I recently traded hectic NYC, where being busy is a badge of honor, for laid-back Los Angeles. Talk about culture shock. In every part of town, cafes spill over onto the sidewalks with happy, laid-back people eating grain-based salads and acai bowls. Don’t these people have jobs? I wondered. And was gluten outlawed when they banned plastic bags?
In such a relaxed environment, you can understand why the west coast has developed a reputation for similarly casual style. What I’ve noticed, though, is that while, yes, denim is ubiquitous on the weekends, these days the Los Angeles everyman is stepping it up day-to-day. Turns out, all these zen men are working; they just aren’t chained to a desk, or to a wardrobe full of suits. Instead, they’re sporting a different kind of uniform: think tailored shirts, perfectly-cut pants, and clean sneakers.
So I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that one LA-based brand is really cornering the market on this brand of cool, low-key but still put-together style: the (very) aptly named life/after/denim, or LAD.
WHO STARTED IT
I stopped by the brand’s super-sleek office to get a lesson from president and creative director Alexis Frey on designing for the guy who doesn’t want to fall back on denim every day (or—hello office dress codes—can’t).
Born in Hong Kong to a family in the garment manufacturing business, Frey clearly has clothing design in her blood. “My father had a store, he had his own line, and I was so intrigued. My whole life I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that.”
After bonding over ‘90s designer Isaac Mizrahi’s documentary Unzipped, (which I am obsessed with), I asked her why she didn’t end up designing women’s fashion. Why go after the guys’ market, instead?
Simple. She saw a need. While living in LA in the mid-2000’s, Frey noticed that guys were sorely lacking stylish clothes they could actually afford. She knew that the right combination of accessible, flattering and easy-to-wear pants, button-downs, t-shirts and jackets would be just what so many men needed…even if they didn’t realize it at first.
LAD launched in 2009, amidst “a sea of Ed Hardy,” when heavily-whiskered jeans with back pocket details and bedazzled t-shirts reigned. Trendy? Sure, but not exactly office-appropriate.
Frey spotted a big, gaping hole in the menswear market and filled it with a brand that hits the sweet spot of casual and refined, quality and value. And, most of all, clothing options for guys beyond another pair of $200 jeans.
“There were no choices,” Frey says of that time. “Jeans are great, but there weren’t a lot of alternatives and if there were, they were either really expensive or really cheap. There was nothing in between. That’s how the collection was inspired.”
Since then, LAD has been churning out season after season of pieces perfect for any casual yet style-conscious man: well-made pants, soft henleys, perfectly printed button-ups, and killer outerwear.
WHO IT’S FOR
So here’s the secret Big Denim doesn’t want you to know: chinos are super comfortable. Like, more comfortable than jeans a lot of the time.
It’s true: well-cut, stylish, and comfortable non-jeans (and, uh, non-sweatpants) exist, and LAD makes a killer pair.
Frey’s best pants shopping advice? “You’ve got to find a pair of chinos that fit as well as jeans. Part of why people love jeans is because of the way the fabric hangs and drapes on the body. A cool chino is able to duplicate that feeling [of wearing jeans] but in a much more comfortable way. A lot of guys…when they wear our pants, they realize that they’re actually so much more comfortable than what they’ve been wearing this whole time.”
And while jeans might feel comfy next to, say, your daily suit-and-tie work number, you might be surprised to find that the softer, lighter fabric of pants is a welcome change.
Thankfully, feeling good in what you wear doesn’t mean sacrificing style. The hues in the spring collection, Japanese indigo and a muted adobe shade, were inspired by a recent inspiration-gathering trip by the design team to Mexico City, and will have you looking and feeling 100.
Those saturated colors, on-trend prints, the right fabric that drapes perfectly for each piece, these are the details that make their clothes feel unique and special.
WHAT WE’D BUY
Like your favorite secret happy hour spot that you’re terrified everyone else will catch onto and overrun, LAD is j-u-u-u-s-t under-the-radar enough to work in your favor. As in, get ready to never show up to the office in the same gingham shirt as four other guys, ever again. Frey says, “We receive letters from people who say, ‘I love your clothes so much I don’t want to tell any of my friends about them because I don’t want them to be wearing the same stuff.’” So, you know, go check them out, but keep it quiet.
And, because our timing is impeccable, you can score some LAD duds at a major discount, now through April 30th. The brand new spring collection is all 25% off, and equally classic past season looks are a whopping 40% off on the brand’s website. Want to see some of our favorite sale pieces? You’re in luck.
WHAT DO YOU WEAR WHEN YOU BENCH YOUR JEANS?