Few American designers make a name for themselves in Europe. Of those who do—Tom Ford, Tom Brown, Marc Jacobs, Rick Owens, or Jeremy Scott—only one (or two) can be considered a true craftsman. That’s why a designer such as Geoffrey B Small is unusual. Hailed not from New York, but the unlikely city of Boston, Mr Small is a designer who still sources from forgotten looms and assembles his clothes by hand. These are undeniably beautiful clothes. So exquisite are his men’s wear that it inspires a fan base that is, more often than not, silent on the source of their acquisitions. Good designs, as the fastidious are inclined to say, you keep for yourself.
Exclusivity is the key to the appeal of Geoffrey B Small. The Made-in-Italy line is reported to be restricted to only ten or so retailers in the world, and the limited editions have a quantity of 500 pieces
per style, per season. Each garment has an artisanal quality to it (right down to the hand-written hang tags!) that inevitably draws out your curiosity about them. You’d want to touch, feel, and caress: the tactile quality and overall styling are evocative of another world, another time when people care about what goes into a garment and how they are made. A waistcoat, with fabric that suggests old country looms rather than industrial weaving machines, beckons: it’s Fitzwilliam Darcy meets Hans Solo, and Huckleberry Fin too.
While many consider him to be avant-garde, Mr Small is really a traditionalist, who draws from pattern-making of the past, not, however, from the recent past, but eras as far back as the medieval and Napoleonic years. This is fascinating—even when designers are known to plunder historic designs (Jean Paul Gaultier, for one)—as modern manufacturing prefers minimum steps to garment making than the complicated methods known to older ways. In fact, Mr Small, based in Cavarzere, Italy, is considered a pioneer in hand-production technologies and sustainable production practices, and a fashion eco-warrior of sorts.
His eco-centric ways go back all the way to the mid-Nineties, when he offered recycled shirts made out of vintage garments. The first time we were able to see these shirts in Singapore was during this time when they were briefly available at Tangs. These were truly in the spirit of deconstructionism, then only an emerging trend: shirts refashioned by joining two different pieces into one or taking a different part, say the collar, and fusing it into another neckline. The ideas seemed crazy at that time, all the more so when you consider the designer prices that were charged for what many would have considered to be used clothes.
The latent social messages of his designs soon gave way to something much more explicit as Mr Small took to his shows to clarion the world’s socio-economic ills. He addressed illiteracy, global warming and climate change, and the dangers of nuclear power (especially after the disaster in Fukushima in 2011). And he certainly isn’t one to refrain from speaking his mind about the state of fashion in the present time of massive corporate business.
I believe someone who makes clothes for someone else can do far more than be just another prostitute of the great fashion rip-off of conspicuous and wasteful consumption.” — Geoffrey B Small
But in his clothes, they are not the angry messages of Vivienne Westwood or Katherine Hamnett. The sloganed T-shirt, in particular, is conspicuously missing. For his “Logomania” collection, one that drew attention to potentially destructive energy sources, he employed the anti-nuclear logo as a recurrent motif to speak out.
Trendiness can be business as usual, but for some, social conscience makes better design sense.
Geoffrey B Small Spring/Summer 2014 is available at Surrender, #02-31 Raffles Hotel Arcade
This article was updated on 18 July 2014 to reflect the correct production figures provided by the atelier of Geoffrey B Small. We apologise for the initial error.