London Alexander: the Menaissance

The making of a menswear icon

The weapons with which they go charging into the world do not just fall into the laps of men; they are forged of steel.

So when you see a musket, the symbol of London Alexander’s empire, think not of its danger and might, but of how it came to be.

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The Squamish-based clothing designer grew up like many a West Coast kid, alternating with the seasons between skateboarding and snowboarding.

Instead of family vacations, though, any time off from school after the age of 13 was spent working for his father’s company, installing high-end residential glazing.

There, London honed the work ethic that would see him with his first clothing collection by the age of 18, but $6,000 out of pocket as a result.

In high school, he started a graphic T-shirt line with his cousin called Big Blingin’.

They’d buy the shirts from their school and screen print them on campus. Those T-shirts have become somewhat of collectors’ items, sold for $15 with irreverent (deep) concepts like a fish jumping out of a pop can, or a pterodactyl with a dolla sign chain. A London Alexander shirt now, minus the graphics and with all the studied intention of a Saint Laurent, sells for four times that.

As a teenager, London would first draw his ideas and, to compenstate for a dislike of painting, fill them in with colour on the computer. Guaranteed the makers of Microsoft ‘Paint’ had no idea when they created the simple software that it would be the tool that enabled one of Vancouver’s most exciting young designers.

Eventually, he schooled himself on higher end design software, which he’s had to brush up on in preparation for his new role with Lululemon designing menswear.

He recalls hours spent at Reitmans and Winners waiting for his mother to finish shopping. Looking back on childhood photos, he was always well dressed, and, when he decided to enroll in Fashion Arts at Vancouver Community College, his mother wholeheartedly supported the idea. His dad, a bit slower to endorse the career path, eventually did as well.

His mom Vicki, from Manchester, and dad Darryl, from Trinidad, although divorced, still work together running the glass business, which, until Lululemon came along, still employed London. Both very fashionable (although London would say with a smile that his father was more hit-and-miss), his parents come to all his shows. And his older sister Savannah now works for the brand.

His auntie Donna, a seamstress living in Victoria had worked in the rag trade for years doing private label work.

As a teen, he’d hang out with her a lot, learning about things like warp and weft. One day, he wanted to create a sweater, so she told him she could help him make it. The first thing he designed for cut-and-sew was an inside-out terrycloth hoodie. He got to pick his fabric, his rib. Then she introduced him to an embroiderer and they put his initials on the pocket. Two weeks later she made it.

It was then that his mind exploded with the big picture. Boom went the musket blast.

He’d say he didn’t know what got into him. Others would say it was always inside.

From there he made his infamous “$6,000 kind-of collection” (military jacket, blazer, weird denim pants) under LRMA — short for London Romanus Michael Alexander. He fired Paint back up and pulled in sketches to play. He almost blushes, six years later, as he describes his ambitions.

He was 18, going on 19, with all the wisdom to realize he was trying to launch a clothing line with no experience. He approached local retailers and got told it was kind of cool. Sort of. But it didn’t sell (of course).

So he went to school. He took his first course in 2009 — sewing, illustration, Photoshop — to make sure it was really what he wanted to do.

That turned into a two-year fashion certificate at VCC, where he met Simon Beach — art director, graphic designer and instructor of Portfolio Design.

When it came to technical proficiency, London was just like any other student. It was clear to Simon, though, that London, with his LRMA collection already under his belt, had an obsessive vision.

He was going to school, developing his second collection, working part-time for his dad and commuting from Squamish.

He’s good at being in his own world. He goes so far as to call himself a hermit.

“A lot of people who know the brand don’t know me. They don’t even know it’s a person, which I kind of like,” he says quietly.

And while it’s hard to talk to him about himself — it’s much more fun to make his eyes flash with a question about fashion — these are the reasons the line has been championed by celebrity clients.

If you go to his website though, theirs aren’t the photos you’ll find prominently displayed. Sitting atop the About page is a black and white portrait of London with an elderly man, short in stature, big in twinkle. His grandfather Innis was always trying on London’s clothes, and London had always wanted him as a model, so they got him in London Alexander and took some photos.

“It was a monumental moment. There’s not a lot of pictures — of me and him especially. Or of him even. So it was perfect.”

Innis passed away five months later.

And while those photos, in vivid colour, used to be the first thing you saw when you went to his website, they were fundamentally based around fashion. And fashion moves quickly, so now the new Spring collection is scrolling across the page.

He says the process always starts with fabrics.

Spring/Summer ‘14 had a light and bright fabric forecast (not a stretch of the imagination), so London did his collection in darks.

He scoured suppliers for grey-on-grey, navy-on-navy, not stopping until he found the right, unseasonably dark florals, cottons and linens.

“What I’ve learned is that most of the mills in Canada are for womenswear. So I’m using fabric for women and turning it into men’s.”

But the bold blooms lose all femininity once sculpted into the masculine, made-in-Vancouver pieces.

He now sources fabric only domestically, which is something he’s learned as he’s gone along —  to use what’s available. But he hasn’t learned those lessons alone.

London was on his way to meet with an art director when he and Simon Beach again crossed paths on the sidewalks of Gastown.

Simon joined the team that day, and, two years later, a few things have happened. The name LRMA — a misguided attempt by London to stay out of the spotlight — has made way for ‘London Alexander’. There’s brand identity and cohesive lookbooks. And the musket logo — inspired by his childhood replica collection — gains context with each focused collection.

Most importantly, London, now 24, has finally gotten to the stage where he might feel satisfied with a season. He also has such a successful side company — The Daily Co., which sells only chinos — that he is looking to expand with a women’s line.

Between that and London Alexander, he could live off his brands. But his preternatural maturity won’t allow it. He simply works harder.

And if he keeps going, folding in the strengths of his family, friends and mentors, he won’t need a gun for a logo — he’ll need a sword.

 

Stockists at LondonAlexander.ca

 

London Alexander

Marshall Heritage photo

 

Quick Q's with London Alexander

What are some London Alexander design tenets?
It has to be wearable. Would I put this on my body? Would my friends put this on their bodies? Otherwise it’s couture; it’s not ready-to-wear. It’s not a runway piece. That’s completely different, and I understand that. If you make something that nobody is going to wear, then you have no sales. Then you don’t exist.

Advice for the skateboarder sketching at home?
A lot of people are biased — go to school or don’t go to school. I think going to school was good for me. The fundamentals. That’s all it can really teach you, though. Once you’re out there it doesn’t make sense with what you learned in school. I did it backwards. I just started my own brand. I didn’t intern with anybody.  

Where do you like to shop?
Nouvelle Nouvelle, Still Life, Board of Trade.

If a guy is staring at his closet, clueless, what’s your advice?
Bottoms last a lot longer. You can have a pair of jeans for years — wear them in, they just look better. I like to mix low-end with high-end. So, right now, I’m wearing an Old Navy crew sweater, with a nice pair of denim and a higher-end sneaker. Or just reverse it.

What’s a great way to complete the look?
Daniel Wellington [watches] are just killing it. The new Puma sneakers are pretty cool; they’re technically my competition, but Wings + Horns; Common Projects are awesome; oh, and Str/ke Mvmnt. Especially if you’re on the go.

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