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The Blog from Oi Polloi presents: by Sam Waller •

It’s not every day that you get to meet someone who used to be in the FBI.

It’s also not every day that you get to meet someone who used to be in the FBI who now runs a New York-based clothing company that makes really classy checked shirts.

So it’s safe to say that the day I met Dan from Corridor — was NOT every day.

In Manchester on a fleeting visit before hightailing it to India, he talked to me about the Federal Bureau of Investigation and swanky clothes…

When did you start Corridor? What’s the story with it?

I started it about six years ago in my apartment in the East Village. I was making shirts myself. I didn’t want to start a business – I just liked making clothes – but then more and more people started asking for them.

Was making clothes something you had always done?

Well, this is where it gets weird. I used to be in the FBI. My mother is a professor of art, and I come from a family of artists, and I did that in the early part of my life, but when it came to college – my parents were like ‘you need to get a job’. So I studied computer science, and then I worked for IBM, and then homeland security, and then I got a job for the FBI.

What’s that like? Is it how you’d imagine from the films?

It’s mostly pretty mundane – except that you’re talking about interesting things. The subject matter is similar to what you hear about in the films, but the participation in it is basically nothing.  

What were you doing there?

I worked in a part that dealt with intelligence in the Hoover Building in Washington DC. That’s a big brutalist building in downtown Washington. What’s interesting about working there is that it’s like you’re in on a secret – you’re part of things that maybe not everybody hears.

Can you talk about it to your friends outside the bureau?

No, because you have security clearances – so unless someone needs to know something, then they don’t know. I think that’s pretty common for people who work in Washington DC. Even if you have a crazy week, you can’t go home and tell your buddies about it.

What led you away from all that then?

I wanted to switch from the FBI to the CIA. I wanted to become a spy and work in the clandestine services. So I went to a grad school outside Boston and from there I was recruited. But when I was at the FBI I had all these horrible suits, so I got them tailored, and I got really into the process.

I got my aunt’s 1970s sewing machine and I learned to do it – and it turned out I was a natural. So all these years whilst I’m doing this day job, my hobby was making clothes – and it only really turned into something else when I got into grad school and I really needed to make some more money – so I was getting these requests and making these clothes on the side.

"When I was at the FBI I had all these horrible suits, so I got them tailored, and I got really into the process."

And at this grad school I had to get a summer internship – and mine was with the NYPD counter terrorism division. So I worked on all the cameras, looking at the analytics for the cameras in the city. I was doing that, but in the evenings I’d go up to the Garment District and knock on doors. I’d ask these factories if they could work with me, and they all laughed with me – except one.

By the end of grad school I had a collection of six shirts, and I was selling them to about twelve stores – all from going door-to-door with my backpack. I really got the bug – so I had to make a choice. I had no money, and who would invest in this crazy person who worked in intelligence and wanted to start a clothing company? So I took a full time job for a company which did intelligence analysis for the government, in order to bootstrap Corridor.

For two years I was working two jobs. From six in the morning until ten, I’d work on Corridor, then I’d go to work, and then I’d get off and do Corridor stuff all night.

Did people at work know what was going on?

I think most people knew by the end. It took maybe a year and a half to get to the point when I could pay my rent with Corridor – and that’s when I went full time.

Where did the name come from?

I’ve always lived between Washington, New York and Boston — the Northeast Corridor. So it’s an origin story – but it also informs the aesthetic – it’s North Eastern and kind of preppy, but it’s European facing.

Was that something you were always into?

The stuff the brand makes is, I suppose, the shit I like. I’ve always lived in those places, and I’ve always worn this kind of thing, so my reference point for Corridor is my life. It’s not conceptual, it’s all around me.

And then living in New York, that’s the ultimate inspiration. There’s so much going on here, there are so many types of people wearing different things – it’s this weird melting point that brings all this Americana together.

