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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by William Chan
Taylor Conlin has found an unlikely sweet spot between two extremes of menswear: hip hop street style and bespoke tailoring. His line, Ferris New York, takes inspiration from vintage pieces with equal parts appreciation and sense of humor, capped off with modern panache (think toile baseball hats and a 1950s U.S. Navy bomber jacket with contrast camo sleeves).
After training with a tailor in his hometown of Boston, he started creating one-off pieces heavily influenced by his appreciation for streetwear and selling them on consignment. The garments were snapped up quickly—sometimes within hours of hitting the rack—and the success lead to opening his own Williamsburg storefront last year. We sat down with the wunderkind to talk about dropping out of college and creating product for Wu Tang Clan.
What is your background?
I dropped out of college to pursue clothing, and I worked for this tailor in the Boston area—where I'm from—who has been doing that for fifty years. He comes into work every day, and you can just see how the customers really make his day. There aren't many new things that he can learn, so it's the people that make it worthwhile for him. I started with that.
Where were you in school?
First, I went to a mid-level liberal arts school in Lost Angeles studying graphic design. I didn't really like it academically, so I dropped out [before] finishing my freshman year. I came home to Boston and took a screen printing class at [Massachusetts College of Art and Design], started tailoring with that guy, and then when I moved here, went to Parsons for a year to continue an associate's degree. I took construction techniques, fashion illustration, stuff like that.
Where did your interests in clothing come from?
At Parsons, I was definitely the outlier: a straight male designing menswear. It's pretty rare in the genre, let alone at that school. It was streetwear, [where] it's the norm to be a straight male designing clothing, but what makes it rare in that genre is that you don't really worry about fit, it's just like "that's a dope graphic!" But in the tailoring world, in that old school, classic tailoring world, it's kind of very upper-crust. You have a real relationship with your tailor. So combining those two is what I'm trying to do.
This seems like the right moment for that.
I'm not about trends. I am all about that street wear, high-end thing that is hot right now, but as it's moving, as it's progressing, [Ferris] looks like it will be more of a high-end brand with streetwear influences. I don't want to say that we're in between, because you have to pick one.
Do you have a lot of vintage, or reworked vintage?
Yes, one side [of the store] is all one-of-a-kind pieces. Sometimes, especially in the summertime, that can be a piece that's vintage that we just found, that we don't touch, but we treat every piece like it's a one-of-a-kind item, because we make that choice. We look at it very carefully, we decide, 'this is perfect as is,' and we don't need to touch it up.
When you say "we", who makes up your team?
I have a friend at Parsons who helps me with the sportswear design, which is what we call our high-end cut and sew, and he helps me a lot with just his opinion in the custom stuff as well. The construction of it and day-to-day design for the custom and one-of-a-kind, as well as buying, is mostly me. And then I have a friend that helps me with the T-shirt graphics. All my friends help out at the store. I have an intern who helps work the weekends, and he's starting to sew now, too.
How did you choose this neighborhood?
It was luck that made us find this spot. It was perfect for our budget, for what we wanted to do, and for what we were going for. We knew nothing about the area—we knew the hipster stigma, but we didn't know that it was in such a transition. My mom reads the New York Times every weekend, and she was like, "Oh, your neighborhood's in the NYT." I didn't know that it was like that.
In terms of how it affects us, it's just perfect. Right now it's pretty diverse, and there are people here who that understand our stuff.
When did you move to New York City and when did you open the store?
I moved to NY two years ago and I've had this store for a year. It was a very quick transition. I worked for a tailor, and about a month [after moving here] I started selling my stuff in a consignment store on the Lower East Side. I made six pieces, all one-of-a-kind, very thought out, and I had six months to make them. I learned my process by doing those pieces: making it and then putting it on somebody, and saying, "Wow, this is horrible," and then taking it apart and making it again.
When I came with six pieces that were finished, I showed it to [the store], and they were like, "Yeah, we can definitely sell this."
And which store was this?
They're called Community 54. It's vintage and consignment. They've got a really cool art scene going on. I came in right as they were opening and I got to be at all their parties, like when A$AP Rocky first released his mixtape. It just brought a lot of attention to the jackets I made, so I think that's why we sold out so quickly.
Sometimes, my pieces would sell out in two hours after I dropped them because they had this party scene—and that's not my forte. I would just kind of sit in the corner and watch people tweet pictures of the jackets and freak out.
What was it like opening your own store?
It was amazing how everything came together. Realizing what you can do in a year—we never ever said, "Nah, we can't do that." We were like, "Okay, we need a front desk, what should we do?" We just started painting it, opened our doors, people started coming in.
It's funny looking back on what it was like [when we opened]. It was mostly vintage, five custom pieces, and now it's at the point where I have extra custom stuff. I have back stock, which is crazy to me. When we first moved in, I was like, "How am I going to fill all these racks up?" Now we're here. And it's wild.
Who would you say is your typical customer?
After being here a year, we have a pretty good idea [of who that is]. The ideal is 22 to 34, male, someone that lived somewhere else and migrated to the city to make it. It's clothing for the city man, the urbanite, make or break, roll the dice.
What's your favorite item in the store right now?
We have these patchwork hats, and I put a crazy price on them because I don't want to see them go, but people buy them!
And what is that crazy price?
They're $80 and made from bandanas from the 1950s—it's a great example of what we like to do. These are bandanas that everyone buys at tourist traps in the '50s, and then I found 50 of them for $25 and made a jacket out of them and now we make hats out of them. I feel like they were really unappreciated and undervalued, but what we want to do is bring it into the clothing form and appreciated in that form.
Are you here every day?
I am here every goddamn day.
What's your general thinking about the pricing of the store?
As fair as I can do it—mark-up is not something that we do. We scour for the actual vintage piece, we bring in fabrics, and then we put it together. The price is totally determined by what it cost us. What changes the price is how rare that vintage piece is. Shirts are usually $80 to $120, jackets are $120 to $200, and then crazy bespoke stuff is anywhere from $400 to $800. People do say that [the pricing is] fair, which is good, because I always worry that it's too expensive because I can't afford a lot of it.
Do you have any advice for people who are trying to break into this industry?
I'd say what everyone says: do something original. I've been trying to do this clothing thing since I was 15. Back then, I was just doing it like everyone else, putting some graphics on shirts and asking my favorite store, "Will you please buy this?" They said no, and now, people are coming to me who want to buy it, and the only thing different is that I found how I can fit into this industry and how I can do something different. I knew what I wanted to do and spent a lot of time thinking about it.
You're in this pivotal moment right now: you're in your first year, you have some traction and underground interest in this niche market. Has anyone big approached you about collaborating?
One of our biggest successes to date is doing something for Wu Tang Clan. It's an anniversary piece for the 20th anniversay of Wu Wear.
Also, the response in Japan has been really amazing; we're selling at a few stores over there and the response has been really good. For me, that's a dream come true. I never, ever thought that would be me.
Lightening Round! Rockaway or Montauk?
8am or 8pm?
'60s, '70s, or '80s?
Jay Z or Kanye?
Neighborhood go-to lunch spot?
I want to say the name in Spanish. El Truco de Sabor de Nina. Nina's burrito spot, it's a green truck on North 4th Street, they make the best burritos.
· Ferris New York [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]