When I visited the NUMBER:Lab studio last week, it had only been in use for ten days. As part of the new group of designers in the CFDA Incubator, designer Luis Fernandez is using the opportunity as a fresh slate to design the space from scratch. As a former architect, this prospect is invigorating. Though it means trickier coordination with his business partner Greg Lawrence, who will continue to work out of their store, the:Lab, on 10th Ave and 29th St, it also means a fresh state of mind in which to design technologically innovative and well tailored menswear.
Tell us about the day in the life of Luis Fernandez.
It starts by waking up and looking at the Blackberry, answering as many emails as I can. There’s a lot of logistical coordination. Greg will be at the store, I’ll be at the studio. There’s a lot of back and forth. Meetings, and then catch up and draw sketches in the nighttime.
Does being in this space in the CFDA Incubator with all the new neighbors feel very different?
You just saw one of the Burkman Bros walk by, “Hey are you coming tonight?” They’re launching a collaboration [at Urban Outfitters]. We’re actually now all getting used to when we can barge in, or when we just peek in and wave because they’re in the middle of a meeting. I think that a really great part of this space will be that you can be struggling with something, and go to someone who is probably struggling with the same issue. Solving it could be that much easier with a couple people’s heads on it.
What was move-in day like?
Getting in here felt like getting back to college for sophomore year, moving into the dorms. Because you sort of knew everyone already.
Was that Timo [Weiland] just skateboarding down the hallway?
No, that was Marc of Isaora.
What’s been the most exciting thing to happen up in the CFDA Incubator since you arrived?
Nothing really, in a crazy story kind of thing. We haven’t had our first in-house party, unfortunately. It’s really to be able to just step away from your desk and walk straight outside and find 9 other people who are in your same playing field. I think that’s just so refreshing. As a designer you can tend to work in a vacuum sometimes. It’s the community you’re in right outside your door. It will make the process and the product that much better. Plus there’s been the whole program with the NYU students, for a panel of four pretty well known executives and investors. It all happened right out there. There’s a little bit about that in the Wall Street Journal.
What was your studio like in the back of your store?
Very crowded. It still is. We took that space with the idea, one, to be able to have a storefront. But that it was also doubling as our showroom and an office space. That was a very great move for us.
When did you get the store?
We got it this past August/September. Right before the Hurricane [Irene]. Which was actually very stressful. It was enough to worry about home, but that we had a 14 foot by 8 foot piece of glass sitting right off the river in NYC, and that it was the week before Fashion Week, and that the collection was in there! I had these nightmares of coming back to New York and seeing just the collection strung all along the trees of New York City. Fortunately, not even a scratch on the glass.
What are some major benefits of the new location in the Garment Center?
We’re making half of the collection down the street. It’s going to be so much easier to pop out the door, visit the factory and come right back. I think most of our trim suppliers are on this street. It’ll be so nice to go out, grab a zipper and come back up.
You make half of it down the street, where do you make the other half?
The other half is in Peru, all the knits and the cotton jerseys. All the tailored pieces, we just brought back to New York. Our hangtags now say Proudly Made In New York City. It’s a great feeling to be making things here, locally.
Have you been involved at all in Save the Garment Center?
We’ll tweet at each other back in forth. But no, not actively, we’re just making stuff here, that’s our involvement. We’re living it.
What are three things you need within arm’s reach when designing?
For sure, the pen and pencil. Even scissors. My Blackberry! I honestly don’t know what would happen without that from a very logistical standpoint, where I email a mill and say, “Do you have this in that color?” and just fire it off really quickly. I’m getting a little older and my mind seems to forget things.
What’s your method of design? Do you need to see the fabrics first?
A lot of it comes from the fabrics. It starts with visiting the mills. I go to the mills starting in July, to sync that in my head. But there’s already a story, a color palette, so that when I go to look at stuff, I know in some way what I’m looking for. Then there’s the discovery part of it. We’re always going to the mills that are more technologically developed. From there it starts to go with the sketches, and the tech packs.
You switched from a career in architecture to fashion. How is the process different?
It really is very similar. Obviously the lead-time is very different. It’s about creativity and design. Design is kind of a problem solving exercise. For us, fashion is like great architecture, where it does something. Space can enhance the lives of inhabitants. This is kind of interesting given my architectural background: tech packs are done in Auto Cad. It’s a vocabulary and way of working for me that I can do really quickly. So I haven’t abandoned that, as opposed to drawing or illustrator. It’s just a way of working that hasn’t interrupted professions.
What are some problems you address when designing?
How can you make a guy feel tailored and polished but also dressed him for the modern man’s life? Our needs are different. We need our clothes to respond to what we’re doing.
How do you feel about the average 3-piece suit?
[Laughs] I think stylistically it’s a great statement. From a performance standpoint, I would have to look at what each piece really is doing based on how we really live today. And sometimes it’s not necessarily addressing the way we work today. You know again I think it can depend on the profession of the guy that’s wearing it is. But yeah I don’t think it’s so much on the front of performance.
Were you frustrated with anything in your own wardrobe before you started making your own?
Yeah, I guess everything! [laughs] I mean that’s sort of how it started. Greg and I were talking about how we couldn’t find clothes that fit well and still addressed those needs of performance and quality, and not at haute couture price. It was a conversion of all those things we were frustrated not being able to find. It started from the t-shirt, the basic thing that every guy wore, and we couldn’t find one that met all those needs. That was flexible and that was kind of versatile, you could dress it up or down. The most important thing to us was that you look polished, even if you’re in a t-shirt.
What kind of music do you play in the studio?
There are two podcasts: the Colette podcast, and for a more poppy vibe, the Made in Brazil podcast. In the store there’s Pandora: Nightmares on Wax , Cut Copy, Passion Pit, Empire of the Sun, and Electric Feel.
What other furniture do you plan on bringing into the space?
Ideally the table that I see in my mind in here is an Eero Saarinen, with a couple of the Harry Bertoia chairs. Then for the front, I’m bringing in two of the Eames bent plywood chairs. I’ll probably just have a very simple steel and glass or steel and stone table. It’s again following with the whole NUMBER:Lab aesthetic, which is just clean and modern, and a little bit techy. Which is the kind of stuff we like. These two walls anchoring [the meeting space] is painted as a chalkboard, so it has a function. I just have to go out and buy the chalk. The idea is to keep this place very clean.
Are you, yourself, a very clean and organized person?
Yeah, I tend to be. As you can tell from this [inspiration board], everything needs to be gridded and organized. I think it’s probably just because I’m afraid of what would happen if I wasn’t organized.
Where do you go to find your inspirational pictures?
Let’s just say Pinterest has become my new best friend. There’s a lot of Pinterest, a lot of Googling, a lot of catalogs and things. Some are just images I’ve collected over the years.
Have you thought of foraying into women’s wear?
You know, that’s the million-dollar question. We get that all the time. I think that just by nature that we get that question so much, it illustrates that maybe there is that need for this concept in the women’s wear world. I think it would be so fun and a great challenge to distill this into a women’s wear line. Plus I think there’s a big market for it. If you look at Lululemon’s business, a billion dollar business, and men's is 200 million, as projected for 2013. We just want to make sure the men are taken care of first; that that’s under control and moving before we tackle something else. We want to do something, and do it well, and then move on to the next one.
Photography by Jessica Lapidos