Talking Shop With Michael Bastian

The GANT designer dishes about Jon Hamm, Boston's freak flag.

[Michael Bastian / Photo by Benjamin Lindsay]

GANT opened shop in Boston earlier this month. The 2,000-square-foot Newbury Street location — equal parts rugged and chic, with exposed brick, Persian rugs, a vingage leather sofa, and safari sling chairs — is the company’s New England flagship.

This is a particularly exciting year for the Swedish brand and also for Boston. The new fall line from GANT by Michael Bastian — the “Lucky Ones” — is inspired by Bastian’s time spent walking our historic streets when he was a student at Babson College. It’s a snapshot of Boston in the ‘80s, infused with the designer’s ever-preppy aesthetic and the revival of mod that was happening at the time.

We chatted with Bastian earlier this week to discuss GANT’s Newbury grand opening, the new fall line, and his fond memories of the Hub.

How did Boston influence your new line?
I’ve always had this idea that I would love to do a Boston-inspired collection, whether it’s for my own line or whether it’s for GANT.

And it’s funny, when I started designing there were all these things that I wanted to get in there to tell this story about my time when I was [in Boston]. It could have very easily just been another preppy collection, but it took on two other dimensions that, to me, made it a little bit more interesting. One was the whole concept of luck snuck in there, mainly because I was explaining to the team that half my friends who came from Boston has a shamrock tattoo somewhere on their body. It’s a very Irish Catholic town, and you really feel that when you’re here. I wanted to somehow get that into this collection.

Read on to find out which celebrity Bastian wants to wear his designs (hint: “Mad Men)…

The second concept I wanted to get in there was all this musical inspiration that was happening at the time when I was going to school here which was this kind of mod revival—this second wave of mod that was happening in the mid-‘80s. And I had this really great friend in school with me, this girl who was a mod—kind of dropped from outer space into this very preppy world of Babson College. I mean, Wellesley, you know what Wellesley’s like. It’s a very straight-laced, preppy town and super preppy school. And here was this mod girl, and we became very close and started coming into the city and going to these clubs.

People think of Boston, and people think Polo fleece and cargo pants and loafers and things like that, but it goes so much further than that. We wanted to bring in a little more of the actual city and the actual experience—or at least my experience.

[Interior of the GANT Newbury Street store / Photo by Benjamin Lindsay]

Do you have any lucky articles of clothing in your closet?
Have you ever bought something new, and the first time you wear it something great happens? And you also have the same thing where you wear something new for the first time and something terrible happens? And maybe it’s superstitious, but I kind of hang on to that. And then maybe if I’m wearing my lucky underwear, I’m wearing my lucky shoes or something, maybe I’m creating my own sense of luck.

The “Lucky Ones” video campaign was shot in Boston. Did you have any say on the locations?
The Sweden team set up everything before we got here, and they’re showing me pictures, and they’re like, “Oh, we found this really beautiful brick wall and this really cute street.” And I’m looking at it, and I’m like, wait, that’s Paul Revere’s house. And then we were shooting in Oyster House, and I’m like, damn, you guys are finding all the landmarks— I’m not sure if that was intentional, but you found them.

This is kind of old news, but I want to get your opinion on it: “GQ” named Boston the worst-dressed city in America.
Well I’m sure my little hometown, Rochester, New York, was up there, too. I’m thinking that maybe they didn’t spend enough time in Boston. The trick is that Boston has a couple personalities: there’s the Boston of the people who’s families have always lived here, and then there’s that other part of Boston that changes every six months with a whole new wave of students. This is such a college town that it’s fascinating to me how a town can hang onto its identity when half its popuation turns over that quickly.

So maybe they just picked a bad day. Or a really cold day, because that’s the other thing about Boston: on a freezing day, nobody cares what they look like. There’s only a few months in the year where you can actually fly you’re freak flag.

You’ve said that your design is equal parts luxurious and accessible and familiar.
Say you have a cashmere sweater. Wear it. Don’t put it in your drawer and save it for a special occasion. I feel like everyone should buy less but buy better. That’s the most Yankee thing in the world if you want to tie it back to Boston. Spend the money and actually wear it and wear it out. If it gets holes in it, that’s fine, too. Patch them up. If the sole is falling off your loafer, tape it up. That, to me, is kind of the essence of Boston style.

You recently created a sunglasses line with Massachusetts-based Randolph Engineering. Any other collaborations in the works? Any dream collaborations?
I love doing these little collaborations. We collaborate with Stubbs & Wooton on the shoes for Michael Bastian. We just collaborated with Eugenia Kim on the hats, Alejandro Ingelmo on sneakers. I always feel like those collaborations bring another level to the collections, so I always search them out. But Randolph is my one true license, not even a collaboration. That’s a deal. We’re married, at least for a while.

[Detail shot of the GANT Newbury Street store / Photo by Benjamin Lindsay]

If you could choose any celebrity or boldfacer to wear your designs, who would it be?
Jon Hamm, particularly for what I do with GANT. I’ve met him a couple times, and the thing about Jon Hamm is, you kind of get what you think you’re going to get. He’s friendly and charming and smart and witty — just amazing. Just a good, real guy that you want to hang out with.

And I also love that when you see him, he doesn’t have a stylist. He put that together himself because that’s what he loves, and I always try to seek those kind of guys out. People talk to me about celebrities all the time and which ones do I admire, and it’s so hard because you can’t tell who’s doing it for themselves and who hired a stylist. Even if they make a mistake—sometimes Johnny Depp can go totally off the rails, but I love it because he did it himself and it’s cooler.

Interview was edited and condensed.