Jul 16, 2013
12:18 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Ralph Lauren Protégé Jeffrey Banks Talks Preppy Style Friday at Mattatuck in Waterbury

Ralph Lauren Protégé Jeffrey Banks Talks Preppy Style Friday at Mattatuck in Waterbury

Courtesy of the Mattatuck Museum

Jeffrey Banks with the exhibit at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury.

School may be out for the summer, but when it comes to fashion, preppy style is always in season. At the end of this hot, humid week, the coolest, most stylish place to be in Connecticut may be the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, where international fashion designer Jeffrey Banks, who was discovered when still a teenager by Ralph Lauren, will discuss his book Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style in a 5:30 p.m. event.

Accused in a recent phone interview of being both an enviably accomplished designer and a very nice person, Banks admitted to the “nice” part but in self-deprecating fashion chuckled away the idea that worship of his aesthetic or entrepreneurial acumen should arise from his résumé.

He’s too modest. Not only did he become Lauren’s assistant and protégé while attending Parsons School of Design in New York but he went on to design for Calvin Klein while also still in school, built an $85 million a year sportswear line for Merona Sport, designed private label sportswear and clothing for Bloomingdale’s and was design director for the launch of the first brand extension for Johnnie Walker Scotch, a line of sportswear and accessories.

Through it all, the Coty-award winning designer of men’s and women’s apparel has remained true to the core values of what has been called his signature preppy dressed-for-success look.

 In Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style, Banks and co-author Doria de La Chapelle write, “Preppy has always been acknowledged as an inherently American    phenomenon, a fashion — or anti-fashion as some have called it — whose imagery perpetually connects us to idyllic college days, sport, and the spirit and vitality of youth. Preppy’s origins are rooted in the grounds of the elite Ivy League universities of the 1920s, where young, WASPy and wealthy gentlemen invented a relaxed new way for collegians to dress by co-opting athletic clothes from the playing fields, mixing them with genteel classics, and decking themselves out with caps, ties, pins and other regalia to signify membership in a prestigious club or sport. They then embellished the look with the best possible accessory: an air of complete and utter nonchalance.”

 All of that is illustrated perfectly in a photo gallery posted online by Vanity Fair in 2011 as a way of introducing the latest book by Banks, whose previous works include “Tartan: Romancing the Plaid,” with an unforgettable cover photo of model Linda Evangelista dressed in plaid and seated at a pianoforte. (Both books are published by Rizzoli.) The Vanity Fair gallery shows the origins of preppy style through a vintage Hart Schaffner Marx ad, and how the look notably suited JFK and the Kennedy clan in general.

“It’s such a great American story … the only fashion style you can say is truly American,” Banks said by phone from Manhattan on a recent afternoon when the city and Connecticut were equally sweltering in a way that made you wish you had pulled a pair of madras shorts and a Lacoste shirt from the dresser.

As American as the Jazz Age when it was born, that story of preppy style—which received scholarly treatment in an exhibit and symposium under the title “Ivy Style” at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology—has become a Connecticut story as translated in the summer exhibit at the Mattatuck, “The Origins of Preppy: John Meyer of Norwich.”

 

In a release announcing Friday’s talk by Banks, the Mattatuck says, “The Preppy style was born on the campuses of America’s Ivy League colleges but it was manufactured using the resources of Eastern Connecticut. ‘Origins of Preppy’ explores the style’s transformation from campus fad to innovative fashion by pioneering purveyor John Meyer of Norwich. From the creation of the multi-million dollar Norwich Industrial Park to the revolutionary computerized cutting machine, John Meyer was a true innovator, bringing trendsetting style to the Northeast. The John Meyer of Norwich label provided a certain status and confidence to stylish women from the 1950s through the 1970s. Meyer’s daughter, Elise, has compiled an archive of the groundbreaking businessman including photographs, stories and vintage clothing. The exhibition is a stunning tribute to this lasting American phenomenon.”

Banks explained that the Mattatuck, an underappreciated Connecticut gem, approached him—he and new Mattatuck director Robert Burns had teamed up for an event when Burns was Vice President for Development at The Olana Partnership, the nonprofit extension of the Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, N.Y. Olana, the Persian-inspired home and studio of Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church, is open as a museum.

“The original idea was to do a museum-wide exhibition, which turned out to be too big of a bite,” Banks said of the Mattatuck’s more narrowly focused show. Mulling it over, he thought of Elise Meyer and her treasure trove, and instantly appreciated the synergy of doing a preppy show with a Connecticut focus at the Mattatuck, which celebrates not only art but state innovations and products.

“It all ended up really well,” Banks said. “It’s a beautiful exhibition.” And it’s also one that has more local ties that just the Meyer legacy. He “roped in” Richard Derwin of R. Derwin Clothiers in Litchfield, who provided some of the clothes for the exhibit. “Dick is an old friend of mine from the Bloomingdale’s days,” Banks explained.

The talk Friday, he said, will be “a lot more user-friendly” than the more scholarly version presented at FIT, and will include slides of photos from the book. Guests will also have a chance to see the exhibit, and in conjunction with the 5:30 talk, Banks will sign copies of his book, which explores all the facets of men’s and women’s preppy fashion and is illustrated with photographs and vintage ads depicting the iconic elements of prep.

The program is free with regular museum admission. “Origins of Preppy” remains on view through Sunday, Sept. 8, and is supported in part by Ethan Allen, Howland Hughes and R. Derwin Clothiers.

Visit the museum website at www.MattatuckMuseum.org or call (203) 753-0381 for more information on all of the museum’s programs, events and exhibits. Located at 144 West Main Street in Waterbury, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. Free parking is located behind the building on Park Place.

As for Banks, he endeavors on as a designer of sportswear and much more with a global reach. Click on the website of the Home Shopping Network, for example, and you’ll find a handful of Jeffrey Banks “stores,” including the Jeffrey Banks Home collection.

And as for that nice guy with very impressive accomplishments judgment, Banks can say what he likes but the world view is more aligned with the post about him on fashionencyclopedia.com by Richard Martin, and updated by Diana Idzelis. “Banks is the consummate clothing aficionado and stylist, one who is positively obsessed with fashion. For some, apparel is simply the family business or narcissist's self-realization. For Banks, clothing is an ecstatic vocation,” the post says at one point.

Aspirational men with a taste for style everywhere can only say amen to that.

 

Ralph Lauren Protégé Jeffrey Banks Talks Preppy Style Friday at Mattatuck in Waterbury

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