Rare Weaves Treats Fashion Like Art, and Good Art Is Really Expensive

Rare Weaves makes one-of-a-kind, vintage-inspired oxford shirts, kimono coats, and patchwork trousers that are made with obscure and exorbitantly-priced materials.

These photos of Jerami Goodwin originally appeared in Rare Weaves' "The Only Living Boy in New York" lookbook. Photos by Fred Askew. Styling by

Justin Dean.

Hartley Goldstein Jr.'s love affair with clothes comes from his mother. The 35-year-old native New Yorker remembers accompanying her to buy vintage fabrics, which got his teenage mind thinking about materials and clothes in a way he hadn't before. Although he pursued a career in the music industry early on, he found his true calling in fashion.

For the past two years, Goldstein has been making one-of-a-kind, vintage-inspired patchwork garments under his label, Rare Weaves. Named after the obscure and exorbitantly-priced materials he uses to make his wabi-sabi oxford shirts, kimono-inspired coats, and patchwork trousers, it combines the appeal of a vintage hunt with the discerning eye of an art collector.

One thing's for sure, Rare Weaves is more art project than typical fashion label. Its business model is closer to couture than ready-to-wear, with almost all of the pieces being one-offs thanks to the limited nature of the fabric. Because of that, he's been primarily selling Rare Weaves like a gallerist, scheduling appointments out of his SoHo apartment, and aligning his clients with pieces that speak to them, versus letting them peruse the racks.

Rare Weaves has developed a cult following on Instagram, and Goldstein's clients range from menswear personality Nick Wooster to legendary street style photographer Tommy Ton.

"I never imagined it as more than a secret club for me and my friends," admits Goldstein, who recently launched Rare Weaves' first foray into traditional retail: an installation at Carson Street. The SoHo menswear store is the perfect retail spot for Rare Weaves, given its focus on contemporary tailored menswear and its eclectic customers.

While $2,000 patchwork band collar shirts and $7,000 coats made from handsomely aged Japanese fabrics mostly dwell in the aspirational rather than accessible realm of fashion, Goldstein's earnest approach and true passion for clothes is evident in his products. And his vision can be seen in Rare Weaves' first editorial, styled by Justin Dean, shot by photographer Fred Askew, and modeled by artist Jerami Goodwin—known more for his "STAINO" tag.

I sat down with the fashion outsider to talk about his new installation, the inspiration behind his clothes, and the "modern primitivism" philosophy that informs Rare Weaves.

What was your gateway into style and fashion?
I've always had a lot of interest in culture in general: art, music, film, and collecting vintage is something I was always doing. My mom collected fabrics, so that was my gateway. I remember going to her friends' homes who actually sold fabric to designers as inspiration pieces. I would see what she was buying, but my taste and my mom's taste were wildly different. I was always thinking in the back of my head: "But what about that stack over there?"

So that experience left you with the vintage clothing bug?
Vintage got me buying clothes that I had no intention of wearing or that I tried to wear unsuccessfully. They weren't quite exactly right, but there was a lining or some detail that I really loved. I did that to the point where I've just amassed piles and piles of clothes, and ideas.

And that's how you got the idea for Rare Weaves?
The genesis of Rare Weaves is a kind of way to synthesize a perspective that I saw in all the different styles of vintage garments that I liked, but there was a strong, unifying factor. I started noticing commonalities in all the design details I liked, and I certainly wasn't seeing them in off-the-rack clothing. I started thinking about why I loved vintage so much, and why one denim trucker jacket was of more value to me than another. That sent me down a long rabbithole of how clothes are made.

Hiroki Nakamura of Visvim started down the same boat, he was looking at two boots and thought one had more "power" than the other. Is it the same for you?
His word is "power," my word is "soul." And that's a hard thing to figure out. Whether it's power, soul, or character—whatever you want to ascribe it to, something that sets Rare Weaves apart is that it's not all in the design. It's in the construction. It's a matter of how you go about constructing, the process. You can have five different artisans, and even if they're making the same thing, they will feel unique to the individual.

A lot of American-made items, like denim, are known for being made "honestly," not super-perfect or clean, but having a sort of sturdy, individual integrity.
Right, there's an integrity—a honesty to it. That to me is at the heart of what Rare Weaves is: a way to let the construction influence the design and create something that feels human. It doesn't feel like it's part of a larger seasonal mechanism that you'll purchase and toss away a year later. I'm interested in things that feel out of time. I'm not trying to create "fashion" silhouettes, I don't look at what's on the racks.

The Gee's Bend Quilts of Alabama are a huge inspiration for you, how did you find out about them?
For me, the Gee's Bend style of quilting fits into a broader mode of inspiration, which I would say pre-1940s/50s fabric made in America, France, and Japan. Around that time, all those fabrics were handmade, and they embodied greater character. They were pre-industrialization. Once the machines came in, things became standardized, and they became different. I'm not criticizing that switch, it serves its purpose, but I'm examining what was lost in that transition.

