Filson's NYC Flagship Heralds the American Renaissance
As Americana infiltrates maisons the world over, the jumbo-sized store offers next-level authenticity
As Americana infiltrates maisons the world over, the jumbo-sized store offers next-level authenticity
Text: Reshmi Kaur Oberoi
Pacific Northwestern-bred Company, C.C. Filson, is embarking on the quest for gold with its recent migration to the Northeast. In a reverse Manifest Destiny, the company is setting up shop in the heart of NYC. On November 13, Filson will open its newest flagship, a rarefied 6,000-square-foot space with 3 floors in Union Square.
Enter a refurbished 1850s barn, manually transplanted cross-country from Oregon, and you’re greeted by a totem pole of howling wolves. The lighting is dimmed, casting an ambience of walking through a forested area heavily occupied by canopied treetops so that only rays of sunlight peek through. A wall-mounted blanket rack boasts an assortment of Filson trademarks, from Mackinaw Blanket,” in a wool red-and-black lumberjack plaid. Fittingly, an axe hangs perfectly perpendicular to the ground, next to framed jackets, racks of weatherproofed garments, and a pair of sole-less work boots tied purposefully tied at the end of a clothing rack instead of hanging over urban electrical wires.
This latest city transplant reflects the recent American Renaissance in the fashion industry. Take Michael Kors’ recent unprecedented $2.1 billion acquisition of Italian luxury brand, Versace – the first public declaration of American independence from international keepers of couture and high fashion. Collections on this year’s runways were saturated with everything from saddle waist belt bags to cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats, prairie dresses paired with feminine blouses and combat lace-up boots—supplanting stars-and-stripes homogeneity with a rich tapestry of American motifs.
Take Dior’s equestrian-chic 2019 Cruise collection that showcased black leather bodices and saddlebag. Tulle petticoat skirts fanned out from underneath tapered and buttoned up double-breasted black blazers so that a collared white-shirt with black tie peeked through. Olive green combat wellies protected feet from the elements that could slosh at the ankle-length, turtleneck, and long-sleeved prairie dresses. McQueen’s SS19 collection featured a similar black saddle-waist belt, less structured and with a buckle that cinched lemon-drop yellow flouncy thigh-high split dresses, dresses with asymmetrical hems and sweetheart bodice strapless dresses in striped primary colors. Corsets, shoulder-pads, and harnesses rounded out the runway.
Zuhair Murad also took a spin on his classic embellished designs tailor-made for the red carpet or alternatively, the wedding aisle. His couture SS18 collection was styled in native Americana fashion. As if set to “America the Beautiful,” model is shot along the shining sea, feathers perched on the crown of her head, holding a branch-like walking stick in a scene all too reminiscent of pitchfork-holding characters in the painting, American Gothic. His FW19 collection featured black shift dresses with a fringed chest and wide-legged pants paired with a black tassel belt. Wide brimmed hats and fringe boleros similar to those worn by bullfighters continued the country western aesthetic. A less ornate approach was taken by Gucci’s Cruise 2019 campaign that showcased farmer-chic. Models traipsed wheat-colored plains alongside llamas in lace-up knee-high boots.
Now, more than ever, is Filson’s time to shine. An outfitter that remained rooted in Americana handiwork and aesthetic since its inception in 1897, Filson continues to act as a conduit between American handicraft, textiles, and outdoor work ethic. They focus squarely on the Northwestern terrain of the U.S. with knitted shawl-collar cardigans, twill rucksacks, and suede luggage, all weatherproof. The leather is sourced from Wickett & Craig, one of the last standing stateside tanneries. Their recent women’s handbag collection is sourced from a Montana buffalo ranch.
Peruse their online shop and discover a limited but highly curated selection prefaced with explanation for why those items are the chosen ones. Twill isn’t just a fabric that beckons images of Chanel skirt sets. Instead, it is”22-oz cotton twill, lightly brushed with a paraffin-based wax to repel water and densely woven to reduce snags and tears.” Directions for its use follow: “Stiff at first, it takes a couple years to break in. If it didn't, it would be easy to wear out.” For Americans, valuing hard work resonates even when caring for one’s possessions; nothing worth having comes easy.
Filson design director, French native turned-New Yorker Aude Tabet, proved her adoptive American bona fides at brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Coach, and Marc Jacobs before landing at the 121-year-old pacific northwest company. With two factories in Seattle, Tabet asserted Filson’s uniqueness in the industry. “All of the other American brands have gone off shore and closed manufacturing,” Tabet said.
