I often challenge friends to find five square blocks in Manhattan where there is no construction going on. Be it due to the housing market, the Bloomberg Renaissance or the city's tax structure, there has never been more drillings, digging and scaffolding disrupting New York City life. The high rises going up every week, the annoying midtown traffic being backed up by some flatbed delivery or the infamous street closures due to some giant crane has narrated the real estate boom in the city for years now.
Now shortly before Labor Day this year I was dog-sitting for a friend whose rooftop had the most amazing view of the Chrysler building. As I was sitting there on the rooftop sketching at dusk, the lights of the famed NewYork landmark came on and it got me to thinking. While some of them are not as fantastic as the Chrysler, buildings shape and catalogue the city in its various stages similar to how someone regards important life events on a timeline. The beauty of the buildings and the legacy they create for the face of the city led me to ponder if those men who built these buildings were looking at this as just work or if they foresaw the impact of what they were building at the time. It's a message of those who work behind the scenes just doing their jobs but create the things that affect our lives so deeply, be they the contractor, the metalworker, the seamstress or the tailor.
For one second, connect those last four occupations by thinking of the attention to detail, the knowledge of craft and the persuasion of great construction. Although they take a backseat, they are no less important to the design process. This is the thinking conjured up when I watched to Spring 2014 Marlon Gobel show. Inspired by the quiet heroics of the city's metalworkers, Mr. Gobel showed a collection that merged his patented eye for building suits with the patented eye of those who 'built this city'.
It was a story of paying homage, American heritage and city construction as models sauntered out to a pounding remix of "We Built This City" appropriately between the wrought rafters of the iconic Park Avenue Armory. Mr. Gobel lent his polished aesthetic to streamlined denim workwear cut with familiar lines but updated by being tailored closer to the body with a clean sense of the natural fitness of a man who works with his hands and also his mind. Strewn throughout the collection were builder references like tethered belts and prints/treatments that called to mind a construction hub like a trim suit with contractors blueprint lines & markings or woodgrain printed dress shirts. I can only imagine what Mr. Gobel's mood board for this collection must've looked like. The riveted safari and leather jackets, the speakeasy style fitted vests and the varsity bomber style jackets all looked like what a turn of the century metalworker would see on his worksite and even after he punches out his timecard and catches some ale at the local watering-hole.
There was also an exciting fabric that Mr. Gobel used in this collection whose technical texture served as one that may have been used to ship and protect steel. However, being the lover of color that he is, this crisp, structured but soft fabric called Aeronylon was shown in vibrant 'contracting-esque' colors like florescent orange and yellow that served as a perfect balance of the themes of precision and construction especially in the expert hand of this seasoned designer.
What's always nice about a Marlon Gobel show is that he is inspired. That's a very easy thing to do when you know your craft. Having worked on both sides of the curtain, he knows how to personally handle the design process from pencil to fabric to first-fitting to sewing machine to final fitting. This also means that when you experiment the outcome will still have the polished aesthetics that show you know your craft as opposed to just looking costume-like. After all, like the iconic Chrysler or the defining Empire State, a great design is only as good and lasting as those who construct it.