New England's New School: Three Designers Defining the Region's Style

Long dominated by old-fashioned icons like Alden and L.L. Bean, there’s no shortage of inspiring new designers in New England.

man sewing a shirt
Tony Shirtmakers

A lot of notable new brands hail from big cities. They’re either a Brooklyn-based upstart or LA darling, both on the brink of making it mainstream. But elsewhere in the US, brands aplenty are responsible for some of the country's most exciting new menswear. And they're doing it with less capital and smaller target audiences.

Take New England, a region famous for its blue blazers and all-American aesthetic. Here, however, a new crop of exciting talents is rejecting the status quo and designing for a different kind of guy. The rest of the country would be wise to take notice.

Manresa

Norwalk, CT

"Being a one-man brand, it really is just an extension of my personality and the culture I was raised in," says Mike McLachlan, the designer behind Manresa.

a man wearing a flannel in the woods
Manresa is Mike McLachlan’s way of paying tribute to his home region, but it’s also a way of subverting others’ expectations of it.
Manresa

McLachlan works out of Norwalk, Connecticut, a city along New England’s lower coast. There, plenty of people wear Nantucket Reds and step-and-repeat ties, but he relies on his working-class upbringing for inspiration, as well as his Scottish heritage. That means he makes tartan flannels, waterproof anoraks, deck shorts, durable hoodies and bulky beanies, not preppy polos or boat shoes.

"Aside from maybe a handful of wealthy towns who are mostly made up of Wall Street New Yorkers with lots of money and very little style, New England was GORP before GORP was GORP," McLachlan says, referring to the technical hiking style popular in recent years. "Take a ride through rural New Hampshire and you won’t see many step-and-repeat ties."

a man wearing a manresa half zip pullover
Manresa
a person with camping supplies wearing rain boots, socks, and rolled up pants
Manresa

McLachlan wants Manresa to represent “being born and raised in New England as a regular working-class kid in the ’90s,” he says. His designs echo what he wore then, to ride or fix his bike and help his dad around the house. These things have “stayed with me to this day,” he says, “which is why you see the outerwear and workwear at play in the line.”

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Slow Process

Burlington, VT

Hailing from Burlington, Vermont, is Slow Process, a small-scale clothing brand specializing in classic menswear fashioned from rare fabrics. Every garment is cut and sewn by Sam Zollman, who founded the label in 2018.

a man standing by a frozen lake
Some designs take days, while others take weeks. It depends on what the design demands, Zollman says.
Slow Process

At first, Zollman would thrift for jackets and shirts he could repair, customize and sell. Later on, he expanded into denim jackets, overshirts and soft sweatshirts before landing on something of a signature: vintage fabrics, like a particular type of 19th-century wool blanket, which he now applies to well-known patterns, such as a varsity jacket.

In the summer, old tablecloths become baseball jerseys. And when the temperature drops, French terry turns into stylish mocknecks.

"It would feel disrespectful to rush through the process of building the piece and not honor the legacy of making something to last."

"I have a huge amount of respect for the textiles I come across," Zollman says, "especially the vintage and antique ones — their age, the time and energy that went into making them, the fact that they've endured for this long."

Once Zollman settles on a particular fabric, it can take him days — sometimes weeks — to finish even a single garment.

"It would feel disrespectful to rush through the process of building the piece and not honor the legacy of making something to last," he says. "And at the end of the day, I'm the one sewing almost everything. It's my reputation on the line."

a person sitting on a couch wearing a slow process jacket
Slow Process
someone sifting through a box of old cards
Slow Process

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Tony Shirtmakers

Damariscotta, ME

Tony Parrotti, one half of Tony Shirtmakers, operates a studio in Damariscotta, Maine, a town with hot summers and cold winters — extremes that inform his handmade shirts and jackets.

a man sewing a jacket on a sewing machine
Tony is self-taught, but he has apprenticed for a number of talented tailors.
Tony Shirtmakers

A graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City, Parrotti taught himself how to sew shirts by replicating ones he already owned. Now, he offers a mix of luxurious ready-made and made-to-order designs, each with prices to match. They aren’t delicate, though.

"We make garments that are intended to be worn and well-loved — pieces you will hang by the door and reach for again and again," Parrotti says. "We don't want you to be afraid to wear your clothes and get them muddy or wet or sweat in them. [These are] all things that happen when you live an active lifestyle in rural New England."

On social media, Parrotti and his partner, Laura Fraser, paint a pretty picture — a quiet, chaos-free studio with open doors and lots of indirect sunlight. But they aren’t isolated.

a person painting
Tony Shirtmakers
flowers painted on a button down shirt
Tony Shirtmakers

"There is an amazing network of makers and craftsmen in Maine that we are so happy to have become a part of," Parrotti says. "There is this legacy of creating things yourself, by hand — whether out of necessity or keen interest — that really resonates with us."

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A version of this story appears in Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today
Matthew Stacey
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