Though Americana has infiltrated maisons the world over, Tabet refers to Filson as “the real deal.”
“It’s authentic, classic, and tailored for the American outdoors. It was created in the Pacific Northwest out of a need to outfit the guys who were passing through Seattle on their way to Klondike for the Gold Rush. Filson provided all the gear,” Tabet said. “Everything that it was -tough. It still is and it’s functional and very simple in design.”
Tabet considers herself Filson’s keeper and is charged with safeguarding its heritage. “We don’t overbuild anything. The design elements, the lines, are each serving a function. Nothing is decorative or not necessary for the strength of the product,” she says. Overseeing the expansion of product categories, Tabet helped launch the women’s collection, which takes up the second floor of the Union Square flagship. On one side of the floor is a round sofa in peacock-teal velvet mohair that cost $350 per yard.
Filson Chief Creative Officer Alex Carleton animatedly details how he patched together the flagship store. Next to the sofa, a cozy space with low-ceilings that even I had to crouch into at 5’ 4’’ has a built-in shelf that juts out from behind the sofa with a pair of authentic fur-mukluk boots, stacks of books on nature and textiles. In the center of the half-circle sofa was a trunk-turned coffee table. On the particularly frigid fall day in New York City, I settled into the warm space with a coffee in hand.
That’s what Carleton was going for. The space was meant to welcome New Yorkers who are new and well acquainted with the brand. Future plans include Filson’s typical hosting of events that include education workshops, spoken word, artisanal crafting, and wining and dining—far more than the outgoing location New York’s Great Jones Street could accommodate. In contrast, the flagship store is a block away from the Union Square Greenmarket, around the corner from Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen. The location is meant to introduce a new crowd to the Filson experience–hunting, climbing, working hard, and cozying up at the end of a long day—a welcome alternative to the urban hustle of New York.
According to Tabet, “Filson is completely relevant today not only because there is a real resurgence of Americana and stateside brands, but also because its style is timeless. It’s super classic. It’s super elegant. It’s chic.”
On the wall next to the cozy alcove is a shelf of blankets, a pillow casually thrown over a chair gifted to the Madockawando Tribe in 1924, and a mantle-shelf on which sits a vinyl record player from which the shop’s soundtrack will play exclusively. The wall behind the mantle is the statement piece. It is a paneled stain glass that is enlightened from behind. The picture is a landscape with clouds and mountains in light blue, gold hues, and milky white in the backdrop. In the forefront are trees and birds mid-flight, in great detail so that feathers, beaks, and bent legs can be observed.
For the exclusive breakfast, a Brooklyn-based caterer is serving bagels with capers, lox, and cream cheese. There is a frittata as well. Though a one-day perk, the inclusion of local handiwork is a mainstay. There are scarves sourced from the Hudson Valley and priced a $595 and up. In the pantry section, alongside Pacific water-caught smoked salmon, is upstate NY-produced jam, honey, and maple syrup. Collaborations with American manufacturers are a constant. The Texas-based Lucchese boot company has crafted a footwear line for Filson.
In spite of the brand’s evolution, with one-of-a-kind products based on location, one thing remains constant – the Filson manufacturing and design hybrid identity. There is a restoration department that accepts worn and torn, oil-stained, Filson brand products in disrepair. The scraps are reworked into new items – their quintessential zip-round tote bag, a cap, uncannily similar to the originals but with a vintage-worn in look and a story to tell. A tag hangs from the products with a stamped name for who spearheaded its creation. The price-points are slightly higher than their new counterparts.
From 1897 to 2018, Tabet’s statement about Filson being “built from the ground up and not rushing,” couldn’t be more apparent. “We have the right product at the right time,” Tabet said. “You will be seeing a lot of new products in the next few years and some specialty items not necessarily gender-specific.” Tabet lives by the idea that women perform the same laborious tasks and participate in the same outdoorsy recreational activities that men do, so they should be just as equipped.
So why choose a French-born New Yorker to spearhead a quintessentially Pacific Northwestern American Brand? Carleton calls Tabet a “woman of nature,” and “down to Earth,” with roots in France closely identifiable with the Pacific Northwest. She rode horses, her mom hails from Normandy, and according to Carleton, Tabet’s exquisite taste and style “toggles salty and sweet.” Carleton’s praise for Tabet appropriately reflects that all-American adage: work hard, play hard.