NEW YORK — Talk about making a splash -- a fashion show on an 80-foot yacht at Chelsea Piers, a dock lined with editors sipping Salty Dogs and waiting to board and a private walk-through for Anna Wintour.
After three years, Band of Outsiders is finally in.
For the uninitiated, the Los Angeles label founded by a former Creative Artists agent, Scott Sternberg, is leading the way in men's wear in a way that is just as witty but far less cartoonish than the Christopher Robin aesthetic of Thom Browne. Think of a wardrobe stuffed with handmade woolen waistcoats and narrow, striped cashmere knit ties, rugby shirts, Donegal tweed blazers, suits in corduroy and worsted wool, and all manner of oxford cloth shirts cut as slim as lottery odds.
Holding his hands in front of his face in the shape of a square, Sternberg says he prefers to "work in a box this small," which explains why the new women's capsule collection he added this fall apes the look and feel of his men's line.
"Barneys called and wanted to see some women's shirts," he explained. "I said OK, but it's going to be more than shirts and it's going to be called Boy -- as in boys' clothes for girls." Two months later, he had 20 pieces, including over-dyed oxford cloth shirts and slim-cut suits.
In his spring collection, he continued to riff on the English schoolboy theme with cropped tuxedo pants worn with a gabardine trenchlet and a black wool cropped waistcoast paired with olive gabardine shorts. He even managed to slip in a few dresses, the best a shirtwaist style in black-and-white striped patchwork.
The show was staged on the Hudson River but could just have well been on Newport Harbor the way Sternberg took the starch out of the East Coast yacht club set. He created a nostalgic scene with Wes Anderson-worthy attention to detail. With neckties hanging from fishnets and board games strewn about, one got the feeling that the kids had stolen daddy's yacht and headed for Havana. The hairdressers were instructed to style the women to look as if they'd been up partying all night.
Men's wear was dressed up and dressed down at the same time with a mini-houndstooth cotton button-down worn with matching clip-on bow tie and olive drab gabardine trousers that showed a generous helping of mankle, a trend carried over from European shows. Sternberg gave some of his signature oxford shirts shrunken collars and others contrast bib collars.
The show was bankrolled by Sperry, maker of the boat shoe that Sternberg reinterpreted as part of his spring-summer 2008 collection. Pairing with a mainstream label may seem like an odd fit for a quirky brand that strives to maintain its outsider status by selling to only one department store (Barneys New York) and a handful of high-end boutiques including Opening Ceremony on La Cienega Boulevard and at Ron Herman at Fred Segal on Melrose Avenue.
Not so, says Sternberg, 32. "I always wear Sperry Top-Siders," Sternberg says.
The collaboration resulted in dressier boat shoes for men and women, including a "tuxedo version" trimmed in black- and champagne-colored grosgrain that is sure to be the men's summer wedding footwear of choice.
Sternberg says his goal is to create a sense of nostalgia through clothes the way a filmmaker might when creating a historical mood. His too-cool-for-prep-school style has found favor among the crop of guys who want to dress up but not look like they're selling out, including Josh Hartnett, Justin Timberlake and, in what may be the most telling endorsement, Justin Long, who plays the Apple computer role in the Mac-versus-PC television commercials.
Sternberg isn't concerned that the deal will turn his label into the "Band of Insiders."
"If people find out about Band through the Sperry deal, that's great," he says. "They should stay tuned, but these clothes aren't for everyone: These shirts are really slim, and the ties can be obnoxiously skinny."
Even if he takes home this year's Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund award of $200,000 -- he's one of 10 finalists -- he can't see spending the money on a traditional runway show. "It can't be some tall girls clippity-clopping down the runway. That's not what my clothes are about. I'll find a way to show the clothes but in a way that's wack and different."
On the Web Gallery: See highlights from the Spring 2008 Band of Outsiders collection at latimes.com/image .