"I think the fashion industry so often lives in the past. And I think it’s really interesting because it’s a paradox. We should be looking at how to evolve the fashion business to relate to the consumer, to the everyday man or woman where it shouldn’t be on our terms. It should never be about me. It should be about you. Designers should think not about themselves and sort of the self- aggrandizing aspect of being a celebrity. I think designers obligations are as creators to bring beauty and style and present all of these things to the individual person." - Joseph Abboud
I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Abboud. Since the age of sixteen, Joseph Abboud has been passionate about fashion. He started his career in menswear at Louis of Boston and later Polo Ralph Lauren. In 1987, Joseph Abboud launched his own eponymous label. Shortly after its debut, Abboud was accorded numerous honors including the distinction of being the only designer to have received the coveted Menswear Designer of the Year twice in a row (1989 & 1990) from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Other awards and honors include The Cutty Sark Award for Most Promising Menswear Designer in 1988, the first Woolmark Award for Distinguished Fashion in 1989 and again in March of 1993. Numerous other prestigious awards have followed including Person of the Year from the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the Lifetime Achievement Award from MR magazine in 2016. Abboud began working with Tailored Brands Inc. as Chief Creative Director in December 2012. Abboud was reunited with his namesake brand in August 2013 when Tailored Brands Inc. acquired JA Holding Inc., the parent company of the celebrated American clothing brand, Joseph Abboud. Abboud re-launched his label, reestablishing the brand as a sophisticated modern-American lifestyle collection. The Joseph Abboud designer collection is available at JosephAbboud.com and the Joseph Abboud Flagship Store in New York City.
Thank you so much for joining us Joseph! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always loved clothes. I always thought that presenting yourself well was an important part of who you were. For me, if it wasn’t about being the best athlete or the best looking, but owning my own zone about being well dressed. And I think that it was a very important way to say how I was going to present myself.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
I think one of the most surprising or interesting things that happened was when I wasn’t sure how my new collection was going to be received. So the night before I opened my first collection, I said to myself, “What am I doing here that’s new?” I saw a void in the American market — a color void, a silhouette void. At that time there was sort of a very slick European market, and then a very preppy ivy league American market. So there were no American designers designing more of an international aesthetic to their design. I think the most interesting thing is how I hit a nerve in the market and I was so thrilled that all of the retailers responded to the collection in a positive light. It was an immediate acceptance of a new concept and that was when I really knew my instincts had been right-that there was a need for something different.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was designing for Ralph Lauren, I really believed in creating a very different collection one spring: subdued earth tones-almost rainforest inspired linens and tropical hues. It wasn’t a particularly popular approach because at Ralph Lauren it was a lot of pink and green at that time- more preppy, southeast. That was the moment that I learned that if I really wanted to do what I wanted to do, that I had to do it on my terms. I adore Ralph. I’ve always loved Ralph. But I realized if you’re going to design for Ralph Lauren, you have to design what that brand wants and believes in. So I knew at that moment that I had a different point of view about color and fabric and texture and it was the right time to move on.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s always an evolution while being true to your DNA. One example I always use is the analogy of BMW. It’s the ultimate driving machine as they say and of course a sexy car. 30 years ago it was a refrigerator on wheels, but, they’ve been true to their brand while being transformative. I think you have to always look at your brand and continue to move forward. You can’t rest on your laurels. The great thing about the Joseph Abboud brand is we have flexibility within it to move where the market goes or lead the market. And yet we always makes sure that it’s Joseph Abboud- that you can tell the product without having to look at the label. So I think evolution is key.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Goodness to the world is a big concept. What I’ve always tried to do is make American men look and feel better, and, to help to educate them on how to be global citizens when it comes to their own personal style. Also, I know my place in the universe. I know that we were not finding a cure for diseases and we’re not scientists, but we’re in the arts and we’re making people look and feel better every day. My brand has always stood for inclusion for all types of American men, and in the pursuit of helping them look, and in turn, feel their best.
Can you tell us about your Suit Drive initiative at Men’s Wearhouse? How do you think that will help people?
For the past 11 years, Men’s Wearhouse, which is under the Tailored Brands umbrella, has hosted a month long initiative in July called the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive, which collects gently-used professional clothing for Americans transitioning back into the workforce to help transform their lives. Donations collected at our 700+ Men’s Wearhouse stores will be distributed to more than 150 local non-profit organizations across the country that help disadvantaged individuals regain employment through job readiness programs and workforce assistance. We have garnered 2 million items of clothing donations to-date. This initiative allows consumers to give someone the chance to feel confident, which allows our company to stand out in a positive and meaningful way.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To thine own self be true.” To be honest with myself about my work and what I can achieve as opposed to looking for other people to tell you how great you are. I always think you have to look inward and say, “am I true to myself and what I believe in?” That’s my life lesson about what I’ve done in my professional life.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I think that men are finding a new way to dress, that they are more curious than they’ve ever been. How do we gently move them along to new concepts, new ideas, like the metamorphosis of the suit for example. Can we teach them how to intellectually absorb that in a guy’s terms? Women are so much more experimental and can see behind the brand and the idea behind the aesthetic. Men need more literal information. The metamorphosis of the suit is a big part of what’s happening and we can help deliver that message.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”.
1- Perseverance. If you believe in your ideals you have to be able to take criticism along with all the setbacks that might come with it.
2- Have a legitimate idea or concept that has artistic merit that can fit in the world of commerce.
3- Adaptability. The fashion environment pendulum is always swinging. It is important to adapt to these changes while remaining true to your ideals.
4- Understand trends, but don’t let them dictate your concepts.
5- Always look forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It comes back to knowing who you are and what you do. To me, fashion is art and art is for the spirit- for the soul. I’m not a preacher or minister in the religious sense. For me, it’s the spirituality of fashion and what it does for us. I love that part of it, and that it makes us look inward. That in turn is how we project that confidence and sense of well- being. That’s been my message for 30 plus years.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
I think the fashion industry so often lives in the past. And I think it’s really interesting because it’s a paradox. We should be looking at how to evolve the fashion business to relate to the consumer, to the everyday man or woman where it shouldn’t be on our terms. It should never be about me. It should be about you. Designers should think not about themselves and sort of the self- aggrandizing aspect of being a celebrity. I think designers obligations are as creators to bring beauty and style and present all of these things to the individual person.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram and Twitter: @josephabboud
For suit drive information: @Menswearhouse
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!