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Rag & Bone's Expanding Empire

Profiles
Rag & Bone designers David Neville (left) and Marcus Wainwright (right).

By Bee Shapiro

"It’s like a dorm room,” jests David Neville, who, with Marcus Wainwright, cofounded the wildly successful contemporary label Rag & Bone, which just opened a brand new store in Bal Harbour. Hanging in their joint office, which is dotted with runway image clippings and other memorabilia—like a framed photo of them grinning with Anna Wintour—such is their laidback air that perhaps dormitory comparisons aren’t so far off. Certainly, the look they’ve developed has often nodded to boarding school uniforms, the kind they used to wear in their native England.

 

In fact, the two actually met in 1995 as teenagers at Wellington College, a posh boarding school outside of London. “Those were some formative years,” says Wainwright. After college, the two pursued diverse ventures: Wainwright launched a telecom company, while Neville tried out investment banking. It was Wainwright who eventually decided to give fashion a go (he designs the Rag & Bone collections). First he quit the telecom business, he recalls, and then headed to Tulum, Mexico, for sunshine and diving. “Then I met a hot girl on the beach, who is now my wife,” he says with a chuckle.

Wainwright and his “hot girl,” model Glenna Neece, moved to New York, and by the end of 2001 he had laid the groundwork of their brand, which was officially founded in 2002. Neville, who also married an American—makeup artist Gucci Westman—joined a few years later and has taken on the business side of things.

Neither had formal fashion training, but both were fast learners. A lot of it was “just figuring out how it was done,” says Wainwright, pointing to the accessibility of Manhattan’s Garment District as a huge asset. “I don’t think we could have started it in London—it doesn’t have a garment district, really. Here, you can get anything you want related to clothes, like buttons, spandex and lots of weird stuff.”

Neville, meanwhile, always had an interest in “product and brand,” he says. “I worked at an investment bank, but loved clothes and loved personally buying clothes. It was a little Jekyll and Hyde in that I had to wear a suit to work and then buy my clothes for the weekend.”

The duo began the line with menswear, researching craftsmanship and using old American factories. There were roadblocks, but not enough to sway them off course. “We had some tough times, but we were always very optimistic and enthused by what we were trying to achieve,” Neville says. “The spirit of New York was a big factor.”

Today, the company—with several seasons under its suavely cinched belt and after teaming with garmento Andrew Rosen, who also has a hand in Theory, Alice + Olivia and Proenza Schouler—is in expansion mode. Womenswear, which debuted shortly after the inaugural collection, has been an impressive driver. The category now comprises some 75 percent of the business, with much credit to accessories and the little leather booties everyone is running around town in, as well as Rag & Bone/JEAN. 

Indeed, the company has had its eyes cast south for some time now. They hosted a fashion show at Soho Beach House with Saks Fifth Avenue in 2012, showcasing Spring looks with jolts of neon and neoprene. “It was cool,” Neville says, pointing to a photo of the custom-built runway that spanned the hotel’s swimming pool.

rag and bone spring 2014 mens colbalt blue jacket

“Miami fashion gets a little bit of a bad rap, maybe,” Neville adds. “But there’s a lot going on. We see Miami as one of the strongest markets.” He emphasizes the diversity of South Florida visitors, whether they be South American, Asian or European. “There definitely seems to be a lot of momentum,” he says.

Likewise, momentum is exactly is what Rag & Bone is capitalizing on. “We created a brand and we just need to keep maintaining the brand at the highest possible level,” Wainwright says. For the two, that means not selling out on design and integrity, and to “not slack.” “It does feel like there’s a big opportunity to be one of the next big American brands,” Wainwright continues. “One of the next Donnas, Ralphs, Calvins they’re multibillion dollar companies. Why can’t we be one of those?”

 

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