Robert Graham’s Magic Man
Robert Stock wants to show me a magic trick.
Mr. Stock and I are sitting on a low-slung leather sofa in that prime Manhattan real estate corner that is Soho House’s club level, where the anything-could-happen vibe is not only palpable in this room full of actors and models, it’s downright infectious. So the fact that this internationally renowned fashion rock star—Robert Stock is the founder, principal designer and face of the venerable Robert Graham brand—wants to show me a card trick seems just about right.
As Stock shuffles several business cards, I realize quickly that we’re playing a little Three-Card Monte, the classic shell card game that has forced plenty of unsuspecting New York tourists to part with a lot of their money. But playing this game with a fashion maverick known for his unconventional style? Thankfully, the Bronx-born designer—constantly bucking the fashion world with his out-there creations—also happens to be a good guy. He even lets me keep my cash.
The magic of the Robert Graham brand—being much more than what it appears to be at first pass—is the work of Robert Stock. Shirt by shirt and fabric by fabric, Stock’s surprising, colorful, pattern-rich, well-crafted choices are doing nothing less than redefining how we think about fashion. We never said this designer wasn’t ambitious.
For a man responsible for creating this “American eclectic” brand at the turn of the century—the luxe label now delivers thousands of different, personalized garments (which brings to mind a production verging close to manic)—Robert Stock comes across as an unflappable, congenial guy that exudes a calm, cool, collected spirit.
Looking to expand aggressively even as you read this to a whopping 1,200 retail locations across the world—including a handsome outpost at the mall at Short Hills—the future is looking bright (and full of color) for the Robert Graham brand and its collectors. And it’s all thanks to an amateur magician and master craftsman. And that, fashion fans, is Robert Stock’s real magic trick.
Whether it’s the way you feel inside yourself, whether it’s sitting in a car and feeling the leather seat or wearing a garment, a jacket or pants—to me, luxury is something that makes you feel good.
What’s the biggest misconception you deal with regarding the Robert Graham brand?
I think a lot of people believe that we’re a “going out to dinner” shirt company or that we cater to people strictly above 45 years old.
What’s your limited-edition shirt collection all about?
The limited-edition shirt collection started about three and a half years ago, and it started because I really wanted to do what I considered very high-end luxury fabrics and really be able to detail them in a way where they would be very individual and very special, and we started numbering them.
Why did you start developing more interesting pieces?
The reason I started Robert Graham was because I was getting tired of doing mundane fashion, which is more main-floor department-store-oriented fashion.
Was it a niche market?
It was more that there was nobody out there doing anything exciting. That’s why I did it.
Why is American eclectic so affiliated with your brand?
It’s a bouillabaisse: A little this, a little that, and once you mix it together, it tastes good. And that’s how we do it.
What’s the biggest mistake men make regarding fashion?
American men have a tendency to be very conservative. There’s a lot of sameness out there.
What celebrity does it right?
Honestly, the style pattern for Hollywood in general over the last ten years has been very retro 1960s. So it’s been very simple: white or gray jacket, black pants, black tie, white shirt. It’s been homogenized. It’s a good, clean look. but I think Randy Jackson is a very hip, stylish guy.
Tell me about New Jersey.
Some Manhattan folks just don’t get New Jersey. It’s unfortunate, because there are some areas of that state that are just off-the-charts beautiful.
Ralph Lauren was your business partner and friend. Any takeaways?
I think I saw his perseverance; how he always strived for perfection. When we were working with ties, he would say to me, “What are we doing here?” In other words, a tie is just a white piece of paper, and it’s what you put on that piece of paper that makes it exciting. So it was always instilled in my mind that fabric was the most important element in design, and that has stuck with me over the years. It’s the fabric and it’s the color. And you’ve got to get that right.