New York based womenswear designer Logan Neitzel is a rare breed in a city of seasonal colors and patterns, with dark hues and hand-crafted leather pieces forming the bases of his collections. A one-man operation, Logan’s studio is filled with patterns, leather work tools, visual inspiration (in the form of fox fur tails and magazine cut-outs of Kate Moss), as well as a chic black bicycle and a studded bondage mask—a commissioned piece he happily created.
“One of the interesting parts of being such a small designer is being so hands-on,” Logan told us when we went to visit his work space ahead of his Spring 2012 presentation in Chinatown last week. “It’s not like I sketched something six months ago and sent it to a factory and had a seamstress creating it for me. Every day is an evolution of the collection.”
In the interview and behind-the-scenes photos below, we are made privy to that evolutionary process, while the video above reveals the finished product; a dark collection featuring bursts of metallics in softer shades and intricate leather work.
PORTABLE: If someone were to describe your design aesthetic, who might they compare it to?
Logan Neitzel: Obviously, it’s kind of a darker aesthetic, but it’s not intentional for me to be dark—I just don’t really like a lot of color. I definitely get a lot of the Rick Owens crowd…and he’s inspirational, but I’m not staring at his collection then producing mine. Early Helmut Lang, I’ve gotten, to a mix of (here in New York) a darker Alexander Wang or something like that.
I would like to think that I’m creating my own direction, my own aesthetic. That’s why we’re so selective with stores and customers and who’s purchasing and viewing the clothing. Being smaller means I’m producing so much of it myself so I can be very selective and I don’t want everyone wearing my stuff. It’s very personal. I enjoy that for now…until I reach a point where I actually want to make some money.
Your work reminds us a little of Zana Bayne’s focus on leather work. How do you see your position within the New York avant-garde creative community?
New York doesn’t have a lot of avant-garde or more artistic designers; it’s kind of a select few of us that are doing something that’s different. It’s more filled up with Micheal Kors and things that are very sell-able. I think that Zana Bayne is very inspired by bondage, whereas I think a lot of my stuff is darker, but not inspired by those things; it just happens. I enjoy mixing texture and layering and I’m kind of creating different techniques as I go.
I studied menswear in school, so all the womenswear stuff—dresses and everything else—I’ve taught myself. I have my own processes that I follow and I create the collections as a learning curve every season. It’s what’s interesting and what keeps it fun for me, where it’s not just creating clothes, it’s creating some sort of process behind it. It’s more of an art.
New York, I think, is definitely more retail-friendly and I think that over in London and other places, avant-garde artists that are creating clothing are taken more seriously than they are here. Here, it’s hard. I walk into American Vogue and it’s like, “Where’s the color?” They don’t necessarily understand or engage in a different aesthetic that’s not sellable. It’s a process to be able to go through each season and prove that I can still be using similar colors and creating my own textures and stories behind the collections.
Do you think that’s an asset—that you’re doing something differently?
Maybe…I don’t really care. Like I said, we’re so selective about who’s purchasing and the ultimate goal for me is to create a cult following around the world, where people are purchasing my clothes as investment pieces and they know that they can wear them for the next 15 years and know they won’t fall apart or go out of style. It’s not like I’m going through Style.com and following the latest trends; each season is whatever I want to do. I’m not following a color palette like so many other people are doing, which I feel, in New York, a lot of people do. I don’t really care what other people are doing as long as I’m evolving myself and my collection. That’s the direction I want to go.
If there was anyone, real or fictional, you could dress in your clothes, who would it be?
I see, right now, being dark and wearing all black is very trendy, but I’d like to see that rock’n'roll girl—kinda like Kate Moss—wearing my stuff if she’s dressing up for the night. That’s who I’d like my customer to be. When I actually see who’s buying my clothing it’s everyone from a 50 year old woman who still has amazing taste to a 20 year old that wants to buy something to make her outfit really pop. I don’t see somebody walking around the street in a look I created for the show; it’s only one piece or two pieces that they can add to their closet and their everyday items. That’s the customer that I want…but Kate Moss would be amazing. Her or Kate Lanphear; a very strong woman that’s not scared to be powerful and walk out on the streets with confidence.
When this collection is finished, who will be the first people to see it?
Some of the first meetings I’ll have will be with Vogue, T magazine, my stylist. It’s interesting, for me, to work with a stylist because I’ve always created a collection piece-to-piece and when I visualize a dress, it’s always a complete look—shoes, hair, make-up. Having a stylist come in and create their own vision is interesting. I’ve always worked with stylists, but never as closely as I will this season so I’m interested in his different way of seeing it. I’ve been making the colors and doing the whole thing, and what they pair it with is going to be different to what I would.
Then I’ll go straight into pre-press meetings with magazines and stand in front of Style.com and T and try to explain to them what I’m doing. I’ll cross my fingers they’ll be engaged and come to my show.
How have you changed your process, direction or day-to-day functioning following Project Runway (Logan was a contestant in the show’s sixth season)—if at all?
It was a learning experience, I would say. I was hindered a lot on the show because I didn’t have time or the right tools to do what I like to do. My aesthetic is also a lot different to the customer that’s watching that show, but I have more international clients because of the exposure the show gave me. It hasn’t necessarily catapulted me or changed me a whole lot. As far as process, it was probably more damaging than it was good; now I think I can make a whole outfit in six hours, but that’s not realistic. I think I learned a lot about my aesthetic and became more confident in what I was doing. One of the main reasons I even decided to audition for the show was to get feedback from people that I trusted or that I felt had some industry experience beyond what I had at the time. That was my main inspiration for going on the show—to ask people, “Is this good? Do I have talent?”
Has your childhood in Blackfoot, Idaho influenced your work with or appreciation for different hides?
I was in Idaho with horses, out in the country from grade school through to when I was 17 years old . My grandfather was a horse trainer who had a tack shop and he was always fixing saddles and working with leather. That’s where I started; the joke is that one of the first leather things I made was a pair of hand-sewn moccasins for myself out of elk hide. I grew up with that, and fashion wasn’t really there. You’d have Macy’s or whatever, but it was three or four years behind. What you wore every day was more function than fashion. I travelled so much from ages 14 to now, but it’s still somewhat of an influence. I like taking pig skin or cowhide or lamb and manipulating it into something that is more interesting than just a flat fabric. There’s so much more personality in leather; as you wear it, it ages with you and wears with you. It becomes part of you, and there’s no other fabric that does that.
What are the defining elements of this collection compared to past ones?
The first collection I made when I came to New York was kind of a juxtaposition of who I was; it was about creating imperfect pieces. Now I feel I need to be more refined because I’m in New York, so I think Spring 2010 was more about me playing with color blocking and incorporating what I had done in the past. I took it to another level where I was mixing leathers with silk, and things like that. Last season was more about creating what I wanted to create, and this collection will be kind of a mix of my roots and that refinement. I battle with myself each season about what I want to present and who I want to be, but it’s an evolution; my inspiration is not necessarily a certain photograph or anything, it’s more about the learning curve of me creating. I don’t want to be a designer that says, “this is my inspiration this season,” and be sporadic about it. I want some sort of consistency, season to season.