“There’s definitely a romantic version and a very literal version,” says Jeff Johnson, co-founder of The Arrivals, on why his young, direct-to-consumer fashion brand decided to focus squarely on outerwear.
Practically no one on the starting team came from a fashion background — Johnson worked in architecture, Kal Vepuri in tech entrepreneurship. Johnson saw the parallels between outerwear and buildings; both are the first layer of protection for the human body against the elements. That’s the romantic version. On the other hand, there wasn’t a ton of competition on the space, as many other direct-to-consumer fashion brands popping up right now are focused on the idea of attainable basics. No thanks, thought Johnson and Vepuri. The Arrivals makes high-end contemporary pieces that feel like a million bucks but clock in under $1,000 (often well under.)
For inspiration they looked at contemporary brands making the pricey outerwear that they coveted; they researched what New York City factories they employed, what materials they used. And in less than a full year — they were brainstorming in mid-2013 but had a name and a focus by January 2014, launching in October 2014 — they were off and running, selling streamlined outerwear for all genders.
Looks-wise, these are classic, minimal pieces with little flourish. That was no accident. “For us, this idea of functionality and minimalism is core to both our aesthetic and our idea of what good design is,” says Johnson. Of course, Scandinavian simplicity plays a role. So does the idea of stripping away the unnecessary in design.
“A lot of times we’ll use this phrase of ‘outerwear archetypes’ to try and embody what we are trying to capture with each piece. What that means to us is this idea that you can have the perfect container or the perfect spoon, and at a certain moment, you can’t design it any more or any less,” explains Johnson. “How can we take that same approach to a jacket? What is a perfect leather jacket or what is the perfect bomber? It’s not heavy in ornament — the design choices that are there are all highly considered in making sure that it works, so it’s warm or it’s waterproof, that there’s always a myriad of elements that make it more than just your typical consumable piece.”
The result is cropped leather bombers, shin-grazing wool dusters and slightly oversized cocoon coats that feel forever-fashionable but have a clearly modern bent. Accompanying marketing materials — photo shoots that happen at Smashbox sister studio Fast Ashleys — are also eye-pleasing affairs. “We’ve actually shot there for every shoot we’ve done. They’re a great space,” says Johnson. “One, the space itself is beautiful, and comparable to a lot of the studios in Manhattan. But it’s just a really relaxed atmosphere, a great space to work.”
Is being an industry outsider at the helm of a fashion brand difficult? “I think there’s continuously a steep learning curve,” says Johnson. But really he relishes that outsider status. Inspiration tends to come from a lot of different sources (like, say, garden supplies or architecture instead of simply other designers’ collections), and it allows for everyone to learn a whole lot before outside help is brought on. There’s also the feeling that an outside-in approach brings a fresh perspective.
The name is thanks to an etymology book, where “arrivals” was one of the first stand-out words, with this very apt meaning: “the emergence of a new product or process.” With their high-end contemporary outerwear and of-the-moment direct-to-consumer status, The Arrivals is succeeding in bringing about both.