“For people who really value New York design culture, this is the place to be,” said R. Mackswell Sherman, half of the design team behind MOVES.
Earlier this week B+B met up with Sherman and his longtime design partner Sarah Jones at their new studio/concept store in Williamsburg. The shop opened in January, in a third-floor studio on Broadway. It’s just over a mile south of their previous location in East Williamsburg, but the new M.O. is worlds away, and indicative of an increasingly successful fashion house.
Sherman and Jones met at “a hippie school in the woods,” as the latter described it, and quickly started sewing items that were pretty out there (think “faux fur underwear and crazy headgear bonnet masks”).
Initially, they were super into producing zero-waste garments: they’d go to thrift stores, dig out old clothing, pick it apart, and sew different pieces back together into colorful hoodies and the like. Jones said this is what led to her interest in garment construction. And this is certainly evident in their work now: the seams are of impressively high quality, and there’s a variety of hyper-structured cuts and intricate, angular designs.
MOVES encompasses three lines, including a youth line Kid Ruffeo. The FONY (Fashion Origins New York) line is their latest effort focusing on basics with an industrial color palette inspired by the city. “It’s what I like to call high-concept, low-tech,” Sherman said. He pulled a pair of jodhpur style pants from the rack, explaining their utility as modular shorts which can be cinched at the knee for a tighter, bike-short function or relaxed “if you wanna go a little bit more like a street swagger look.”
Whereas FONY manages to be daring while maintaing a certain amount of sophistication and dare I say understatement, the Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty line is vibrant, experimental party-wear for the truly adventurous. Sherman said their most recent concept, Foam, has a color palette inspired by “a fully stocked hardware store” and geometry inspired by “telescoping boom folding,” a mechanism for cranes and dump trucks.
Both lines have tons of unisex items. The look books encourage both men and women to wear oversize tank tops that cut at the ankles and skin tight body suits.
“We are very community oriented, we are very wholesome,” Sherman said. “But at the same time we have a raw, rowdy edge. You might find us at a smoky warehouse party, but you also might find us at like an industry lecture.”
The new MOVES shop combines a working studio space with American Apparel minimalism (fluorescent lighting, piercing white walls, whatever clothing racks, and a rainbow of clothes), but you can’t just walk in and browse. To buy a SARS guard, a sci-fi inspired party jumpsuit, or one of the items that have recently been repped by pop star Robyn and Brooklyn rapper Dillon Cooper, you have to visit their store online, or make an appointment.
“You know how retail goes, you’re either totally swamped, or you’re totally dead,” says Jones. Since the store is only open when customers are serious about buying, there’s less wasteful down time. And when customers are there, the pair can pay close attention, even offering free alterations which can be measured for on the spot.
A benefit of this model, Jones said, is that “it allows us creative freedom to really focus on design and not so much about the store element.”
Though the Sherman and Jones still do their own alterations, samples, and custom orders in their own studio, they utilize a sewing shop down the street for medium-ish runs and workshops in the garment district for larger editions.
The design duo have always been at the cutting edge of fashion retail concepts. They created one of the first retail stores to sell products on Etsy back in 2005. (Please see the hilariously outdated video from CBS Sunday Morning News spotlighting RHLS, in which handmade clothing is likened to something from Little House on the Prairie and Martha Stewart expresses adoration for RHLS designs.)
Shortly thereafter, the designers were invited to make the move from Seattle to Brooklyn to participate in “the first and last artist residency for Etsy,” and were given a free workspace, free rent, and free supplies. “It really helped support us,” Jones said.
When this project “fizzled out,” according to Jones, the pair formed a cooperative and rented a storefront in Greenpoint– the first iteration of the MOVES Concept Store.”It started out as a cooperative with a bunch of different awesome Brooklyn designers, and became a bit of a cultural hub, a curation group,” Sherman said. Designers shared supplies and practiced consensus decision making when it came to business.
“Working collectively really can be helpful in a lot of ways, especially with like resource sharing and learning from each other,” Jones noted. “And you can achieve things that you couldn’t achieve on your own.”
But it seems collaboration began to wear on them. “Sometimes democracy is great in the business place, but there’s other times where democracy is not the best way to get things done and you really need just like one or two opinions,” Sherman said.
Eventually Sherman and Jones took over running the place themselves and assumed creative control for curating designers. “We are really just strongly opinionated, intense people, and we wanna do it our own way sort of people,” Jones explained. “Even between the two of us it can be hard.”
Interestingly enough, Jones and Sherman used to date– hence the name Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty. But even if the pair might sometimes disagree, they’ve managed to keep their fashion collaboration together for almost a decade, despite the dramatic changes and the notoriously inhospitable fashion industry.
In October of 2011, Jones and Sherman decided they needed a place of their own– so once again MOVES went mobile and transferred to a shop in East Williamsburg. Though Jones and Sherman were exclusive owners of the shop, they retained their commitment to collective work, curating art openings and exhibitions to spotlight other local artists.
In January, the pair embarked on a dramatic transfiguration once again. Things at their new shop seem a little more private, a little bit exclusive even, but Sherman said MOVES will continue to engage with other artists and host exhibitions and talks. And though the days of vending at music festivals on the West Coast and sharing studio space in the Red Hook warehouse are far behind them, you can still find them on Etsy.
“It’s such a great model. If this could work, if this could be something that becomes commonplace for people who really love their clothing, I think it would be great for the design culture.”
MOVES is located at 622 Broadway, unit 302 in Brooklyn. Call 646-504-0658 for an appointment.