New New York
By Andrew Belonsky
Photography by Jason Rodgers
Auston Björkman is watching Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking when I arrive at his apartment and former studio in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. His baseball cap reads sir, an abbreviation of his menswear line’s full name, Sir New York. His cat, Dandy, is padding around. It’s a calm, quiet moment in a frenetic period for the designer.
In just under three years, Björkman has turned what was once a living-room operation into one of the most buzzed-about labels in fashion. Trendsetting shops like Los Angeles’s Joyrich and New York’s Atrium and Oak, as well as online outposts I Don’t Like Mondays and International Playground, are all aficionados. Hip-hop artists French Montana and Big Sean have sported Sir’s looks, while Jaden Smith wore Sir New York on the red carpet for screenings of After Earth, his new movie with his father, Will Smith.
And it’s not only Björkman’s designs that people covet. Part of the line’s appeal is Björkman himself. “Auston’s personality is so affable, and it shows in his collection,” says Gapu Suri of New York’s Shop Untitled. “His designs are reflective of him. His clothes make you feel cheerful.” In an industry where dry barbs are the standard and egos run rampant, that’s quite a statement.
But as his business booms, Björkman, a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate who interned for Thom Browne and Loden Dager, remains cool, collected, and, most important, prudent. “The line’s definitely blowing up and it’s really exciting, but you don’t want to grow too fast,” he says. “If we get a big order from Barneys and there’s something wrong with our factory and the shipment isn’t there on time, they will never order again.” Demands must be met, which recently prompted Björkman to move production to a Bushwick building called the Knickerbocker,
an old hat factory that’s been repurposed by a creative collective that includes a jeweler, a milliner, and now Sir New York.
“All men have their definitions of masculinity, and so do I, but I know they want to look tough or feel tough and at the same time be sensitive,” says Björkman. “Sir New York has both an edgier kind of streetwear influence and a softer, high-end influence.” Sumptuous alpaca pants are inspired by hockey breezers, a sequined jacket is a nod to jockey silks, and the upcoming spring/summer 2014 line — what Björkman calls “futuristic surfwear” — will incorporate a 3-D sublimation print.
Björkman’s own love of sports can be traced to his childhood in woodsy Montpelier, Vt., and in the tropics of La Brea, Trinidad, where he and his brother used to hunt iguana and possum. It was on such expeditions that he was most at ease, in his play clothes. Born biologically female, Björkman enjoyed nothing more than getting back to nature in the least-gendered apparel possible. It wasn’t until he was 8 years old that he got his first gender-neutral article of clothing, a pair of gray Nikes. It took a tremendous amount of begging, but, as Björkman recalls, “It was such a triumph.”
He’s come a long way since then, and now, almost four years after starting his own collection, Björkman is thinking about the future. Sir New York has recently launched an online store, and he has his upcoming spring/summer 2014 collection to finish. He also has to map out Sir’s video projects (last year’s was a collaboration with artist Andrew Yang and cinematographer Ramón J. Goñi). Plus, there’s an imminent fall runway show to plan. Yet his approach to it all, at least for this brief moment in his apartment, seems rather zen. “I know where I want Sir New York to go,” Björkman says, “but it’s also great to be open to all the things that are just happening.” He winks and turns back to Into the Universe.