Simplicity isn’t easy to master. Anyone can lavish loads of bells and whistles onto something and make out it’s the new big thing, but it takes a true master to distil a design right down to its bare essentials and still make it work.
Just as a good Margherita is the mark of a great pizzeria, a humble, well-made piece of clothing will always stand head and shoulders above any gimmick-heavy fast-fashion.
California’s Lady White Co is a prime example of this. Focussing firmly on the classics, this lot craft deceptively simple sweatshirts designed to fare well against the hands of time. No big logos – just high-class jersey cotton.
Here’s an interview with founder Phillip Proyce about classic American sportswear and the importance of sharp needles…
Starting things off pretty lightly, what have you been up to today?
Today has been mellow, working on the new collection for FW19 which we will show in Paris and NY in January. Then this afternoon I need to stop by the factory and check production.
How did you get into working with clothes? Was it something you’ve always been interested in?
I moved to LA from Chicago with the hopes of getting involved with clothing. I’ve always had the itch to make clothes but never had proper training. Once I got to LA I worked for a denim company which did everything in-house. That’s super rare for a smaller brand… but we had our pattern maker, cutters and sewers all under one roof.
So that was kind of my fashion school, but it was all happening in real time so I saw the design, production, and business side of things. I’m so grateful for that opportunity.
How did Lady White come about? Was there a defining moment that set it off?
Yeah, a few years back I was out skating with a big crew and noticed about ten of us all wearing plain white tees. That sparked an idea to make the brand focused on t-shirts and sweatshirts instead of having them be a filler product — put all of our energy into a certain set of products, instead of making a huge range.
How would you describe Lady White Co?
Lady White is a real USA sportswear brand. But that’s the irony of it — it’s about style, not about playing a sport. It’s more like, the sport is wearing the clothes.
On your website I spotted a good sentence about how you want to make “useful items that get the utmost wear.” Can you elaborate on this a little?
I wanted to make sure the stuff gets worn… a lot. That’s the point; otherwise we’re wasting everyone’s time and money. Try to avoid the trends and makes the classics. Shit that will feel good even after a few years of wear.
Do you think sometimes these more honest, almost basic, items can be overlooked?
Definitely. They get overlooked by the folks that want flashy clothes. Beyond that, there’s a lot of people that appreciate the simplicity.
Am I right in saying all your stuff is made in the US? How important is that to you?
Yeah, it’s cut, sewn, dyed and finished all within a ten minute drive here in Los Angeles. Even our cotton is grown domestically. Then the yarn is sent to LA and we make the fabric here too.
Trying to make things as local as possible is super important for obvious reasons — quality, sustainability, fair wages… I love that I can be present during the whole production cycle.
Steve was telling me about how you make sure the needles on the machines are changed often - without sounding daft - why is this important?
Construction is key when making well-made clothes. It's about the strength and balance of the garment. We're trying to make the best t-shirts and sweatshirts possible, and sometimes that calls for checking what needles are in the sewing machine. Sharp needles make the best clothes and need to be changed regularly. That's one reason why cheap t-shirts get holes immediately — dull needles!
My factory floor manager hates us and loves us. We’re annoying, but they appreciate the level of care we put into the product. When I come into the factory the sewers are proud to show off the work they have done for us.
What do you look at for inspiration? What are your favourite classic sportswear items?
I mostly look to American sportswear. The t-shirt is probably the most important piece of clothing, sort of the foundation of sportswear. And the iconic hoodies made throughout the 40s to the 60s always have the best feel.
Do you think people will look at the sportswear of today in a similar way in 50 years’ time - or is the quality just not there with this mass produced stuff?
I hope so! It’s just going to be harder to filter the good from the bad. There’s lots of garbage being made in our current setting.
It’ll be funny to see what becomes a good vintage item in 50-60 years from now. Scary to think.
Do you collect a lot of vintage sportswear? Is it easy to find that sort of stuff in LA?
Yeah vintage is a huge source of inspiration but we avoid making reproductions. It's more like a base and then we take it from there. LA has lots of vintage, one of the best flea markets in the world being the Rose Bowl.
I always seem to find the best stuff in the Mid-West though. Being from Chicago, visits home always include some vintage buying.
Something like a good white t-shirt or a grey crew-neck sweatshirt will always be around. Why do you think this is?
That has always blown my mind. These items have nearly gone unchanged for 100 years — it doesn’t get more classic than American sportswear.
It’s similar to military clothing, sportswear was made when function was the main priority. It’s just too good, it’ll be around forever.
Am I right in saying you sell furniture as well as run Lady White? How did you get into this?
I partnered up with three friends to open a shop called County Ltd. We basically wanted to blend the two worlds of menswear and homewares – our slogan is ‘T-Shirts & Chairs’.
What sort of furniture are you into - is there a specific period or style that you buzz off?
The furniture is mostly from the 1950s to the 1970s along with artwork and other objects. Our buyer for the homewares has an amazing eye and imports stuff from all over the world. I’m totally removed from the furniture aspect, though I’m a big fan myself.
How does this feed into Lady White? Are there any overlaps?
No real overlaps besides good craftsmanship… that’s why we did the concept. It’s something you don't usually see together. But somehow it makes sense.
What else do you get up to outside of Lady White?
Pretty much just skateboard, travel, and spend good time with my wife. She also runs the brand with me, so it's always a balancing act.
I suppose if you grew up skating you will probably have noticed clothes and that subconsciously from an early age. What sort of stuff were you into growing up?
Watching skate videos taught me about proportions. You can take someone like Brain Anderson — he’s a super tall guy but with the right clothes he looks really proportionate on the board. So it wasn't really about specific items, but more about how the whole outfit can alter the shape of the body. Once I figured that out, it was all an experiment.
What’s the all-time greatest outfit in a video part?
The first thing that comes to mind is Mark Gonzales in Video Days. It’s well before my era of skating but it’s so influential — in the opening clip he's wearing some brown corduroys and a blue striped t-shirt I believe.
Again it’s something about the proportions that make Mark’s style so good. We try to use that influence when making the silhouettes for our stuff.
Any wise words to end this with?
Bonnie Prince Billy has song called "Without Work, You Have Nothing” — those are wise words.