Online boutique Wardrobe.NYC
For many years, Josh Goot and Christine Centenera used fashion to stand out. Goot’s eponymous line was a races and red carpet staple in Australia – his structured, form-hugging cocktail dresses, splashed with colourful prints, were instantly recognisable. Centenera, who works as the fashion director of Vogue Australia, has a reputation not only for her editorial work and extracurricular style – consulting with clients such as Kim Kardashian West and Lara Bingle – but also for her personal dress sense. At fashion weeks around the world, aspirant street style photographers snap around her like seagulls; on Pinterest a search for her name turns up thousands of photographs, a woman on the go and somehow effortless in precarious heels and avant-garde silhouettes.
Now, the couple are trying to take fashion down from the inside. In December 2017, one year after relocating from Sydney to New York, they launched Wardrobe.NYC. The brand offers direct-to-consumer luxury basics with an unusual retail model. Their first drop consisted of 16 pieces – eight for men and eight for women. All were monochromatic, Italian-made staples, such as structured blazers, white shirts and surprisingly formal leggings. Customers could elect to buy four pieces for $US1500 from the website, all eight for $3000, or nothing at all. No wholesale. No individual items. It was a prepack personal style solution – Hello Fresh for the high-fashion set. Six months on, Wardrobe.NYC has just released their second capsule and this time it’s an all-or-nothing deal. Ten pieces of ninja-black activewear, including a gym bag and a pair of Adidas sneakers (in an exclusive, limited-release colourway – a major scoop for an emerging brand) for $US1500, or $A2000 to ship to Australia.
Dropping $1500 on sportswear in a single session might seem excessive – until you start doing the maths. A similar pair of Adidas sneakers costs about $US130; Italian-made leggings in an equivalent fabric will set you back $215; while the elegant leather-trimmed gym bag would be difficult to procure elsewhere for under $250. “A lot of the decision-making around how to build this brand comes as a response to … the culture of excess that is through the industry,” says Goot. “Everyone overproduces, everyone goes on sale, and then everyone overproduces again … We don’t want to go on sale. We want to produce enough to quench the interest and grow our business. Unlike the other model, which has costs built in to allow for that sale price, we’re giving a fair price from the onset.”
Working as a stylist, Centenera sees thousands of pieces of clothing each season. This allows her to spot gaps in the market that Wardrobe.NYC can fill. “With the tailoring, it took me years and years of building up a wardrobe to get pieces that I felt comfortable in, that felt [both] classical and with the times, that didn’t date.” A lot of thought went in to making that first blazer “democratic”.
“You need something that is a strong, sharp shape, but isn’t too tight in the sleeve.” It has to have, “a relaxed body” and “a nice, long length ... so it basically will suit someone who’s short and someone who’s tall. It sits in that nice, inbetween space, in terms of length and roominess, while still creating the strong silhouette that we like to push forward.” When it comes to contemporary women’s tailoring, Centenera notes there’s a huge amount of clutter: “It’s either super low-end … doesn’t have high quality and doesn’t last. Or it’s thousands and thousands of dollars. Even then, when you are producing on that level [and charging those prices] there has to be something that defines that brand, which then makes it go out of style or trend.” Meanwhile, Goot says, “We’re not really trying to make a fashion statement.” Centenera adds, “It’s like anti-fashion.”
For Goot, transitioning from loud statements to whispered luxury has been an exercise in retooling his creativity. “I do miss colour, and print, and a deeper textile story, and dresses, and what have you. This becomes about the millimetres and millimetres of perfection to really optimise the cut. The hardware, the finishing, and the subtle detailing decisions. The combination of pieces working together.” Doing less has also allowed Goot to spend more time sourcing and thinking about the textiles he’ll use. “His favourite thing,” Centenera teases.
It might seem counterintuitive that a brand that makes you buy multiple items simultaneously is focused on reducing consumption, but that’s the philosophy. “I think excess isn’t cool, and I think that this speaks to that person who is wanting to pair things back and be smart about how they shop, and what they wear, and how they put things together,” Centenera says. Her approach is deliberately prescriptive. “There’s an authoritative element that Josh and I have together with our combined skills and experience. We’re providing a solution to someone based on our combined years of working in the industry and working with clothes. Something that is purposeful, and you look good in, and it will hold its quality … some of the best pieces you can find in any market today, if you are into non-logo-type quality, luxury essentials.”
The brand is also deeply personal for the couple – because they’ve based most of their decisions about what to include on the hardest-working pieces in their own wardrobes. “These are the pieces that Josh wears, these are the pieces that I wear. It felt nice to put them out there. It almost felt like being able to share a secret.”
Having her secret out there has given Centenera a few strange moments – “I have been on planes and people are wearing what I wear on the plane, which is the leggings and the blazer and the T-shirt. I’ve been on planes to Australia twice now and I’ve seen someone in the whole thing.” Though the pair took great pains to make their brand low-key, “some of the pieces are more recognisable than others”.
There are plenty of upstart and more established brands that are aiming to fix the churn-and-burn cycle of fashion. Everlane offers pricing transparency and high-quality fabrics – several tiers down the luxury ladder. Stitch Fix, another fashion-and-technology company based out of the United States, is trying to reinvent fashion through big data and a subscription-box model. Meanwhile, services such as Rent the Runway offer the thrill of wardrobe reinvention without the ongoing commitment of owning clothes.
What Wardrobe.NYC does is translate a profound fluency in the language of high fashion for an audience that likes nice things but has other things to think about. While Goot and Centenera have made their livings using fashion as a form of expression, they believe their customers shouldn’t have to deal with that pressure. “We look at the modern urban experience, and we think, okay, how are people dressing? What do people do and what do they need? Do they travel? Do they go to the beach? Do they train? Do they go to work? How do they live? And from that, we distil what the theme of a release could be and that’s what we do,” says Goot.
“We will, at one point, do a resort collection,” Centenera adds, and as they design it, the question will be: “If you were to pack a carry-on and go to a beach destination, what would those eight pieces be?”
Their concept is shopping as prescription, rather than pleasure. The wardrobe as an expert-designed regimen. For some, that approach may take the fun out of getting dressed, but for others it’ll be a release from fashion paralysis. The formula is simple – wear well-cut clothes, only in black and white, and you’ll pretty much always look great. “It feels really straightforward and really basic,” Centenera reflects. Of course, Centenera has a secret sauce that’s very hard to beat. If women – and men – are going to liberate themselves from the cycle of fashion, start wearing iterations of the same outfit over and over and outsource their fashion choices to an expert, why not pick the same stylist as Kim Kardashian West?
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 21, 2018 as "The wear essentials". Subscribe here.