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Fashion's Band of Outsiders much in demand

Scott Sternberg started his now-thriving Band of Outsiders brand with two credit cards and moxie.

October 14, 2012|By Adam Tschorn | Los Angeles Times
  • Scott Sternberg, pictured, founded the brand Band of Outsiders nine years ago.
Scott Sternberg, pictured, founded the brand Band of Outsiders nine years… (Jennifer S. Altman / For…)

NEW YORK — As it gets ready to enter its 10th year, the Band of Outsiders brand has just about become the ultimate fashion insider.

In June, founder and creative director Scott Sternberg presented his menswear collection in Paris for the first time — in a live-streamed, 60-hour event billed as "the longest show ever." The brand's first retail store is being built in Tokyo. And the first lady of the United States, arguably the most high-profile fashion fan in the country, has been spotted in the Boy by Band of Outsiders women's line not once but twice this year.

Sternberg has received accolades from his peers, as well as commercial success. In 2007, he was one of 10 finalists for the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund award, in 2008 he took home the CFDA's emerging menswear designer of the year award, and in 2009 he earned the group's menswear designer of the year award.

Not bad for a guy with no formal fashion background who launched his line out of L.A. nine years ago this month armed with only a love of cinema, two freshly issued credit cards and a crystal-clear vision of what he wanted his brand to be. In the process he's breathed new life into the preppy aesthetic.

Today Band of Outsiders is a bicoastal business with global distribution. Its headquarters in Los Angeles (across Santa Monica Boulevard from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery) employs 14 people, and its New York City office (occupying a former fortune cookie factory) employs four.

On a sunny September day immediately following his New York Fashion Week show — the first solo runway presentation of his women's collection — the graphic design junkie, photography aficionado and cookie-obsessed Silver Lake resident has the rumpled look of a college kid fresh off an all-nighter, holding back-to-back meetings with European suppliers and partners and conducting interviews with Japanese reporters.

"Right now I'm trying to hire a CEO, which would really be helpful," Sternberg says, "in terms of house[keeping] on the supply-chain side and the distribution side."

Sternberg declines to share specific sales figures for his privately held company, offering only that the company does a wholesale business of $10 million to $20 million per year.

With the ubiquity of brands that mine the "preppy with a twist" vibe, it's easy to forget that Sternberg was a neo-prep pioneer of sorts, launching his updated take on American classics into a menswear market not yet filled with the likes of Michael Bastian and Thom Browne's Black Fleece collection with Brooks Brothers.

Whether it's slimming down Oxford shirts, making patchworked pencil skirts out of suspenders, dip-dying madras or turning Sperry Topsiders inside out, Sternberg's clothes always seem to hit the sweet spot of reverent homage. "Most of what we do is [stuff] I grew up with that I love," he says.

Sternberg, 38, grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and studied economics at Washington University in St. Louis with a minor in photography.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and took a series of typical Hollywood jobs that culminated in a three-year stint as an agent in CAA's new media division. (A typical project, he says, would be "like pairing 'American Idol' with Coca-Cola — that sort of thing.")

In early 2003, Sternberg joined a company founded by Hollywood producer Cary Woods; Woods' ex-wife, J. Crew co-founder Emily Woods; and Nantucket Nectars co-founder Tom Scott (Emily Woods' current spouse).

Before the trio eventually decided to focus all their efforts on launching a resort community TV channel called Plum TV, Sternberg had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects for them, including one that planted the seeds for the Band of Outsiders brand.

"I was working with a couple of young designers," Sternberg says, "developing the core of who they were and helping distill their ideas into something that could eventually be a product line for Target or Wal-Mart. That was the first time I started doing all kinds of branding stuff around fashion."

One of the designers he worked with was Quincy Jones' daughter Kidada, and Sternberg remembers putting inspiration boards and product ideas together and building out an entire collection. (Kidada Jones would eventually partner with Walt Disney to produce a line of jewelry and accessories called Disney Couture.)

"It was really understanding — and commercializing — who she was, what she stood for and how that would translate into a product that someone — in this case tweenage girls — would want to buy," he says.

At the same time, Sternberg says he started formulating his own concept, one that focused on men instead of tweens. "I put together my inspiration boards, I hired a student to draw some flats for me so there were garments in there. I had fabric swatches, I did a proper collection pitch, and I made a proper presentation of it."

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