Photo by Francesco Carrozzini
It’s not every day that you meet a man who produced his first fashion show—an elaborate conceptual theater piece—at the age of 18 for an audience filled with fashion bigwigs such as Anna Wintour and Graydon Carter.
Surprisingly, Alexander Olch didn’t have plans of becoming a designer. He fell into the profession after making neckties as a thank you for the crew who helped him with his thesis film at Harvard. His first post-college production, “The Windmill Movie,” was a personal project about his late professor, the experimental filmmaker Richard Rogers. Olch is now working on another film, running a successful accessories company and—most exciting for us!—teaming up with Barneys to debut his first line of shirting.
We caught up with the designer in his apartment, amidst boxes from a recent move and piles of fabric selections for his Spring 2014 collection.
What inspired your decision to start designing?
It started as a happy accident. I designed one necktie my senior year at Harvard for the crew who worked on my thesis film. Other friends saw the tie and asked if they could buy one and, unexpectedly, a business began. It’s grown happily ever since.
What is your design philosophy?
Very personal. I design clothes which I would wear. I grew up uptown in Manhattan and now live downtown, I try to capture both worlds – something traditional and something new, something familiar and unfamiliar, in all of our designs.
When I was starting out, I had an abstract idea of a man that I would design for and it never felt right. It came to a point that I even considered giving up the business. I decided I would make one more collection, that even if no one liked, I could wear the samples when it was done. Ironically, that is the collection that attracted attention, and led to the growth of the company. Since then, I’ve stuck to that same philosophy – design things which I will wear.
When did you decided to expand your reach into shirts?
I had been thinking about it for a long time and I got a phone call from Eric Wunsch and Tom Kalenderian at Barneys, who asked if I was working on shirts. That gave me the inspiration and necessary kick to make it ready for this season. We’re very proud to debut our shirts exclusively in the U.S. at Barneys.
What influenced the color palette of the shirts?
I like wearing darker solid shirts and I’ve often been disappointed in color palettes I’ve seen in the marketplace. I wanted to experiment with something that is a little different. The palette is designed both to coordinate well with our neckwear and stand well on its own. There’s emphasis on texture and solid colors for this collection.
Tell us about the process of designing and producing the shirts.
It was a very personal process of trial and error and experimentation. We put our head sample maker to work and over many, many months arrived at our final shirt style. Each day I would wear a sample and think how we could make it better. We designed strong pockets because I happen to store lots of things in my shirt pockets. I’m also rather lazy and I usually don’t tuck in my shirt, so the length is constructed to look nice un-tucked or tucked-in.
How does your designing influence your filmmaking and vice versa?
It’s different parts of the brain, so it’s great to have both to work on. I would not have fun designing two different collections or making two movies at the same time, but doing one of each exercises different muscles.
When I was young, I fell in love with the idea of making movies and directing. Some of that love had to do with photos of directors I saw from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. There is a classic aesthetic to their clothes that has influenced how I aspire to dress and aspire to be.
In 2012 you started making ties for women. Menswear inspired dressing is a big trend this season. How would you suggest a woman wear your shirts?