John Bartlett has put on his shopkeeper hat, or rather his shopkeeper brown canvas apron. It's one thing to be assisted by a good salesperson, but quite another to be led through the collection by the person who designed it. "I plan to be here a lot," Bartlett told The Shophound, referring to his first freestanding boutique which opened over the weekend. "It's hard working with the big stores when there's all those megabrands," he tells us, so instead of fighting for rack space in the department store floor, Bartlett was directed by designer friend Cynthia Rowley to the location left vacant when the vintage store O Mistress Mine relocated to the East Village from Seventh Avenue South. The space was redesigned by David Gauld with a stacked stone wall specially configured to accommodate vintage metal shelves that Bartlett relocated from his own home. Now his label has a showcase that no department store has been willing or able to give him. "I want to open more of these," he tell us as he shows us more John Bartlett clothes than we have ever been able to see before in one place. While his collections have never been wildly outlandish, Bartlett's sensibility has always been just offbeat enough to keep him out of the higher profile (and usually more lucrative) middle of the road. Now for the first time, he has an opportunity to show customers what he's all about with the full collection, from Canadian made tailored clothing to the imaginative sportswear that made his reputation. In addition, stock includes a group of scented candles created expressly for the store, witty ceramic home accessories and chic scarves created "off-the-grid" from recycled materials by a former colleague of Bartlett's from his days working for Ronaldus Shamask.
Relishing his new role as retailer, the designer plans to make the most of his interaction with customers
in developing his collection. "I want guys to be able to wear my
clothes," he tells us as we discuss how so many designer lines are
difficult for American men to fit into. "It's OK for young guys," he
says of the current vogue for superslim cuts, but while Bartlett's own
line is hardly baggy, he now has a vested interest in fitting the customers who come through his door as well as his own more
athletic than attenuated physique.
He still has an eye for the idiosyncratic detail like curvy front pocket stitching that makes his jeans distinctive or the grosgrain side stripe on a pair of tartan trousers. He showed us the blank patch of leather on the waist of his jeans that will be branded after they are purchased, a personal touch. A perfect motorcycle jacket comes in supple brown or black leather with just enough body to keep its rugged edge, and a denim jacket in natural tan or brown has tailored pockets that set it apart from your basic jeans jacket. "Indigo is coming," we are told, and suddenly our own full collection of denim seemed wanting. We came upon a pair of gray flannel pants very much like a pair The Shophound had in two colors from Bartlett's first collection 15 years ago. "I've learned that if people like something and it sells, you can keep making it." As for the customers, response has been immediate. "This is the last one left," the designer proudly exclaims, pointing out a patchwork blazer featured in his Fall runway show. While Bartlett may not be available at his store every day, customers lucky enough to meet him there will treated to the enthusiasm and excitement of someone who not only just opened his first store, but seems to have discovered a new dimension to his career.
John Bartlett 143 Seventh Avenue South at Charles Street, West Village
See John Bartlett's Fall 2007 collection here.