As a GQ Best Menswear Designer, three-time CFDA award nominee, and inventor of the iconic Ludlow suit, Mr. Todd Snyder has plenty of bragging rights. But it turns out he credits his success to key partnerships more than anything else.
Todd Snyder is an anomalous figure for a fashion designer. As a tall, sandy-haired Corn Belt native who wears his collar wrinkled and chinos relaxed, he is at once unassuming. And yet, his clothes fit him exactly how he means; he wears them — and his 20-plus years of industry experience — with a natural confidence that commands respect. Respect that’s been hard earned. During the past two decades, Mr. Snyder has worked for some of the finest brands in the world. And he’s made some significant marks of his own while at it.
Whereas Mr. Snyder’s presence may skew more towards professor than designer, his office certainly betrays any confusion. Part museum, locker room, and design studio, both bookshelves and lockers alike are lined with books on art, vintage trophies, and sneakers. A leather football and framed varsity jackets line the wall opposite a table full of sketches, fabric swatches, and, of course, racks and racks of clothes.
While the Ames-born midwesterner has had an affection for clothes since his youth (winning “best dressed” in Sr. High and working at a menswear shop in Des Moines on the weekends), Snyder’s first real chance to cut his teeth in the industry would come shortly after graduation. Heading straight to New York from Iowa State University in 1992 with a degree in Fashion, Snyder landed his very first internship at none other than Ralph Lauren.
Garnering an internship at Ralph Lauren would be a success for any individual on his or her way into the industry. But for the man who credits reading Mr. Lauren’s first book as a primary impetus for changing his college major, this was serendipitous. “There’s nobody like Ralph,” says Todd. He reminisces about spending all the money he made in college on clothes. “A lot of Ralph Lauren polos, I can tell you that.”
It didn’t take long for Snyder to know he’d made the right choice. But he wasn’t making a lot of money. Never hesitant to take initiative, he used the opportunity to begin learning the art of clothing construction and sewing, using off-hours to study under some of Ralph Lauren’s tailors.
“I was buying designer fabric at stores in the city. It would cost $50 for some fabric, and then I’d make a shirt over the weekend. Which is actually how I got noticed at Ralph [Lauren].” During a meeting, a design director asked Snyder where he got his shirt. Confirming that, in fact, he had made it himself, both his confidence and opportunities received a noticeable lift.
It wasn’t long after that he garnered his first paying job at NYC-based J.Crew, where Snyder would go on to work through the ranks (taking a few detours to work as Director of Menswear for Gap and Outerwear Designer back at Ralph Lauren) on to becoming J.Crew’s Senior Vice President of Menswear Design in 2004.
“If you want to be the best, you have to work for the best,” Snyder tells us. “That’s why I worked for Ralph. That’s why I worked for Mickey at J.Crew. I want to be the best, so that’s why I’ve worked for 20 years for the best.”
Not only has Snyder worked for the best, he’s hired the best as well. Upon landing the SVP of Menswear position at J.Crew, Snyder immediately went to work building what is regarded as one of the most iconic menswear teams in the world (Tim Hamilton and Frank Muytjens were his first two hires). The company, which was struggling to assert its presence in menswear at the time, needed new life. And while he’s quick to admit it was a shared effort, Snyder played no small part in what would become a powerful and industry-defining movement for J.Crew over the next several years. From designing the famous Ludlow suit to pioneering the concept of “In Good Company” collaborations (from Alden and Barbour to Timex and Red Wing), Snyder’s mark was significant.
Outside of his hard work to establish such collaborations (which often involved calling contacts dozens of times to win them over), his most personally significant stamp on the brand is the now-famous TriBeCa-based Liquor Store. The shop, which used to be home to a nine-hundred square foot bar and liquor store, was converted into a curated store for the elevated J.Crew man. Part shop, part lounge, part closet, the Liquor Store (boasting no actual J.Crew sign on the outside) was designed as a home for J.Crew’s fashionable (but not fashion-y) and timely (but not trendy) classics, as well as a brilliant collection of their best collaboration pieces.
With the unique storefront (along with the dissemination of collab products throughout J.Crew retail), Snyder and his team practically predicted the movement toward heritage before the recession actualized it for the masses. It was a portent to the collaborative focus with iconic companies that has continued to define the brand today. The Liquor Store (which opened in 2007, just a year before Snyder left the brand) was a defining moment, not only for J.Crew and the industry at large, but for Snyder himself. “[The Liquor Store] probably showed the world more of who I am than anything else,” says Snyder.
While it may have been the best display of his stylistic sensibilities at the time, Snyder has continued to show the world who he is ever since — and he’s done so with much success. Launching his eponymous label in 2011, the man “behind the scenes” of J.Crew’s menswear transformation has moved from public anonymity to household name. Named one of the Best New Designers in America by GQ in 2012 and garnering numerous accolades and awards from his peers, Snyder has put himself on the map as a venerable designer. And behind the scenes or otherwise, he’s got the track record to prove it.
After speaking with Mr. Snyder extensively, it came up too many times to deny: one of the central pillars to his ongoing success is his dozens of new and ongoing strategic partnerships and collaborations. “When I did the Liquor Store with J.Crew, I fell in love with smaller brands. I wanted them to become super successful and to contribute to that,” says Todd. He pauses and smiles. “And to be able to play and tinker with what they do.”
His playing and tinkering has resulted in some pretty fantastic products. A set of gray suitcases designed with Globetrotter feature chrome and leather trim, the inside lined with a turn-of-the-century New York City map. Todd’s love for vintage sportswear joined forces with PF Flyers’s heritage styling, resulting in a number of clean leather and suede versions of their classic Rambler high top. Snyder’s collaboration with Champion, a company for which he carries strong affection — along with a personal collection of over 1,000 original vintage pieces — is a line of beautifully cut, vintage-inspired crewneck sweatshirts, hoodies, and henleys. And Classfare favorite Private White recently received the Snyder treatment for outerwear with three stunningly beautiful wool jackets.
“Outerwear is absolutely my favorite. It’s the most detail-intense item for design,” says Snyder. “It’s almost like architecture. You fit it and tweak it and re-engineer it. It’s an extensive process, but I love it.”
This love is immediately evident in Snyder’s collection. From bomber and coaches jackets to down parkas and peacoats, the cut, drape, fabrication, and construction of every piece shows extreme care and attention to detail.
Beyond the significant number of collaborations stateside, Snyder has been making waves overseas as well, most notably in Japan, where he travels several times per year. Inspired in part by the J.Crew Liquor Store, Snyder has opened a concept store in the Shibuya district of Tokyo called the Townhouse. The three-story shop is handsomely outfitted with everything from perfectly cut suits (a Snyder speciality) and Champion athletic gear to Leica cameras and Aesop skincare products. And, like any good haberdasher, it’s filled out with a sampling of art, furniture, and whiskey. Beyond the Townhouse — and additional shops in the works — a collaboration with Japanese brand Rocky Mountain Featherbed and a matte black version of the Eames Padded Management Chair available exclusively in Japan have cemented Snyder’s iconic status in the Land of the Rising Sun.
If there is one thing that we’ve learned from our time spent with Mr. Snyder, it is that he is a man who is adept at bringing great ideas and great people together. Whether he’s building a team, bringing together the worlds of vintage athletics and sportswear, or simply making phone calls for a new design collaboration, Snyder joins people and concepts in a way that brings the very best of worlds together.
“I want to inspire others as much as they inspire me,” says Snyder. “When I sit in the room with five other creatives and we start coming up with new ideas together…to do something greater together….that’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Learn more about Todd Snyder and shop his collections at toddsnyder.com.