The most inspiring fabrics were the African-American Gee's Bend quilts. That whole 40s era of black American quilting is interesting to me. To me, it's up there with hip-hop or jazz as a prevailing American art form. From an aesthetic perspective, a lot of the quilts were made of repurposed workwear materials, like grain sacks or janitor's uniforms, so they feel contemporary. You're looking at something that has beautifully worn denim or twill patched into a quilt. It has a very masculine quality that appeals to me.

There's a whole "subterfuge as style" movement among a lot of luxury male consumers. They're gravitating towards these devil-in-the-details pieces from designers like Greg Lauren, Kapital, Visvim, and of course, Rare Weaves. Why do you think that's becoming so prevalent?
I can't really speak to it on a larger sense, but for what I'm doing, I think the medium is the message. I've created more of a fabric art project. I think that speaks to what you're asking. They're not "click-to-buy." That's the real luxury—a human connection.

Beyond vintage, where you're buying one-off relics of the past, I'm interested in ideas. That's something you lose with vintage. With Rare Weaves, you get to have it both ways. You get to ride with me and see where I take patchwork, Gee's Bend quilting, or boro, and see how I evolve it. It's like Picasso's Blue Period—exploring one thing in a different number of iterations. You get to go with me on that trip and buy one stop on the highway, and know it's only yours. And that—just that—I think is the greatest luxury in a world of access, in a world of accessible luxury.

What do you mean by "accessible luxury?"
When my dad was a kid, a Mercedes-Benz was aspirational. Today, they've got a Mercedes for you at all different price points. What happened to desire? How does that change how we interact with and treat luxury goods? Once we get that Mercedes, how do we value it? What's our relationship with it? I think all of those questions are intrinsic with Rare Weaves, and it speaks to what I'm doing, and in a larger sense, why people are coveting more novel goods.

You're about to embark on your first retail installation at Carson Street, the first time you're selling Rare Weaves in a traditional store setting.
I've been selling out of my house for a year-and-a-half, but this is like my major label debut. It's interesting to me to see how these things will live in a retail environment. I'm selling one-off pieces in a seasonless way, and when you see fully handmade, repurposed clothes in a traditional retail setting, they feel very different from everything else in the store. It's an experiment, and I give the Carson Street guys—who I've been friends with for a while—a lot of credit for being open to it, and letting me play with the nature of men's retail. I know that's because they really love the clothes, because if the clothes weren't good, I don't think the intellectual aspect would matter. At the end of the day, you just want to look at something and go: "Oh damn, that's crazy!"

Your Carson Street collection starts at $400 for hand-repaired and handpainted T-shirts, and tops out at $7,000-$8,000 for patchwork coats inspired by Japanese kimonos and tailored British topcoats. What are some of the factors that make the pieces so expensive?
They're literally made in my house or by the three or four people I work with, in their homes. They're quilt and blanket makers by trade. No one that I've worked with has ever made clothes before. No one—including myself—comes from the fashion industry. We make patterns on scraps of paper, on Whole Foods bags. This lends a really wonderful, primitive quality and that's what people really love about it.

So in that sense, it's about the desire to own something covetable and beautiful, as opposed to buying something with the notion that "if I spend x amount of money, this thing better last forever."
I think of this all the time. We live in the age of the rational. Rationality? That's tech language. We live in the age of charts, graphs, and user integration. I have a project that flies in the face of that in so many ways—it's about feeling. If you approach it and go: "Man, this is workwear, but it's sewn together like lace so I can't work in it, why would I buy this?" Well, you've completely missed the point. I like that these things exist to evoke a feeling. Their purpose is art for art's sake, to be a beautiful folk artifact that you can wear. Just like you can wear a couture dress, but you wouldn't necessarily play rugby in it. I almost think that's tragic that even needs to be said.

It's almost as if you're making clothes for people who really love clothes.
I love that clothing—unlike music, movies, books—goes on your body. People look at you, and they see you, but they see your clothes. And so, think about what you want to say, because even if you choose to "opt out" of that conversation, you're still communicating something. So I take it very, very seriously what I'm putting on my body, what I'm communicating year after year to the people around me. I'm a runner too, so I come from a place of discipline, routine, and integrity. I go for a five-mile run every morning. I like consistency and small evolution.

That sounds like the process by which one attains true personal style.
I would agree, and that's where Rare Weaves comes from. My idea, it's like Thom Browne with gray—he'll probably be making gray until he dies. Gray for Thom Browne is a never-ending well of inspiration. And I don't ever see quilting, patchwork, or repairs ever not being a part of what I'm doing. There are minor changes that will occur to each piece over time, and that's what I consider.

Who is your ideal audience for Rare Weaves? What is the relationship you hope they form with the clothes?
I hope that, even though these are art pieces, and they're quite pricey at that, I hope people live with them in the way that you'd live with a beautiful quilt, and I hope that people will eventually have to repair the piece, and through that, will add their own flourish to a piece that I've started. That's how something transcends time.

So many people who have a Rare Weaves piece send me a picture of them hanging them in their house, and that to me is everything. You don't put it in a closet. It's a shirt, but it doesn't go in your closet—it goes on your wall, and it goes on you, and you live with it. It's wearable art in every sense.

Follow Jian on Twitter.