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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a new weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.
In some ways, Rogan Gregory and Scott Mackinlay Hahn are the ideal test cases for an interview series about the personalities behind New York City's best-loved retail spaces. For the last four years, they've been running the Rogan flagship in a landmarked building on the Bowery. But they're also the creative forces behind the label, as well as its eco-friendly sister brand Loomstate. And they have a lot to say: about their partnership, about the neighborhood, about nature and communities and why Game of Thrones is better than Mad Men. Their aesthetic might be minimalist, but when it comes to engaging with the world around them, they're maximalists at heart.
Let's start with introductions. What are your titles?
Rogan: Designer, founder, chief of form.
Scott: We're founding partners. We support each other in all our efforts of achieving our vision. We like to play off our strengths and both fill in where we're not so strong.
Since you balance out each other's strengths, who does what?
Scott: Rogan's chief of form, I'm chief of substance. I focus more on the systemic part of it: the strategy, the business development, partnerships, that kind of thing. And Rogan's anchored in the aesthetic. He's the last line of defense. He's challenged with the final decisions on the pieces.
How did you meet?
Rogan: Through a friend. When we first met, it was just like, "We have to do something. We either have to go surfing together tomorrow, or we have to start a business together."
Scott: New York's such a special place. It feels sometimes void of nature, but the relationships that can be born out of this community, the rare affinities some people discover, like what Rogan and I have—it's really special. Then we found that we both had a very embedded commitment to staying close to nature and the environment, staying close to what gives us our inspiration and our vision.
Let's talk a little bit about retail. I know the store's been open for a couple years, and this is a historic location.
Scott: It's a landmarked building.
What made you choose this space?
Rogan: I've always been a fan of the Bowery because it has so much history that I'm interested in. There's a real New York kind of grit. I like that it's wide, the buildings aren't super high. It's busy, but it's busy with traffic coming from the East Village and Soho—there's that kind of convergence, which culturally has always been interesting to me. Brice Marden, an artist I really enjoy, lived in this building. There's a lot of history. If there's any neighborhood in the city that best embodies our brand, it would be this area.
The Bowery's changed a lot in the last four years. What do you think of the changes?
Rogan: Obviously, it's gentrified. It's funny, because I sit outside on our steps, and within 30 seconds someone will walk by that I know. For me it's a really comfortable thing, so I don't really mind gentrification.
Scott: It's bittersweet, in a way. There's iconic cultural footprints here. CBGBs is now a clothing store, this location was a theater. We're always trying to pay homage to the bones and the DNA of what this place was, and doing things that aren't the most retail-friendly. We have a special sound system in here, we've done screenings, we've done music performances, we've done talks.
I remember when Fucked Up played here.
Rogan: It ruined the space, pretty much. It was disaster.
Scott: There was a line all around the block.
Rogan: It was amazing. It was a phenomenon. I was actually really proud of it.
Scott: So the mood is still here. I feel like the challenge for us is to be successful in our business, and still honor what it is. I don't want to say "was," but "is."
Rogan: Everyone always poo-poos gentrification, but I've been experiencing it my entire life. When I was a kid I went in the summers to a place that turned into a Hamptons-type place, and you can fight it or you can make the best of it. I lived in Williamsburg 15 years ago; now look at it. I mean, culturally, it's pretty awesome. You go over and there's amazing restaurants. It's not cheap, but there's amazing shit happening. Same with the Bowery. We were in Tribeca a little after the September 11th stuff, and it went from literally a disaster zone to...I feel like you can fight it, or you can embrace it.
Scott: I think the taste level of this neighborhood is probably consistent with a lot of things we're inspired by, from architecture and design to the businesses that are here and are niche and special, artisan.
Do you ever think about opening elsewhere in the city?
Rogan: We had a store in Franklin Street in Tribeca, which was pretty great. it was a buzz-in kind of situation.
How often are you actually in-store?
Scott: Our showroom is below the store, and we have studio two blocks south. So one of us will get into the store once a day, if not both of us. We try to pop in and keep an eye on things. I think that's important. It's that small personal touch that our customers appreciate and want. They can't get that when they go to the bigger, expanded chains of retail, you know. That's an advantage we want to nurture.
What's your favorite item currently in the store?
Rogan: I have a lot of favorite items. What's new is the Loomstate 321 collection.
Scott: It's a big hit. I think a lot of the fabrics are really starting to get some attention. People are looking at how we're doing knits, making choices with the yarns and blends, things we developed over time. When you're developing fabrics, it's very different from choosing a quality from the mill and putting it into a silhouette and then putting it in a store. Some of the yarns here are a year in the making.
What's your pricing philosophy?
Rogan: It depends on where you're selling it. I don't feel like in the store here there's a lot of resistance. I think we have a good range of prices; some things are really well-made. Whereas if you're selling in a department store, it's a lot more competitive. We're making the best-quality stuff, and it costs money.
Time for the lightening round. Question #1: Tumblr or Pinterest?
Scott: Um. Hm. It's so funny. They're both awesome, but I'd say neither.
If you had to pick a decade, would it be the '60s, the '70s, or the '80s?
Rogan: There's a whole visual and intellectual thing in the 60s; there's a lot of reform going on and a lot of important things happening. The 70s is a little more fun. And the 80s: I think aesthetically, I can't help it because I grew up then, so I have some 80s in me. Someone asked me to describe my style, and I said "Zen Amish 80s." I definitely have that zen feel. I like that minimalism, that clarity. And then the Amish thing is very pared down, just functional workwear. But the '80s is like, "I used to skateboard in the '80s!" I love fluorescent colors.
Scott: Our Loomstate brand was born out of the positive non-conformity of the 60s. Revolution is our duty: to refine our culture, to make the world better, to ask questions. You know, don't settle.
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Rogan: I've never seen either one. I just got a TV, so I'm catching up. I don't sleep any more.
Scott: Game of Thrones. If you read the books, there's no contest. Although Mad Men is actually super-influential culturally right now. I don't think Game of Thrones can do that.
Rogan: I heard the production values are insane.
Scott: You're dealing with swords, horses, armor, magic, dragons, come in. That's why I say Game of Thrones. We're definitely Game of Thrones. We're in that camp.
· All Rogan coverage [Racked NY]
· Rogan [Official Site]
· Loomstate [Official Site]