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Men's Fall Fashion Issue | Metropolis / Designing Men

What to Wear at Club California

James Perse Makes Casual Sophistication Look Easy

September 08, 2002|LAURIE PIKE

Like father, like son? Not when it comes to James Perse, whose father, Tommy, owns L.A.'s out-there style emporium Maxfield. Perse pere may be known as the man who brought Yohji Yamamoto to L.A., but his designer son prefers plain old T-shirts. "It took years 'til my dad would wear my stuff," says 30-year-old James. "But now, underneath his wild get-ups, he wears my T-shirts."

Perse had an easier time getting musicians such as Moby and the members of Incubus, and stars such as Billy Bob Thornton and Matt Damon, into his famously soft, high-end Ts, which range from $38 to $78 and are comfy enough to sleep in but sleek enough for a dinner date. Perse, who attended college for a year but didn't study fashion, got into design a decade ago simply because he wanted a better baseball cap. "This was right when baseball caps were becoming designer [items]," he says. "All the hats out there were horrible and had the wrong shapes, the wrong fabrics, the wrong logos. I wanted to help bring a designer look to promotional merchandise. I tried to make it better." To get a company to produce his cap, Perse had to order 100. He took the risk and put the lot up for sale in his father's store. The caps sold out, attracting orders from Martin Scorsese (for his 50th birthday party), the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood and other corporations.

Next, Perse wanted his own line, and he created a fitted deep V-neck T in high-quality cotton for women. He added menswear four years ago and now counts Luke Wilson, Brad Pitt and several bands as steady customers. Though he makes specialty items such as the dark brown thigh-length cloak that magician David Blaine recently wore for a stunt in New York's Bryant Park, the men's retail line remains simple. Loose trousers and dressier shirts have joined the Ts, many bearing the faux family crest and medieval lion print that have marked the line from the start.

"Casual sophistication" is an overused phrase in fashion, but Perse has made a specialty of his elegant take on the California aesthetic. "Often when people think of California, they think of surfers, [but] there's a much more sophisticated lifestyle that's really going on around here," he says. "Believe it or not, it's amazing the number of things you can do with a T-shirt."

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