Lumberjacks, Soldiers and Delivery Men, Oh My!
By Anthony Del Tufo
When John Bartlett started designing clothing in 1992, so many men were still wrapped up in the threadbare clutches of grunge, and metrosexuality had yet to come barreling out of the closet. Bartlett's visionary sketches of sharp, stylish, not-too-formal men quickly earned him accolades, most notably the Council of Fashion Designers of America's best menswear newcomer award in 1993 and 1997's Menswear Designer of the Year. In doing so, he proved that dressing men with an undercurrent of queer iconography -- later employed by Hedi Slimane and Tom Ford, among others -- could be a critical and financial success.
Even so, Bartlett quit the business in 2002 -- taking a sojourn to Cambodia and Thailand to study Ashtanga yoga and Buddhism -- and returning to fashion quietly in 2003 with a small collection of tailored clothing and accessories. In 2007 Bartlett opened his first store, and in 2008 he became Creative Director for the Liz Claiborne brand's men's division. His first collection under the John Bartlett for Claiborne label hits stores spring 2009.
Out.com spoke with Bartlett about his love of masculine icons, New York's West Village and what he's learned from manning the store himself.
Out.com: What made you decide to re-launch your own line?
John Bartlett: After my time away, I returned to the garment industry with a renewed appreciation for my label and for my career. I realized how much I loved design, but wanted to take full control of my destiny by opening my own retail shops.
Is there a clear through-line of themes from your earlier collections to now?
I am still inspired by all things masculine, from military uniforms to the UPS man. My tastes have grown up as I have matured, and I am not as interested in unrealistic design as I am in suiting my customer's real needs.
So many of your past collections reinterpreted gay iconography -- lumberjacks, the military, the sensuality of Fire Island. Are the gays still inspiring you?
I think gay men are embracing their masculinity more than ever and want to look like men. Men's fashion, many times, portrays the fashionable man as someone very thin and feminine. My approach and my muses are the exact opposite. I am inspired by the man's man, like Hemingway and Jean Genet.