Interview: Duckie Brown on New York Fashion Week

February 13, 2013

There are no two designers more fun that longtime collaborators Steven Cox and Daniel Silver, who now split their time between their original label, Duckie Brown, and the creative direction behind classic American sportswear label Perry Ellis. And that's not just because they can tell jokes for days. Last week's show for their main line had backwards coats and pops of pink in the armpits; its playfulness was a truly surprising and beautiful thing to witness, and it made for one of the best collections at New York Fashion Week. Just yesterday, they showed their second season of work for Perry Ellis by Duckie Brown, which, though it has a decidedly more business-like attitude, managed to throw in a few giggles here and there (a mac coat in a grassy, forest-y camo, for example, made for a cheeky take on a classic). Here, before their Perry show, they wax on the differences between the two names, and tell us how they always let some of that signature Duckie charm shine through in a new context.

You guys are remarkably calm for people who, in about 40 minutes, are about to have a major runway show. SILVER: We don’t believe in the drama of fashion; we’re not saving anyone’s life. At this point, it has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with all of these great people helping us. We’re prepared, and we do our homework. Nothing is left to chance. COX: At Duckie Brown, we do everything ourselves. At Perry Ellis, it’s a bigger operation and we have everything done for us. SILVER: At Duckie Brown, we’re moving chairs, we’re moving racks. At this one we’re much more Kimora Lee Simmons.

Which do you prefer? Because you like being hands-on, right? COX: We are hands-on. Everything is happening because we are the orchestrators of it. But yes, I prefer Duckie Brown because that’s where I live—that’s my soul. SILVER: Duckie Brown is Duckie Brown. We are Duckie Brown. We still pay as much attention [with Perry Ellis], but this is a job and we are being paid. We’re still very passionate about it, and it’s a job to do. Duckie Brown is my passion and I’ve never felt like Duckie Brown is a job in my life.

How is Perry Ellis more like a job? SILVER: It's about us making the name Perry Ellis relevant again, and the specific job is to make a designer brand that has its own handwriting but that has wide accessibility for many men. I think we’re trying to reach a much wider market. I think it’s much more for every man. We just want to dress men beautifully in clothing that doesn’t challenge them quite in the way that Duckie does. Duckie is a very niche brand and it’s high fashion. This is very fashionable but it’s also commercial. What’s attractive to us about Perry Ellis is being able to take a brand that has fallen on hard times, and has no customer base, and try and elevate it. That’s what’s appealing to us. COX: I am drawing Duckie Brown sketches at the same time as I’m doing Perry Ellis sketches and yet they kind of seem to separate and go somewhere else. In the beginning, I was worried that they looked the same, but it’s become very separate.

What’s Perry and what’s Duckie? COX: With Perry, we’re trying to do this thing where there’s a uniform. Listen, I will always try and push it, and I’m pushing it here as well, but I’m pushing it in a different way. Duckie Brown, I’m pushing it for however long I want to, but there is a ceiling to Perry Ellis. I’m not going to be doing crazy shapes, and upsidedown, backwards, whatever. There’s not going to be a backwards coat in this collection, but it’s trying to push it in a different way. With Duckie, the handwriting is something like the backwards coat that we showed this season. Because it’s wrong. It’s so wrong, but it’s so right. SILVER: For Duckie, it’s about challenging how things should be and what the rules are. We understand the rules and so we’re able to break them, and we have the technique to do so. So for us it’s about challenging what’s acceptable and what’s not.

One of the things that impresses me about you two is your confidence of vision. SILVER: My feeling is, whatever decision we make is the right decision, and what we decide tomorrow, that’s fine too. Just charge ahead. COX: I choose yellow and I like it. SILVER: If Steven was the type of person that can’t decide on a fabric for 5 weeks, we would have closed down years ago. I can’t deal with that shit.

Do you guys fight? COX: Never! Are you fucking crazy? It’s just love, and Valentines, and sweetness. We rarely fight about professional stuff, and if we do, it’s over in a second. Usually it’s the personal stuff, and this one we’ve shelved until therapy tomorrow night.

Last week’s Duckie collection felt like a real standout for you. Do you agree? COX: It was. Listen, I think they’re all good and they’re all beautiful, but some are better than others.

What made this one so special for you? COX: You know what? I can’t really tell you. Somehow the stars align in the right moment and we got it even better than just right. SILVER: It was very easy. Some Duckie Brown collections are a slog, and it’s very hard. I think it was doing this! I didn’t have to do anything commercial. COX: The biggest benefit for us doing Perry Ellis is that it’s allowed Duckie Brown to step back and go, Okay, what is it that we want to do now that has nothing to do with Perry Ellis by Duckie Brown? We don’t have to appeal to anyone commercially. We don’t have to put a fucking plaid shirt on the runway; we don’t have to do any of that crap anymore. We can just do our thing.

Do they let you break the rules at Perry Ellis? SILVER: Yeah. They leave us alone, so it’s good.

So you’re just doing what you do. SILVER: Yeah. For this label to be successful, Perry Ellis by Duckie Brown, it has to have its own style and sensibility, and ultimately it can represent the name Perry Ellis, but it certainly doesn’t have to refer to him in any kind of real way. It’s always Duckie.

Interview: Duckie Brown on New York Fashion Week