One of the first rules of being a loud-mouth is making sure you've got a friend. Will Thompson and Alex Lee aren't loud-mouths per se, but that's because they let their style do most of the talking. During the day, you'll find them at Opening Ceremony, where they both work as sales associates. And at night, they're still working—pouring hours into their collaborative clothing effort, XXBC.
At first glance, the fledgling clothing label can appear to be just another streetwear brand "envisioned" by some overnight designer with a "minimal" approach, but by mixing highbrow production values with a lowbrow street sensibility, XXBC is anything but. It's luxury streetwear in the truest sense.
A couple weeks ago, I happily gave up one of my nights off to trek through the snow to a cozy little apartment that XXBC calls home. As I tried on their vintage Gucci and Tommy grails, we talked Patrik Ervell, Opening Ceremony, and of course, Cam'ron. More importantly, we talked about how real recognized real and how their partnership came to fruition.
VICE: How did you guys meet?
Will: We met on the train when we both lived in Boston a little over two years ago. I noticed his bag and I asked him where he got it. We got talking when he first mentioned he had this street style blog where he would take photos of people at Boston college.
Is that how the brand came about?
He off-handedly mentioned it when I met him. I loved the idea and told him I would like to help in any way that I could. That’s when we started working together and realized we could really make something happen with it. I graduated college and moved to New York. Alex wanted to be involved with fashion full-time so he transferred to FIT shortly after. I started working at Opening Ceremony, then he started working at Opening Ceremony. Now, Opening Ceremony is selling our shit.
Your first collection was mainly high-end knitwear. Will we see more of that this fall?
Alex: Yeah, sort of. Some of the materials will be the same but thats about it. After speaking with those who know us and know the brand, they are all expecting us to go a certain way and keep continuing with what we’ve done. We’re not going to do that. The knitwear and vintage fabrics were a big component of what we’ve done but we’re going in a different direction this next season.
Will: I think people are going to kind of look at it and be like “Mm, that doesn’t look like XXBC”, but its still XXBC—just in a different light. I also think this fall collection is going to open up a broader audience to the brand that wouldn’t have been open to us before.
How are you going to cater to a broader audience? Are you guys producing more looks?
Alex: No, it’ll be a different aesthetic altogether. If we’re talking numbers, its still going to be quite a small collection. Right now we're at about ten looks. From a financial perspective it makes more sense to us. We like the idea of keeping the collection small and perfecting the styles we have already rather than try and do 20 styles, adding all this shit, and running out of money.
Always start small and grow big rather than starting big and falling short. Is that the attitude?
Will: Yeah, you have designers like Patrik Ervell who started simple. He transformed a couple of T-shirts with cool ribbing around the collar and evovled it into conceptual ready-to-wear. It’s all relative, everyone does it their own way and we just want to go at our own pace. Everyone’s always like, "You got to be doing this and you got to be doing that." But no, we’re going to continue doing what we want to do. And then we’ll just let that grow; we don’t want to rush growth.
Alex: I feel like there is an expectation that if you’re a brand, you got to sell the shit out of it. All these expectations brainwash everyone into thinking that theres only one way its supposed to be done. People don’t get that you don’t have to do anything a certain way. One thing we’ve learned is that there’s no manual for starting a clothing line.
It sounds like an organic approach.
Will: Yeah and I don’t think that’s something we even think about. Its more like we have an idea and we’re like, "Okay, how are we going to do this? How we going to get this from idea to execution?" Alex sews a little bit but we don’t even sketch. I don’t sew and I’m not a patternmaker either—I don’t have the patience for that. The one thing we do have is good ideas, which I think is more important.
I think that’s the funny thing with designing and fashion in general, people always try and read into it more than what it really is.
You think clothing should be taken at face value?
Yeah! It’s like if you want to know the things that we’re really referencing; It's old photos of Juvenile and Cash Money Millionaires when they were hot boys wearing XXL tees. We’re just still really inspired by those guys wearing the Avirex jeans and Fubu jerseys—the people who aren't really tapped into the fashion world.
Alex: My references mainly come from the everyday people I see on the street.
Are you guys going for a “New York” look?
I don’t think XXBC belongs to any geographical area… Most of our influence comes from the way we dress and what we imagine clothes should look like and how it should be worn. The first collection was all about mixing patterns, layering oversized pieces and being comfortable.
Will: New York is always going to be the place where people are going to be the most stylish because it’s a city where status is reflected by the way you dress. You could be the poorest person in New York but if you dress fly then you're okay. It doesn’t matter if you're broke or not. I feel like with our clothing, you put it on and you're making a statement.
Alex: I do think it makes sense that XXBC is based out of New York though, even if doesn’t necessarily “look” New York. I mean I feel like New York is one of the only places in the world where—
Something like XXBC could be accepted?
Exactly. Obviously we both came from Boston and this shit would never fly out there, just because nobody gets it. You need a place like New York where there's more people that will actually see it—
Will: And appreciate it. New York is one of those places where you where you can be yourself and its cool. It's a place where different types of style is very much accepted. That’s something that’s very important to our aesthetic based on the way we dress and the clothing we make. If we based our brand out of somewhere like Boston, it wouldn't make as much sense.
The only downfall of being New York-based is that everything is so expensive.
Alex: Yeah it can be, but it's worth it. I don’t know how we would be able to do it otherwise. When you produce everything locally, it allows you to be more hands-on.
Will: I can't even imagine sending our samples somewhere else like China. Getting the samples then having to send that shit back to get fixed is crazy. At least when it’s all done in New York, we have full control over it. We can always check on the progress being made. The garment district in New York is a whole different world, you have to be real cut throat to survive it out here.
Who would you like to see wearing XXBC?
Cam’ron is the obvious choice. Not the Cam'ron of today but way back when he made the color pink street-ready.
Alex: For me, I think of a construction worker wearing our shit.
Will: Yo, that would be tight. Imagine a construction worker doing some construction work in XXBC—amazing.