but we’re not standing there very serious, like the stakes are really high. We like to have fun, we like to be playful.
On the brand’s Canadian roots…
TL: All the designs are done in Montreal. Our core coats are made in Canada, at our factory in Winnipeg, which has been there for like a hundred years.
SH: Winnipeg garment manufacturing employed about 40,000 people in the 1950s and ’60s and that shrunk down to about 3000 or maybe even 2000 at this point. We’re one of the few brands supporting the legacy of Canadian outerwear manufacturing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Tu and I are the creative leadership of this company and us both being Canadian and from Toronto–there’s a sensibility that only Canadians can bring to this product and to the world. And even a couple of the girls who work for me in the New York office too, they’re like ‘what is that, who’s Ed’s the Sock, what is Nardwuar?’I’m definitely educating our global buyers and our global staff about all of this fun Canadian trivia and pop culture references. Plus, pretty much all of our creative collaborators are Canadian—our Yorkdale store was designed by Burdi Filek, an award-winning Toronto design firm, and our fall/winter campaign video was produced by Kid Studio, who are up for five MTV Music Video Awards this year. They’re a Toronto-based production company but they’re really making a global impact. They just did a Big Sean video, The Weeknd, PartyNextDoor; they’re working with Travis Scott. All of the models in our F/W campaign, even on social [media], you see a very dominant Canadian influence. We’re Canadian through and through.
On the brand’s space in the cultural zeitgeist…
SH: I think hip-hop culture, street culture, skateboarding, whatever’s popping in youth culture right now, feels really rock n roll. Rappers look like rockers, rockers look like rappers, you know what I mean? Skateboarders look like Gene Simmons, it’s like all of this feels really rock n roll right now. And I think that there’s this rebellion in the air, frankly as a reaction to Trump and his presidency and all of these things that are happening in the world, and people feel like they need to be rebellious and they need to stand up and be counted. Moose Knuckles is a rebellious brand, we’re not afraid to disrupt. The brand is really exemplary of that outside-the-box culture, of paving your own way, rebellion, anarchy… those things are very prevalent here. And I think that people are gravitating toward a brand like ours right now in this political environment because this is the time to stand up and to have a voice.