Top image: Ernest W. Baker FW18
A purple velvet kick flare suit, ironic ascots tucked into severe collared western shirts. A sharply cut belted leather trench paired with deadly assassin gloves (think Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo). Ruffled tuxedo shirts, oversized lapels and Butch Cassidy cowboy hats.
The conceptualisation of menswear brand Ernest W. Baker sprouts from a past America. Founded by design duo American Reid Baker and Portugal-born Inês Amorim, the label takes its name and inspiration from Baker’s 91-year-old grandfather, a self made, “mad man, ad man” who ran his own advertising company in Detroit.
Not a direct narrative or aesthetic that would form the basis of their brand, but a name, an attitude, a wistful reflection to ignite the exploration into an off-kilter, lost America. The two designers take Baker’s self-made attitude wardrobe of classic 70s garments as a starting point and allow their imaginations to go from there.
The brand’s LVMH prize shortlisted FW18 collection took its cues from Lynch‘s surreal Twin Peaks vision, while this season saw the design duo look towards Warhol‘s experimental films, in particular the auteur’s rebellious on-screen frontman, Joe Dallesandro. Together, it all feeds into the brand’s unsettling narrative of a bygone Americana.
Laura Page: You studied together in Milan and later became close when you landed the same internship. Did your relationship form mainly from your similarities or differences?
Reid Baker: I would say a bit of both. I was always drawn to the, let’s say, abstract of Inês. She introduced me to designers I had never seen before and she naturally looked at art and found interesting films. That drew me in and opened up my world to a more abstract way of thinking. There are similarities as well, we both have this strong appreciation of classic style that is the foundation of our brand.
Inês Amorim: Our backgrounds play a part as well, Reid coming from the United States and I from Portugal, it makes sense for us to look at things differently in some cases. It’s helped build our identities, define our roles and guide our path.
RB: I remember the first time I went to Inês’ family house in Portugal, she’s got like twenty aunts and uncles and we’re eating fresh seafood outside on a farm. These experiences that we’ve had make us. Last summer Inês came to visit me in the US and we went on a road trip to my brother’s wedding, while we were driving through Wyoming and the outskirts of Idaho Inês said, “Look at that gas station,” I’m like, “What?” and she says ,“Oh it’s just so American,” and I’m like, “Really?” [laughs] So these different perspectives bring us together.
LP: And Reid, what was it about your grandad that drove you to adopt him as your muse?
RB: I think it was stepping away from the United States. After studying in Milan, I had been away from home for two years, I went back with Inês and we met with Ernest together. He’s this very charismatic, very American, self-made family man who cares a lot about us. He studied journalism in the 40s and 50s, so he documented every aspect of his life – he’s been writing a journal day by day for his entire life with images of friends, weddings and births. He has a whole archive. Of course it’s my own grandfather, but we’re looking at Ernest from an outside prospective, so Inês is able to paint her own picture of who Ernest is.
IA: With his name and image we’re creating many different stories and getting subjective through that, his name is very classic.
RB: He has this Plaque – Ernest W. Baker – on his desk, and another on the wall.
LP: I know some people don’t like the term muse, do you? And how did Ernest react?
RB: [laughs] He’s 91 years old, so he was like, “Am I really a muse?”
IA: It’s an ironic way to say it because we don’t really use him literally. It’s very subjective to use the word muse.
RB: We define our brand very simply as ‘classic, ironic,’ he’s not literally a muse but at the same time it’s funny to think of him as that.
Laura Page: You studied Ernest’s journals for your FW18 collection. You mentioned earlier that he has a life’s worth, how many did you go through?
RB: He has these boxes that are separated by years, he even has these Life magazines organised by decade, of the 60s, 70s, 80s. We naturally went towards the 70s so got deep into it and continue to do so.
IA: We’re drawn to the shapes, the details and the tailoring of the 70s. Being an advertiser, Ernest has his own images and documented his process. That was nice to see.
RB: He had his own company and archived the Christmas cards, photo shoots, and this graphic design pamphlet he’d do each year for the company, so there really is an unbelievable amount of things we’ve seen. We were like, “Oh my god… look at this… look at this.”
LP: Inês, you previously mentioned total looks, is that how you design?
IA: We create the character, a person that we imagine. We don’t say, “Who are we going to be dressing?” Instead we imagine a character, so we’re designing in a more imaginative way.
RB: I think it started with this Milanese guy that we saw on the street with the suit, the waistcoat, the shirt, the tie, the scarf, the hat, the glasses, the gloves, the shoes. That’s a look! It’s important to really develop that character and make it feel real. What would that character wear? All the way down to the most minute detail.
IA: It’s part of a look but separately they’re recognisable, easy pieces to wear.
RB: Previously I worked with designers where 70 percent of their collection were show pieces that weren’t meant to be commercial, that’s a lot of waste. I understand you want to appeal on one side artistically and the other side commercially, and of course financially we can’t do that, so for us the look itself can be quite challenging because people might think, “Who wears that?” but when you break it down individually they’re wearable and sometimes quite simple pieces.
LP: Your SS19 collection taps into Andy Warhol’s experimental films, FW18 took inspiration from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and FW17 looked at Martin Scorsese’s Casino. Cinema and TV obviously plays a major part in your process.
RB: Film is a very big inspiration in our work. There’s such an archive of amazing films from different eras, we fall in love with a director and try and see every single film they’ve made. It’s also part of this process of the character we’re developing each season, character obviously relates directly to film. With David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, I have a massive archive of screenshots because there’s such an array of things that you can relate to, the way Lynch puts together the details of a set and even the styling of those characters inspires our work.
IA: It’s a big part of creating the collection, we like watching movies and recreating our own story for each collection.
LP: Perhaps they also give you a window into the place and time in which Ernest thrived.
RB: Yeah, he was that kind of mad man, ad man of the time. It was late 70s/80s when the business really took off for him, which does run parallel with what we do. We put the screenshots up on our moodboard for the season which mixes in with magazines of the period, different family portraits, examples of Ernest’s work or something else he did from that time so they do overlap.
Laura Page: Twin Peaks also has that unsettling Americana vibe that runs through your work.
RB: David Lynch films in general are a major influence. I am a perfectionist and I can see that Lynch is like, bam bam bam bam. Twin Peaks really helped define ourselves as a brand. It’s very serious and then boom, there’s this ironic twist, like somebody’s dying but somehow it’s a bit ironic or funny. I think there’s that element in our work. Buyers in particular are still trying to figure us out, they come and see it and they’re like, “Are you guys serious with this?” [laughs] They don’t quite understand and I kind of like that.
IA: They don’t understand whether it’s classic serious or an ironic way to translate it. We’re also inspired by the imagination of David Lynch, this unrealistic world. I think our photo shoots transmit a bit of that. The photography makes you think about the story and go, “Who is that guy? Where is he going?”