This season we’ve made western shirts, these 1950s service jackets that you might have seen a soda jerk wearing, and then there’s that North East prep thing – but it’s all cohesive because it all sits in that modern American umbrella.

Do you look at a lot of old stuff for inspiration?

Yeah  I look at a lot of old Pendleton and Orvis stuff. It’s mostly for textile inspiration. I’m not as inspired by the vintage shapes as I am by vintage textiles. I think what happened about ten to fifteen years ago is that the shapes stayed pretty much the same, but the textiles really changed, and things became very flat and there was a lot of poplins and printed broadcloths – but in the 70s and 80s there was incredible texture to these fabrics.

I want my stuff to be really wearable – you might have a closet full of shirts, but you’re going to wear the one you’re most comfortable in.

What about films and things? Do you get much inspiration from them?

I see things all the time – but I see it in snippets. I was watching a show called Mindhunter – and the killer on Mindhunter was wearing a really great polo. Now, I don’t even think the polo was right – the collar was too big, but if it was in navy and the collar was regulated, it’d be great.

So you just pluck little bits out of things.

Yeah, I see a lot of stuff from the late 70s and early 80s that I really like.

Why do you come back to that time? Is it looking back at stuff that people would have maybe been wearing when you were growing up?

I guess so. And I think it might be something that’s in the air at the moment too – everyone’s into vintage Patagonia – but I’m not an outdoorsy guy, so I think more about what clothes people would have been wearing through the week at that time. Perhaps it’s some Freudian thing – looking back to when I was kid and what my father was wearing at the time.

There’s something more academic to this too. It takes about 30 years for things to come back, because that’s how long it takes for people to get to the age when they can inform the current aesthetic.

It takes a while for people to appreciate something. People are now coming round to collecting things from the 90s, but not long ago that stuff would have been seen as rubbish.

Yeah, it happened in the 70s when everything was harking back to the 50s. You had Grease and Happy Days, Bruce Springsteen and Badlands. I think that’s just how things work.

Do you have certain things you make year after year? What’s the classic Corridor garment?

I think that’d be our shirts. We’ve always used this one specific pattern, and that’s the only thing we always do. We’ve put so much work into getting the fit right – and it seems to really resonate.

They’ve got broader shoulders – and I think a lot of people want that. Some people thing about a break of a shoulder of a shirt breaking right on their shoulders – but that’s actually not always necessary.  A lot of guys in New York lift a lot of weights – so they need a broader shoulder than what most people make.

"Perhaps it’s some Freudian thing – looking back to when I was kid and what my father was wearing at the time."

Where abouts in New York do you live?

I live in Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. I ride my bike across the Manhattan Bridge every day to our studio in Chinatown.

What’s it like living in New York? I know people like to say how it’s changed and all that – but has it?

It’s bullshit. The building I work in is in Chinatown – but before it was Chinatown, the whole street was Polish. And the other half was Little Italy. Things are constantly changing. The most popular New York hobby is to complain – but it belongs to no one, and it changes all the time. People like their story.

What should people do in Chinatown? Any tip-offs?

They should go to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and get the black sesame ice cream. It’s this old Chinese place that makes ice cream in the back, and it’s really good. I don’t know what’s in it, but it tastes amazing.

Further out, the beaches around New York are amazing too. You’ve got Rockaway and Fort Tilden, which is a national park.

Sounds good. Going back to the FBI stuff before we wind this up, do you ever miss it?

No, I never think about the FBI. I’m happy to be doing what I like. It’s nice – it’s like if your business was making cupcakes, and you made the kind of cupcakes that you liked to make, then you’d be doing your thing in the best way possible.

Do you think any skills cross over? Do you use your FBI knowledge in the clothing world?

I took so much from the FBI. The main thing I learned was that if you make the right decision more than 50% of the time, you’ll stick around longer.

That makes sense. I suppose we’ve talked for a while now – have you got any final thoughts or words of wisdom to end this with.

Trust your gut.

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